Under the Merkle Trees

Insights on the Relentless Pursuit of Patterns in the World Around Me

small data, big money?

I was looking over my credit reports today when I noticed something that didn't make sense. In my Negative items section there was a company reporting that I had a COLLECTIONS ACCOUNT status. This just happened to be my cell phone provider, whom I was currently up to date on payments with. I decided to call them and inquire.

Representative #1 – Pre sales?

She was eager to help but must have underestimated the apparent 'complexity' of my request. I wanted to know exactly why they were reporting negatively that I had a COLLECTIONS ACCOUNT.
I had recently cleaned up most of the other negative items and now working through the same process with this one. After she looked into my questions for 10-15 minutes she decided we should call Experian and dispute the charge with them. We were informed that they cannot accept group phone calls but that they would be happy to speak with me alone. I declined, explaining to the telecom representative that I was actually still interested in finding out why they were reporting my negative status. She was getting frustrated. I didn’t take the bait and get lost disputing the claim with Experian and she didn’t know why they were reporting me in a negative status. Time for the transfer!

Representative #2 in House Recovery Department

She was going to be able to tell me exactly why I was being reported on negatively and specifically with that STATUS. Oddly, the background noise went from none, to sounding like she was in a crowded bar. We reached a dead end after about 30 minutes. I was not happy with her explanation: It was being listed as a COLLECTIONS ACCOUNT because the account went into bad standing 3 years ago.

*Representative #3 – Floor Manager for the In House Recovery department *

Success. Finally a person with acceptable answers to my basic questions. Because my phone had been shut off for non-payment three years ago, they were still reporting in every month that I had a COLLECTIONS ACCOUNT. They are unique in this in that no other company that I had fallen behind on payments to during that same time period had chosen that painful status of, COLLECTIONS ACCOUNT.

The others, still reporting negatively, said that the account was in standing, PAYS ONTIME. She explained to me that they were required to report negatively for seven years. Next, I shared with her that I had two items removed this week by other companies inside the seven year window because I asked them nicely. Then she explained that it was company policy and not something that she could change. I decided to let it go. 60 minutes of my day dealing with this was far too much.
Given the size of this company, I started to wonder about how much this little STATUS choice could end up costing me, and them costing thier millions of customers.

How much of an impact could this negative mark have on my final credit score? What sort of impact could that have on a mortgage? Could this cost me thousdands of dollars in interest over the years?

Moving past me, what sort of interesting patterns might we find if we looked at the ways in which certain companies choose to interact with an individual’s credit report? What status’s are they allowed to deliver? Who is the most ruthless? Who makes THAT decision for a company and why? Is it purely driven by regulation or is there wiggle room?
Rather than form and theory about how important those questions are and how much money one could make with basic manipulations, I’ll try to stay focused on the questions. After all, I’d hate for my numbers to be shaped around proving a certain theory. Let’s get the data and see what we find.

Backlog Research project #19 | Gather excessive data on how companies interact with the three major credit bureaus, seek patterns


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About the author

Zachary Wolff