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Brown Calls for Action Against "Zombie Debts"

September 4, 2015 - 3:08 PM

CLEVELAND, OH – With thousands of Ohioans impacted by errors on their credit reports, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged federal regulators to crack down on so-called “zombie debts” that are no longer owed by consumers, but linger on their credit reports or can be sold by banks to debt collectors – who then harass consumers and attempt to illegally collect settled debt.

“Every consumer should have an accurate credit score, and no consumer should be haunted by debts they don’t owe,” said Brown, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. “Discharged debt should not be continue to haunt Ohioans looking for jobs, apartments, and home loans. That’s why I’m working to ensure that debts discharged in bankruptcy show a zero balance on the consumer’s credit report quickly and accurately.”

At Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland today, Brown was joined by David Rothstein, a credit counselor, and Gabriel Rice, a Clevelander whose credit report contained debts he had paid off years earlier, to discuss how debt and credit issues impact family finances. One in five Americans’ credit reports have an error.

“Credit history is critical to home buying and asset building,” said David Rothstein of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland. “Far too many families come to us with dings on their credit that are not real or were taken care of years ago. Without this bill, families are inadvertently being denied access to homeownership.”

In July, the nation’s largest bank agreed to settle claims regarding allegations that it sold credit card debt that was inaccurate to debt collectors – who then illegally attempted to collect on the debt. These actions impacted half a million consumers, including 14,000 Ohioans. Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) opened its doors four years ago, 20,000 Ohio consumers have filed complaints with the CFPB – and roughly 8,000 of those involved debt collection and credit reporting.

In response, Brown wrote to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Martin Gruenberg, and National Credit Union Administration Chairman Debbie Matz. The letter urges specific action by the regulators to strengthen oversight of debt-sale arrangements, including considering what information the financial institutions send to debt buyers and consumers, how that information is verified for accuracy, and whether there are prohibitions on financial institutions selling zombie debt to debt collectors. 

Brown also outlined legislation he has introduced that would require banks and debt buyers to notify credit reporting agencies when a consumer’s debt has been extinguished through bankruptcy. In Ohio alone, there were more than 40,000 bankruptcies last year. Introduced last month, Brown’s Consumer Reporting Fairness Act would amend bankruptcy law to require creditors to ensure that a debt discharged in bankruptcy shows a zero balance on the consumer’s credit report in an accurate and timely manner. The bill also would permit consumers to take legal action against creditors that fail to report a discharged debt that is no longer owed.

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