Weekly Adviser: Horror at Credit Scoring Is Not Just Foot-Dragging

Register now

Sure, credit scoring is simple and cheap. You pump in the data you have on an applicant, and in seconds or less the computer tells you whether to grant the loan or not.

Bankers have told me that no one even looks at any request for $50,000 or less -- the computer does it all.

But are they being fair? Aren't there many times when a human looking at the data or asking a question or two could change the verdict and avoid an injustice?

A couple of months ago I got a promotional offer from New York magazine: "Try our publication for four weeks FREE, and if you don't like it just write CANCEL on the bill."

I tried it, didn't want to continue, and wrote CANCEL on the bill. About a month later I received the following letter from North Shore Collection Agency in Westbury, N.Y.

"Your account has been processed as a delinquent with this agency. Unless we receive your response, your name may remain with our client NEW YORK MAGAZINE as delinquent. This professional collection agency may then continue with collection of your debtor account."

"When we have received and cleared your check for $19.97, this matter will be closed."

To make matters worse, two weeks later I received another letter from the agency.

"Due to a computer error and problems with the mail, our billing invoices were mailed incorrectly and you may have received invoices with a strong negative tone. Please straighten out this discrepancy by paying the invoice now."

Wow This is their apology. No question of their making a mistake. They just apologized for the "strong negative tone" of their demands. But they concluded that I should pay anyway, whether they were right or wrong.

I think of myself as a person who is hard to scare. Were I to be faced with questioning on this issue, I could win the case in 10 seconds. But that is not how the world works.

This collection agency could simply enter information on a computer to show that I am a deadbeat, and I would never even know about it unless a situation arose where I was turned down for credit and didn't know why.

This is why our banking system has received such a poor image as a "big brother" system with no privacy. It is also why so many community bankers, when asked about their attitude towards credit scoring, respond with horror at the idea of decisions being made automatically, without deeper examination of what really happened.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.