US consumer agency to supervise credit reporting companies

July 16 Mon Jul 16, 2012 12:00am EDT

July 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. consumer watchdog agency said o n M onday it will start closely supervising credit reporting companies in September, bringing the industry under strict federal supervision for the first time.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in adopting a rule to oversee the companies, said the industry has a tremendous influence over Americans' financial well-being.

"Credit reporting is at the heart of our lending systems and enables many of us to get credit, afford a home, or get an education," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement.

"Supervising this market will help ensure that it works properly for consumers, lenders, and the wider economy," he said.

About 30 such companies that take in more than $7 million each year will be subject to federal supervision under the CFPB's new rule.

The consumer watchdog agency said it was given the authority to oversee larger businesses in this market by the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law Congress passed in 2010. The law also created the CFPB, which officially opened in July 2011, and gave it authority over consumer products such as credit cards.

The agency first proposed in February to supervise credit reporting agencies and debt collection companies. It was the agency's first proposed rule under its authority to regulate "larger participants" in consumer financial markets.

Cordray said at the time that those industries were chosen because of the increased role they are playing in consumers' lives after the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

The CFPB said there are about 400 consumer reporting agencies in the United States, but the 30 companies it plans to oversee take in about 94 percent of the sector's annual revenue. The largest companies in the industry are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

The companies will face reviews of compliance systems and procedures and on-site examinations, and they will have to produce reports for regulators, the CFPB said.

The agency said consumer reporting to date has been subject only to law enforcement authority at the federal level, with several agencies sharing responsibilities for writing rules.

This meant no single federal agency could fully see how the companies operated. The three largest issue more than 3 billion reports each year and keep files on more than 200 million Americans, according to the CFPB.

The watchdog also will post questions and answers about credit reporting on its website ()to help consumers determine what to look for in credit reports and how to dispute errors.

The agency expects to finalize its debt collection rule this fall.