Equifax – The History of the Credit Bureau
This is a company that knows pretty much everything there is to know about your financial life and history. Take a few minutes to learn about this influential company and how its activities have had a profound effect on Americans’ financial lives.
In the Beginning
Equifax first did business in 1899 as Retail Credit Company. By 1920, they had offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. While credit reporting was part of their business, most of their operation was dedicated to gathering information for insurance companies. Retail Credit Company gathered information on people’s finances, health, moral beliefs, vehicle use and other factors that insurance companies used when quoting for life, car and health insurance policies. By the 1960s, the company had files on millions of Americans and Canadians. They also helped investigate insurance claims and assisted with background checks on people seeking employment.
How Equifax Made the Fair Credit Reporting Act Law
In the late 1960s, the company made moves to computerize their vast records. This would make people’s personal information more accessible than ever. Congress held hearings about the company’s practices. Alan Westin, a privacy expert from Columbia University, argued at these hearings that the company had many inaccuracies in their records that caused people to be unfairly denied credit. People were not allowed to see the contents of these credit reports, and many people had no idea that they existed.
In October of 1970, Congress enacted the Fair Credit Reporting Act to protect consumers. The act imposed many regulations on Credit Reporting Agencies. It regulated how long negative information could be maintained. It requires that consumers be granted access to information on their credit report. And, it says that consumers must be notified if removed records are added back to credit reports.
The FCRA also regulates creditors that report information to Equifax and other credit reporting agencies. Creditors are required to make accurate reports. If a consumer disputes a report, investigating the claim falls on the creditor. If they are submitting negative information about you to a report, they must inform you within 30 days.
In 1975, Retail Credit Company changed its name to Equifax. The company gradually phased out its insurance reporting business and expanded its credit reporting side. While the company has had a business to business model for the bulk of its existence, it began selling consumer services such as anti-fraud protection and identify theft prevention in 1999. They also offer a fee-based credit monitoring service. Like other credit reporting agencies, Equifax is required to provide one free credit report each year upon request. Equifax does this through AnnualCreditReport.com. The company now holds records on more than 500 million consumers and 80 million businesses.