More than 50 million consumers now have free and regular access to their credit scores through their monthly credit card statements or online, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported Thursday. 

The CFPB last year launched a credit score initiative, which called on more of the nation’s top credit card companies to make credit scores freely available to customers. The CFPB also released a new consumer focus group study indicating that while consumers are accessing their credit scores and credit reports in a variety of ways, confusion about both lingers.

A year after the launch, more than a dozen major issuers are providing credit scores to consumers - free. A few companies had started offering access to credit scores before the initiative. 

The CFPB predicts an additional “tens of millions of consumers” will benefit by current planned credit score efforts by other major issuers. The CFPB is encouraging all Americans to review their credit standing and pull their free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com

Consumer reporting companies collect information and provide reports on consumers that are used to decide whether to provide credit to consumers. Credit reports and scores can determine everything from consumer eligibility for credit to the rates consumers pay for credit. Because of the significance of credit reports and scores, the CFPB has focused heavily on consumer reporting companies. Recent research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia shows that when consumers became familiar with their credit reports, their credit scores often improved. 

"Consumers’ credit information is the foundation of their financial lives," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "Access to these scores provides an opportunity to engage consumers around their credit reports. Once consumers see their credit scores, they can be motivated to learn more about their credit history, check their full credit report, and take action to improve their financial lives."

The CFPB recently conducted focus groups across the U.S. with consumers from various backgrounds. The agency examined issues such as whether consumers were checking their credit scores and reports, how so, and what motivated them to check. More details about the research are available here.

Key takeaways from the research include:

  • Consumer confusion around credit reports and scores persists: Some consumers reported being confused and frustrated about how to check credit reports and scores, what information these include, and how to improve them. Efforts by credit reporting companies to make it easier for consumers to access and interpret their reports could be a useful contribution to helping consumers access and navigate the credit reporting system.

  • Consumers may lack information to take action to improve their credit histories: Consumers reported that they often do not feel empowered to take action to improve their credit histories and that they rarely apply credit information in their daily lives, such as using their credit reports and scores to negotiate better credit terms.
  • Consumers access reports and scores multiple ways: Consumers who had seen their reports or scores accessed them from a variety of channels. Some consumers reported the presence of their score on their credit card statement, or were able to review it through their credit card company and found value in this feature. Others reported receiving their credit reports in other ways, such as a paid credit monitoring service, free online services, or as a result of a security breach or being denied credit.
  • Consumers who are more engaged in the financial system check their credit reports regularly: Consumers who reported feeling financially savvy and knowledgeable about their credit files, credit terms, and interest rates were more likely to say they check their reports regularly. These consumers thought that keeping aware of their credit files was helpful in achieving their financial goals.

 

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