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A century of consumer credit reporting in America

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  • Robert M. Hunt

Abstract

In the United States today, there is at least one credit bureau file, and probably three, for every credit-using individual in the country. Over 2 billion items of information are added to these files every month, and over 3 million credit reports are issued every day. Real-time access to credit bureau information has reduced the time required to approve a loan from a few weeks to just a few minutes. But credit bureaus have also been criticized for furnishing erroneous information and for compromising privacy. The result has been 30 years of regulation at the state and federal levels. ; This paper describes how the consumer credit reporting industry evolved from a few joint ventures of local retailers around 1900 to a high-technology industry that plays a supporting role in America’s trillion dollar consumer credit market. In many ways the development of the industry reflects the intuition developed in the theoretical literature on information-sharing arrangements. But the story is richer than the models. Credit bureaus have changed as retail and lending markets changed, and the impressive gains in productivity at credit bureaus are the result of their substantial investments in technology. ; Credit bureaus obviously benefit when their data are more reliable, but should we expect them to attain the socially efficient degree of accuracy? There are plausible reasons to think not, and this is the principal economic rationale for regulating the industry. An examination of the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act reveals an attempt to attain an appropriate economic balancing of the benefits of a voluntary information sharing arrangement against the cost of any resulting mistakes. Subsequent litigation and amendments to the act reveal how this balance has evolved over time. ; Also issued as Payment Cards Center Discussion Paper No. 05-07

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in its series Working Papers with number 05-13.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpwp:05-13

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Related research

Keywords: Consumer credit ; Fair Credit Reporting Act;

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Cited by:
  1. Gehrig, Thomas & Stenbacka, Rune, 2007. "Information sharing and lending market competition with switching costs and poaching," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 77-99, January.
  2. Robert B. Avery & Kenneth P. Brevoort & Glenn B. Canner, 2010. "Does credit scoring produce a disparate impact?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2010-58, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Kartik Athreya & Xuan S. Tam & Eric R. Young, 2011. "A quantitative theory of information and unsecured credit," Working Paper 08-06, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
  4. Martin Brown & Christian Zehnder, 2006. "Credit Reporting, Relationship Banking, and Loan Repayment," Working Papers 2006-03, Swiss National Bank.
  5. Martin Brown & Christian Zehnder, 2007. "The Emergence of Information Sharing in Credit Markets," IEW - Working Papers 317, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  6. Berliant, Marcus & Kung, Fan-chin, 2008. "Can information asymmetry cause agglomeration?," MPRA Paper 9951, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  7. Federico Ferretti, 2007. "Consumer credit information systems: a critical review of the literature. Too little attention paid by Lawyers?," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 71-88, February.
  8. Berliant, Marcus & Kung, Fan-chin, 2010. "Can information asymmetry cause stratification?," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 196-209, July.
  9. Bulent Guler, 2010. "Innovations in Information Technology and the Mortgage Market," 2010 Meeting Papers 856, Society for Economic Dynamics.

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