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Five Questions with Steve Brobeck, Executive Director, Consumer Federation of America

For the third consecutive year, VantageScore Solutions and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) have partnered to better understand how much consumers understand about credit scoring and to develop resources to bridge the knowledge gap.

Since 1980, Steve Brobeck has served as executive director of CFA. The Score caught up with him to discuss this year’s knowledge survey and his thoughts on consumer advocacy.

What were the most concerning and most encouraging survey results from this year?

Most Americans appear to have at least a fair understanding of credit scores. Most encouraging is that almost everyone knows that not making on-time loan payments adversely affects their scores.

Many Americans don’t know what scores are—a measure of credit risk—and on what they are based—principally one’s credit and payment history. Many are not aware how broadly credit scores are used, not just by creditors, but also by utilities, cell phone companies, landlords, and other service providers. And many do not know how costly low scores can be—thousands of dollars of additional interest charges on a car loan, and tens of thousands of additional charges on a mortgage loan.

What demographic trends did the results of this year’s survey uncover?

Predictably, Americans with more education and those who have recently accessed their credit scores know more than those who have not. But somewhat surprisingly, on many questions women know more than men. This may be related to the fact that other research shows that women are more likely than men to manage family finances.

How has the existence of the CFPB impacted consumers and their usage of financial services?

The CFPB ensures that there is a federal agency with primary responsibility for looking at consumer participation and protection in the financial services marketplace. Just their careful monitoring of this marketplace, through research and a complaint database, will help ensure fairer provider practices. But they also have the ability to target the irresponsible minority of companies that threaten the reputation and market share of the responsible majority.

What are CFA’s concerns with respect to the student loan market?

The accumulation by many students of tens of thousands of dollars of student debt may severely limit their future opportunities—the jobs they can afford to take and their ability to begin building the wealth needed to ensure long-term financial stability. This is a complex issue aggravated by rising college expenses, irresponsible marketing of debt by some institutions, likely increases in loan costs, and unwise decisions by some students and their parents about what schools to attend and whether students should work while they’re in school.

How can financial institutions use the survey results and CreditScoreQuiz.org?

We believe an informed customer is the best customer. Financial institutions should encourage their customers and members to take our quiz and further educate themselves about credit scoring and the cost of credit. The “Resources” section of our website, CreditScoreQuiz.org, contains downloadable banners that lenders can post on their consumer facing websites, blogs and Facebook pages, which will link to the quiz.

By demonstrating that they care about financial literacy, lenders can strengthen their relationships with those that use their services.

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