AUGUSTA, Maine — An association representing three of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies sued the state of Maine in federal court last week over two new consumer protection laws that affect credit ratings and deal with medical debt and economic abuse.
The Consumer Data Industry Association, whose membership includes credit reporting agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, said in a complaint filed Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court that two laws that went into effect a week earlier violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act and will “undermine the accuracy, integrity and reliability” of consumer report information.
One of the laws prevents reporting agencies from reporting medical debt on a consumer report until the debt is 180 days old and instructs agencies to treat medical debt the same as a credit transaction if the consumer is paying the debt off regularly.
The other instructs reporting agencies to investigate if a person claims their debt is the result of economic abuse. This can include instances where access to money or bank accounts is obstructed, resources like food or shelter are withheld or an abuser creates fraudulent debt in a victim’s name, according to the law’s text. If abuse is found, the agencies have to remove any references to debt generated as a result of the abuse from the victim’s credit report.
The second law was supported by the Maine Coalition for Domestic Violence, who surveyed 135 domestic violence survivors as part of a February report to the Legislature on the issue of economic abuse related to domestic violence in Maine.
The group found that 89 percent of responders’ abusive partners reacted negatively when the issue of finances came up, and 74 percent said they were never, infrequently or occasionally able to make their own financial decisions within the relationship. About 72 percent said their purchases were monitored by their partners and 63 percent always or frequently hid purchases for themselves or their children from their partners.
Some form of financial abuse occurs in 99 percent of domestic violence cases, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
The Industry Association argues that the Fair Credit Reporting Act preempts states from regulating credit reports and that the new state laws will create “other impracticalities and unreasonable burdens” on credit reporting agencies. They say the rules will make it difficult to assess credit risk, resulting in increased delinquencies and potentially increasing the price and decreasing the availability of consumer credit.
The office of Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, declined to comment. The complaint does not prevent the laws from being enforced. The state has 60 days to respond.