John Oliver, host of HBO show Last Week Tonight, fired shots at the personal credit reporting industry this past Sunday on his latest episode, questioning why three numbers play such an pivotal (and sometimes damaging) role in our lives.
Oliver points out how simple errors on personal credit reports can negatively impact someone’s life, mainly due to the lack of regulation on background checking companies.
But he failed to mention business credit reporting, which has even less regulation and more potential errors. Here’s what he missed.
Anyone can check your business credit report without permission
John Oliver reveals that “nearly half of employers delve into credit histories when hiring,” which is legal if the employer gains permission from the applicant in question.
But things work differently on the business side. Permissible purpose is not required to check a company’s business credit score, meaning a company or individual can check on your business credit without your permission or knowledge.
Levi King, founder and CEO of Nav, explains that in addition to the absence of permissible purpose, “If information in your business report is used against you (e.g., your supplier denies you a credit line), you aren’t entitled to the same notification you get with personal credit reports. Negative errors on your reports could be costing you and you’d never know it.”
Credit Errors for Businesses Happen More Often Than You Might Think
“1 in 4 [credit reports] had an error, and 1 in 20 was seriously wrong,” Oliver says in his discussion of personal credit report errors. When you think about the massive amounts of data the bureaus are collecting on people, you can understand that errors are inevitable. And believe it or not, the bureaus want clean data. They’ve made it easier than ever to dispute personal report errors.
But things get a little dicier with business credit. According to a Wall Street Journal survey, 1 in 4 business owners who had checked their reports in the past two years found errors that put their business in a riskier category. Of the survey participants, only one in three had even checked their business credit reports.
Here are two of the reasons damaging errors might happen on business credit reports more often than personal credit:
1. It’s harder to properly identify businesses
“To populate a consumer report, the bureaus look at four items: Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Address, and Name. At least 3 of the 4 have to match. This helps ensure that peoples’ profiles don’t get switched up.
“When it comes to a business report, the bureaus just match the business name and address. Neither one has to be exact,” explains Levi King. “Think of how confusing it get when it comes to franchises that share the same name and same general location!”
2. Fragmented data and lack of creditor identification
Business credit reporting agencies develop business credit reports by sifting through public records and available financial data.. When a creditor reports your payment activity to one of these agencies, the activity is recorded on your report without disclosing the creditor’s information. Businesses who look at their credit reports could have a hard time identifying errors if they can’t even identify the creditor reporting the potential error.
On your business credit report, something as simple as an incorrect SIC or NAICS (your business’s industry) code could lower your business credit score, potentially disqualifying you for the best financing and highest credit limits.
One important point was left out of John Oliver’s piece: ultimately you are the best source of quality control for your credit data. No one cares about it as much as you do, and no one else is in a better position to spot errors. Monitoring your business and personal credit scores is a great way to identify potential errors in your reports. Nav provides a free way to do so, as well as dispute resolution tools should you discover errors on your reports.
This article was originally written on April 15, 2016 and updated on October 25, 2019.