Alternative Credit Bureaus

By some estimates, there are 50 to 70 million people in the United States who do not have credit cards or a credit history in their own name, such as many young adults, immigrants, and divorced or widowed women. Alternative credit bureaus have sprung up to help these so-called unbanked or thin-file customers to get credit.

Alternative credit bureaus are companies that determine the creditworthiness of individuals by using data other than credit reports. Some of these companies include:

The creditworthiness of applicants for loans is determined by their record of paying everyday bills, such as:

Alternative credit bureaus also calculate credit scores using their own financial models based on the bill-paying information. These alternative credit scores use the same data and criteria that traditional credit scores use, but simply apply it to non-credit-reporting bills. And as with traditional credit scores, more weight is placed on more recent data, so the negative impact of any blemishes will diminish in time. For example, PRBC's Bill Payment Score (BPS) is weighted thus:

Some alternative credit bureaus, such as PRBC, require that the borrower apply to develop a credit record and others, such as LexisNexis, collect the information from public records. For instance, to build a credit record with PRBC, you enroll at their website, enter your account information for the bills that you pay regularly, then request verification. Enrolling is free, but verification costs $20 to verify rent payments, and $15 for each account that has at least 6 months of payment history that you want verified. You will then be required to fax or mail your documents to PRBC. Although more accounts costs more money, it also gives a better history and a better alternative credit score. (Almost all credit scores give a greater weight to more history, since this provides more information.) PRBC also has partnerships with bill-paying services, such as CheckFree. If you use their bill-paying service, then your record of paying bills will be kept automatically.

The main problem with alternative credit bureaus and alternative credit scores for lenders is that they are not well tested against a large sample of the population over a long period that would allow an accurate assessment as to how well they predict the actual creditworthiness of borrowers. The FICO score, used by most lenders, has been well tested over several decades, so lenders feel more confident using the FICO score. Nonetheless, a good bill-paying record is certainly indicative of good creditworthiness, since bill-paying uses the same behavioral pattern as repaying debt. Of course, people have to pay bills or their service gets cut off, so certainly there is a greater incentive to pay bills than to pay debt, but bill paying still shows that the bill payers can handle and manage money, at least somewhat. However, borrowers without a traditional credit score will still have a harder time getting credit and will pay higher interest rates, since there is no debt-paying information.

Not every lender uses credit scores or credit reports to make lending decisions; some lenders base their decisions on information they collect themselves, such as verifying employment, assets, and other financial information. So if you have a good, steady job, have lived in the same place for a couple of years, and have no credit blemishes, then you should be able to get, with some diligence, a loan on relatively good terms.

Specialty Consumer Reports — ChexSystems

Credit reports have information regarding payment history and amount of debt, and is requested by potential lenders before lending money. However, there are many other types of reports that cover gambling, checking accounts, employment, insurance, medical information, rental information, and mortgage financing. ChexSystems is one of the specialty consumer reporting agencies covering how people manage their bank accounts. ChexSystems relationship with banks is the same that lenders have with credit reporting agencies. Banks get these reports on anyone opening a new bank account, but they also send information about current customers, to add to the database.

The ChexSystems Consumer Website allows you to check your report at ChexSystems, if they have a report on you. However, they do not display the information online. You have to call, and provide the information to their automated voice system, then they mail your report in about 5 days. The site has a sample report that details what is covered.

The ChexSystems Consumer Report may include any debts owed to a bank, writing checks without sufficient funds, and returned items. Major sections include: