More than two-thirds of all personal credit reports contain errors, a national consumer group said Thursday.
The sloppy information gathering could hamper a consumer's ability to obtain loans, get a job and find a place to live, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's report titled Mistakes Do Happen.
"It's shocking, as a matter of fact," said Robert Pregulman in the organization's Atlanta office. "These credit reports are being used more and more to determine our fiscal viability. So if 29 percent of all credit reports contain serious errors and 70 percent some kind of error, that's not a very good track record."
Associated Credit Bureaus Inc., a trade association representing 640 credit reporting businesses nationwide, dismissed the survey.
"There's $1.2 trillion in outstanding credit in the United States, and over $1 billion credit cards on the market today," said Norm Magnuson, an association spokesman. "If all these people are getting credit, who are the people being denied?"
He criticized the study sample -- 133 credit reports requested by 88 PIRG staffers nationwide -- as too small to paint an accurate picture.
The three national credit reporting companies -- Equifax Credit Information Services, Experian Inc. and Trans Union Corp. -- together process more than 2 billion pieces of information a month from creditors, according to Associated Credit Bureaus.
Georgia is one of only six states that allows consumers to get free copies of their credit reports. In other states, a copy costs $8. People who were denied credit, were victims of fraud or are unemployed or on public assistance are never charged.
However, PIRG found that 25 percent of people surveyed were unable to obtain a copy of their report. Many of the reports that were released contained "garbled numbers, bizarre codes and alien abbreviations" that make them difficult for the average consumer to understand, the report said.
Among errors PIRG found in the credit reports:
"We're not saying this is a scientific survey, but it is representative of what's happening to consumers every day," Mr. Pregulman said.
In recent decades, Congress has passed laws making it easier for consumers to access their credit reports and to correct mistakes. PIRG recommended in its report Thursday that such laws be strengthened.
But Mr. Magnuson said his industry always seeks to improve.
"I'm not saying we're infallible. ... But it's not the overwhelming problem PIRG wants us to believe," he said.
The following companies can send you a copy of your credit report. In Georgia, you're entitled to two free copies a year. In South Carolina, you can get one copy a year for $8.
Experian Inc.: (800) 682-7654
Equifax Credit Information Services: (800) 685-1111
Trans Union Corp.: (800) 916-8800
PIRG's report, Mistakes Do Happen, can be found on the Internet at http://www.pirg.org/consumer/credit/mistakes/.