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Who Do You Want to Believe -- Equifax or the U.S. Census?

posted by Bob Lawless

The Chicago Tribune is running a Reuters story describing a study from Equifax that student loan write-offs totaled $3 billion in the first quarter of 2013. It's an impressive study. According to the story, "Equifax analyzes data from more than 500 million consumers to track financial trends."

Yes, according to the article, Equifax has managed to find about 184 million more people than the U.S. Census says are living in the United States. The credit reporting companies appear to throw around the "500 million" figure as their global reach, not their U.S. database. Does anybody bother to do any reporting anymore?


If Equifax provide data on consumers outside he US, the number could well be 500m - so the statement is not necessarily untrue.

Whether this total number of consumers is relevant is another matter.

Maybe Equifax included people who died? Although I doubt that 150 million people died in the US last year.

This looks like it's probably the press release the article is based on - it says at the end: "Equifax organizes and assimilates data on more than 500 million consumers and 81 million businesses worldwide..."

Apparently it's a plug for Equifax's "National Consumer Credit Trends Report," whatever that is?


Thanks, Sarah. I looked for the press release and could not find it. I understand that Equifax was probably referring to 500 million consumers tracked worldwide, but that is not what the article says. At the least, the figure is out of context in an article about U.S. student loan charge-offs.

Oh, yes, the article totally implied that 500 million consumers was the universe from which they were calculating US student loan charge-offs. Which was why I was intrigued enough to dig for the origins of the story - I was trying to find the so-called "study" but I guess that's a proprietary product they just issue press releases about?

The Census Bureau does not cooperate with other agencies so that it does not ever have to reconcile data--the credit bureaus may be counting illegal immigrants that the Census bueau does not want to recognoze. for example,if a Guatemalan laborer works 9 months out of the year in construction in the US --then goes South for the winter, the credit bureaus will have him--but census --social security etc may or may not--it helps to introduce chaos into the system--by refusing to cooperate agency to agency.

I assume 500 million is the number of consumer records tracked by Equifax and it would have to be world wide. The credit agencies don't track minors (I tried getting credit reports for my kids before they turned 18 with the scare stories about stolen SSNs and they came back with no record because of age. Even with seasonal workers, illegals, etc. the number of adults in the United States probably doesn't exceed about 250 million, and I'm sure many of them don't have a credit report (e.g. the low income cash economy).

Congratulations, Reuters, your RSOs (reporter-shaped objects) managed to take a straightforward flack piece and rewrite it into deceptive hash. The press release clearly puts the "500 million consumers" bit in a separate section containing general company information; the Reuters folks are the ones who made it look like the report's population sample. I fear the US is exporting its pathetic journalistic standards.

RSOs . . . nice, I'm going to remember that one.

I would tend to trust Equifax numbers in this scenario. I'm curious what accounted for the difference though...

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