According to a June 2015 survey, nearly 60 percent of Americans stated they do not know their credit score. Younger generations that are new to the world of credit have even less credit score awareness, with 74 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds admitting they do not know their credit score.1 The age group with the most credit score awareness were the 45- to 54-year-olds, with 55.4 percent providing their actual score. Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, states, “A limited credit history can create real barriers for consumers looking to access the credit that is often so essential to meaningful opportunity — to get an education, start a business, or buy a house.”2
This toolkit is intended for nonprofits that want to develop a project around reviewing credit reports. If your organization does not already have experience in this area, don’t worry, you don’t have to do it alone. Partnering with an organization that has expertise in financial education will set you up for a successful project.
This guide directs volunteers through a 30-minute credit review session. During these sessions volunteers and participants work together to:
The following sections contain a Sample Credit Review Interaction with a participant. This is a model of the steps volunteers can take to retrieve and review credit reports with participants. The example steps, and the resources provided, can be modified to meet the needs of your specific community.
Throughout this toolkit we will reference two resources that are free for you to use for this event, as well as throughout your regular programming:
Bank of America created Better Money Habits to help consumers build their financial know-how and make more confident money decisions. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit to help front-line staff and volunteers work with consumers to set goals and build skills in managing money, credit and debt. Points of Light’s financial coaching program, sponsored by and founded in partnership with Bank of America, finds value in incorporating both resources in its financial coaching programming.
You might find the following materials useful when conducting your economic opportunity event. These tools are not required in order to successfully carry out the event. For example, if you won’t have a laptop for individuals to access their reports online, they can call and order their report to arrive in the mail.
Everyone should know what’s on their credit report. Specific reasons to check your credit report include:
AnnualCreditReport.com is a trusted and free way to retrieve credit reports. The client can apply to receive their credit report in three ways: online, over the phone, via mail.
Your Money, Your Goals volunteer toolkit: Getting your credit reports and scores (pg. 261)
Information needed to request credit report:
Before diving into the report, show the participant the four main sections of the credit report:
Making sense of your credit report
Participants might want to know how credit scores are determined. Use this tool to explain:
Use a check list to review the credit report with the participant. Make notes where there are errors. Details on how to correct mistakes are covered in the next step.
Your Money, Your Goals volunteer toolkit: Credit report review checklist (pg. 267)
Print a copy of the complete check list for each participant — it is handy for tracking and notetaking.
If the client finds errors on their report, review with them how to dispute the errors. Disputes can be filed online, by mail, and by phone. This can be a take-home assignment for the participant or an opportunity for your agency to follow up with the participant.
If you have video viewing capabilities, consider watching this video: What do you do if you find a mistake on your credit report? If you do not have video capabilities, the participant could watch at another time.
Dispute errors with the credit reporting company and directly with the source of the information, using the same documentation.
Congratulate the participant on completing a huge action item by retrieving and reviewing their credit! Are there other goals that the client wants to achieve? Participants may find issues with their credit report that require more attention. Use the card below to start the conversation to offer resources to help the participant reach other goals.
Your Money, Your Goals | Behind on Bills: Who else can I turn to for help?
Print the complete resource card for each participant.
It is not necessary to create an entirely new event to conduct reviews. You can add this service to an event that your organization, or a partner organization, is already hosting. You can even add this service to a community event. You might find that credit review awareness pairs nicely with Earned Income Tax Credit outreach and VITA free tax preparation services.
Volunteers for this project should be individuals who are trusted by your organization (and have a cleared background check), knowledgeable about credit reports, and has experience working one and one with community members. You might consider tapping into your skills-based volunteer network to find those who are already equipped to serve at this project. Or, you might plan and implement a special volunteer training series to prepare individuals to serve in this capacity. Think about the kind of person that you would want to assist you with your credit report, and make sure your volunteers will have those qualities!
How many community members do you expect to connect with at your event?
Ask volunteers to commit to multi-hour shifts.
Given the sensitivity of credit reports, it is important that volunteers complete and clear criminal background checks before starting any volunteer work. Volunteer background checks reduce the probability of putting your event participants at genuine risk. Some bank volunteers will have already undergone background checks — confirm completed bank employee background checks with the bank representative.
Volunteers should disclose to participants that they have received a background check and will not use or share any of their credit information outside of the current interaction.
Consider screening your volunteers using the guidelines of the National Service Criminal History Check, which conducts screenings on people who have access to vulnerable populations. Below are questions you should consider when reviewing the results of background checks.
Your organization should exercise its own judgment in deciding whether, and to what extent, other types of offenses may make a person ineligible to serve. Consider factors including the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the volunteer position. It is good form for organizations to a have written policy on their disqualification criteria and be consistent across candidates in how those criteria are applied.
Your organization has the discretion to decide whether the results of a criminal history background check disqualify the candidate from volunteering. Given the nature of this economic opportunity volunteer project, disqualifying results that host sites should consider include, but are not limited to: theft-related offenses including identity theft, computer hacking, forgery, money laundering, tax evasion, and fraud-related offenses.
Before your event, hold an information session for your volunteers. This can be done in person, as a webinar, or over the phone. Explain the logistics of the day and include a walk-through of a typical client review.
All Better Money Habits videos, infographics, and articles can be found on bettermoneyhabits.com.