The Three Digit Number That Can Destroy Your Life

Credit Reports can be a boon or a bane for someone looking to get a job, buy a car or a house. It’s three numbers that effect your life and the government has made sure that you have free access at least once a year to check it, especially for errors. When an error on the report is found, it’s not quite as easy as you would believe to remove it. Sometimes it’s near impossible.

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver looked at something that affects practically every adult in the US: credit reports. As Oliver put it, they are “the basis for the single most important three-digit number in your whole life.” [..]

Oliver argued that there are huge problems with credit reports. For one, about half of all overdue debt on credit reports comes from medical expenses, according a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “It seems unfair to judge someone for that,” Oliver said. “No one chooses to be sick.”

What’s worse, credit reports can contain a lot of errors: A 2013 study from the Federal Trade Commission found that 25 percent of consumers’ credit reports had errors and about 5 percent had serious errors that could result in less favorable terms for loans. As Oliver pointed out, these errors can vary — from credit companies mistaking a person for a terrorist to these agencies thinking someone who’s alive is actually dead. [..]

“The problem is this whole industry seems uncomfortably complacent,” he said, referencing a report in which an industry trade group claimed that the FTC study “showed that 95 percent of consumers are unaffected by errors in their credit report.”

“When you are holding records for more than 200 million individuals, that 5 percent error rate affects 10 million people,” Oliver said. “They’re basically saying, ‘Great news, everyone: We only fucked up a group equivalent to the entire population of Sweden!'”