Congress considers credit-reporting overhaul, including putting government in charge of scores

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USA TODAY 02 July, 2021 - 04:02am 15 views

This week, Congress discussed updating the U.S., credit-reporting system, including moving control from the 3 bureaus to a single government agency.

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This is why different credit bureaus may show different scores. Buzz60

Amid all of this week's news, one potentially game-changing piece of legislation seemed to slip under the radar: the idea of dramatically overhauling the U.S. credit reporting industry.

"Good credit is a gateway to wealth," said House Committee on Financial Services chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Tuesday. "Yet, for far too long, our credit reporting system has kept people of color and low-income persons from access to capital to start a small business; access to mortgage loans to become homeowners; and access to credit to meet financial emergencies."

Waters added that the House passed two bills out of the committee before the pandemic – the Comprehensive CREDIT Act and the Protecting Your Credit Score Act of 2021– which "provide long overdue reforms to our credit reporting system."

Both bills are now back under consideration.

During Tuesday's hearing, Waters and her committee heard from consumer-protection advocates like Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center, who proposed replacing the privately-run three-credit bureau system with a public credit registry. It would operate under the umbrella of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which guards consumers against unfair or abusive practices. 

"While public agencies are not perfect, at least they would not have profit-making as their top priority," Wu told the House Committee on Financial Services during her testimony. "They would be responsive to public pressure and government oversight. They could also be charged with developing credit scoring models to reduce the yawning racial and economic inequality in this country." 

Wu added, "The fact that these are private, profit-seeking companies explains why the credit bureaus are constantly expanding their products into uses, such as employment, insurance, and tenant screening, that ultimately harm Americans and contribute to the massive inequality in our nation."

Waters noted that creating a credit reporting agency that is consumer-oriented "would be a major upgrade over today’s broken, biased credit reporting system."

In addition to the single credit bureau idea, Wu also proposed several other policies, that, if implemented, could improve the financial lives of Americans struggling to improve their credit scores and financial lives:

To illustrate the impact of COVID on consumer credit, Waters shared a story:

Last week, I received a letter from a gentleman in Ohio. In this letter, he explained how he had lost his job because of the pandemic. Without his salary, and with no help from any of his creditors, he couldn’t afford to cover all of his bills. Though he had never before missed a credit card payment, his credit score has suffered so badly, he wrote – and I quote – 'I couldn’t get credit now if I paid someone to give me credit.'. He closed his letter by asking what this Committee was doing to protect consumers like him.

Currently, Americans have multiple scores from each of the three major reporting bureaus.  Scoring models vary in how which factors are weighted more heavily but all credit scores are used to evaluate a person's ability to manage credit and debt. They're used to decide who gets a car or home loan, credit cards, apartment. 

That three-digit number measures if you manage debt responsibly and is a key factor that determines whether you qualify for a loan and what interest rate you will pay. USA TODAY

Fixing mistakes on a credit report (let alone, all 3 versions) can be a byzantine system of filling out forms and phone calls.

"The fact that their customers are creditors and other users of information explains the unacceptable error rates and bias against consumers who complain about errors," Wu argued, adding that, "if consumers are not able to obtain legal redress for FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) violations, a key means of enforcement disappears, making the broken credit reporting system much, much harder to fix. A public credit registry would replace or provide an alternative to this broken system."

Both Wu and Waters referenced a recent Supreme Court decision, which narrowed the case brought by an Arizona man who had successfully sued Transunion for relief after a car dealership's credit check incorrectly flagged him as being on a terrorist watchlist.

But even smaller errors can cost you over the long haul in the form of higher interest rates on mortgages and car loans – or possibly getting a mortgage or rent application denied, even if you satisfy the income requirements.

In order to help consumes protect their credit during the pandemic, the bureaus have extended the availability of free credit reports until 2022. However, these reports usually do not include your FICO scores. Those you usually have to pay the credit bureaus for – especially if you want to see the ones that will be used when you go to buy that house or car and get an idea of which rate your qualify for.

Another problem related to mortgages: Although both FICO and Vantage scores have been recalibrated to reduce the impact of medical debt, those aren't the ones used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the mortgage-underwriting process. So to streamline the process, many lenders use the same less-forgiving FICO 5 (Equifax), 4 (Transunion) and 2 (Experian) scores and often take your middle score. And again, these are scores that consumers usually have to pay to see. They're also used to evaluate rental applications.

Your credit score also impacts your auto insurance payment, determining whether you can afford to drive that car to work. It might even factor into whether you get that job.

"It’s essentially the report card for a consumer’s financial life," Wu said. "Yet for such an important record, credit reports and scores suffer from profound problems and abuses."

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Fact check: Delta variant, not 'vaccine shedding', behind surge in new COVID-19 cases

USA TODAY 02 July, 2021 - 12:39pm

A tweet shared to Instagram falsely claims new COVID-19 cases among the vaccinated and unvaccinated are due to the vaccine, not the Delta variant.

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Missouri is becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the country: It is seeing an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases because of a combination of the fast-spreading delta variant and the stubborn resistance among many people to getting vaccinated. (June 23) AP Domestic

In recent weeks, many states began relaxing coronavirus restrictions as COVID-19 cases dropped and vaccination rates crept toward President Joe Biden's target of partially vaccinating 70% of American adults by July 4.

The U.S. is expected to fall short of that goal, and now the nation faces another setback: the spread of the contagious Delta variant. It now accounts for at least 20% of COVID-19 cases and is on the rise. 

Variants aren't unexpected. Whenever a virus replicates inside its host, random genetic errors – resulting in slightly altered versions of the original – are a common occurrence. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been thousands of coronavirus mutations. Some strains, like the Delta variant, are more contagious than others.

But some on social media are claiming cases from the new strain aren't due to the virus but shedding from COVID-19 vaccines.

"The new 'vARiAnT' is nothing more than the VX spike pr0teins inf*cting those vxd and unvxd,"  claims a tweet shared in a June 27 Instagram post. Both Twitter and Instagram accounts are owned by the same user, who USA TODAY has reached out to for comment. 

The tweet perpetuates a widely circulating, but grossly incorrect theory that the spike protein generated by the COVID-19 vaccines can somehow cause disease or be shed and affect surrounding unvaccinated individuals.

Neither is possible. The COVID-19 vaccines simply help the body develop immunity against the virus, including against the Delta variant.  

Vaccine shedding can occur in rare cases with some types of vaccines, but not with the ones currently available for COVID-19.

"As none of the current COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the USA contain live SARS-CoV-2 virus, viral shedding is not an issue for these vaccines," Dr. Matthew Laurens, an infectious disease specialist and vaccine researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, previously told USA TODAY.

The vaccines authorized in the U.S. contain instructions for the spike protein either in the form of messenger RNA (a type of genetic code ordinarily used by our bodies to make proteins) or via a weakened virus stripped of its ability to replicate.

Regardless of the delivery system, the spike protein cannot cause disease on its own.

When a coronavirus enters your body, usually through breathing in virus-laden droplets from other infected people, the infection unfolds like this: The virus binds to a protein on the host cell surface, enters the host cell, replicates, destroys the host cell as new viral particles are made and dumped into the bloodstream. 

A vaccine's spike protein can't do any of this since it's genetically engineered to only enhance an immune response, is extremely localized once injected and lacks the genetic code to assemble a fully-formed viral particle. Once antibodies against it are made, the spike protein is mostly broken down by the host cell. 

Emerging in India this year, the Delta variant is the newest variant of concern – what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling a group of coronavirus strains that appear to be more transmissible and result in more severe disease – especially for those who haven't been vaccinated, experts say. 

What makes the Delta variant so contagious and worrisome to scientists are two mutations that enable easy viral transmission – it's reported to be 50% more transmissible than the dominant Alpha variant – and immune system evasion. 

This poses a grave concern and threat to poor countries with little to no vaccines, as well as vulnerable areas in the southern U.S. where vaccination rates severely lag behind the Northeast and West Coast. 

"A variant like (Delta) that has more transmissibility will lead to more hospitalizations and more deaths among a population that has low vaccination coverage," Dr. Henry Walke, director of the CDC's division of preparedness and emerging infections, told NBC News.

The key protection against this contagious strain is being fully vaccinated. 

A May study from the U.K.'s Public Health England showed two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant, and even more successful at preventing hospitalization and death. The study, however, found one dose of the Pfizer vaccine was only 33% protective.

Data on how protective the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine is against the new variant is still in the works, but experts say booster shots likely might provide broader protection, including against the Delta variant.   

We rate the claim that the spike protein of the COVID-19 vaccines is the cause of the new Delta variant FALSE, based on our research. The Delta variant is a genetically unique version of COVID-19 that was not created by vaccine shedding. Vaccine shedding is a real phenomenon for other vaccines, but it is not possible with the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines since they do not contain live virus. The spike protein contained in the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. is not at all capable of causing disease by itself.

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Covid-19: Fears of Delta variant cast shadow over debut of EU travel pass

FRANCE 24 English 02 July, 2021 - 12:39pm

Under EU law, the certificate is meant to do away with the need for quarantines or further testing when travelling between the EU’s 27 countries or four associated European nations (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

All EU member states were connected to the digital certificate system on Thursday except Ireland, which was hit by a cyber-attack targeting its health service in May and plans to have it operational on July 19.

But a surge in the Delta variant, first detected in India and now quickly gaining ground elsewhere, could trigger an “emergency brake” provision suspending the certificate’s acceptance.

Berlin’s decision has raised Brussels’ ire, with EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders saying on Wednesday that “we should avoid travel bans” within the EU and stressing that Germany should have consulted with its partners first.

Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Thursday that the measure against Portugal could be lifted as the Delta variant becomes dominant in Germany—something he said would happen this month.

The startling rise in Delta cases in former EU member Britain, with a rolling two-week infection rate more than seven times that of the bloc’s, is generating deep concern on the continent.

This week, Portugal, Spain and Malta all abruptly increased restrictions for travellers from the UK, although the three said they would accept fully vaccinated Britons.

The World Health Organization added to the unease by warning Thursday that Covid case numbers in the European region—counting 53 countries including non-EU nations such as Britain and Russia—were up 10 percent, ending two months of decline, because of a loosening of social restrictions and increased travel.

The darkening context could limit the effects of the EU certificate.

“There is no doubt that the tourist industry could do with a boost in time for the summer season,” economic research consultancy Capital Economics said in a note.

But it forecast the EU certificate “will have very little impact on European tourism this year”, observing that “most adults are not fully vaccinated and the Delta variant is making people and governments more cautious”.

Airlines grouped together in an umbrella lobby group, A4E, have expressed worries that an “inconsistent approach” among EU countries in vetting the EU Covid certificate could create lengthy lines in airports with the potential to “create new health hazards”.

They called for the certificates to be checked online before travellers even arrive at the airport.

There were scenes of problems at Brussels’ airport early Thursday as the first day of the school summer vacation in Belgium collided with the Covid checks.

“Everything is blocked,” one employee said at a Brussels Airlines check-in desk, as a massive line of passengers was directed towards a waiting tent where social distancing was not observed.

“We will miss our flight,” one couple with two children complained.

An employee responded: “That is Covid, that is the procedure. If you miss your flight, we get you another one.”

Overall, EU governments are weighing the public desire for a much-needed summer break against a race between vaccination and the Delta variant.

AFP statistics collating official health data from across the EU show that 50.4 percent of the bloc’s population has now received at least one vaccine dose, compared with 66 percent in Britain.

So far, one person in three in the EU is considered completely vaccinated.

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Ireland to speed up vaccinating younger people in Delta battle

Reuters 02 July, 2021 - 12:39pm

DUBLIN, July 2 (Reuters) - Ireland will give 18- to 34-year-olds the option of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine one to two months earlier than scheduled in a bid to slow the spread of the Delta variant of the disease and resume a delayed reopening of the economy.

Ireland had planned to resume indoor drinking and eating in bars and restaurants from Monday but announced a slowdown of the easing of restrictions this week due to concerns about the Delta variant, which now accounts for around 70% of new cases.

Almost 45% of Ireland's 3.7 million adult population have been fully vaccinated and 65% have received their first of two doses. The health service has been working its way down the age groups and began to vaccinate 35- to 39-year-olds in the last week.

Ireland's lifting of restrictions on giving the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) vaccines to younger people means those aged 18 to 34 can choose to receive one of those shots from Monday, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said.

"We now have a significant acceleration of the vaccine programme," Donnelly told parliament, adding that Ireland should receive 205,000 to 210,000 Johnson & Johnson shots and at least 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that can be given to that age group this month.

"To be able to pull forward a huge number of people is incredibly valuable and is really going to help us in protecting our population from the Delta surge that we know is coming."

Following the delay in the reopening, the government instead intends to restrict indoor drinking and dining to those who are fully vaccinated or who have previously been infected, with a plan to be put in place by July 19. read more

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Britons who have had two COVID-19 vaccinations should soon be able to travel to Germany without going into quarantine on arrival, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday.

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Early data shows Johnson & Johnson vaccine works against Delta variant

New York Post 01 July, 2021 - 11:58pm

By Samuel Chamberlain

July 2, 2021 | 12:58am | Updated July 2, 2021 | 12:58am

Johnson & Johnson said late Thursday that preliminary data shows its single-shot vaccine is effective against the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in India.

In a statement, the New Jersey-based company said that its vaccine generated an immune response against the variant that lasted at least eight months. J&J added that its vaccine caused more antibody activity against the Delta variant than against the Beta variant, which was first located in South Africa, though the dose worked against all so-called “variants of concern.”

The company said the data came from two small sub-studies that were offshoots of its original vaccine trial. Both studies, which examined vaccine recipients’ blood, had been submitted for publication.

“Today’s newly announced studies reinforce the ability of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to help protect the health of people globally,” said J&J Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels in a statement. “We believe that our vaccine offers durable protection against COVID-19 and elicits neutralizing activity against the Delta variant. This adds to the robust body of clinical data supporting our single-shot vaccine’s ability to protect against multiple variants of concern.”

“Current data for the eight months studied so far show that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generates a strong neutralizing antibody response that does not wane; rather, we observe an improvement over time,” added Dr. Mathai Mammen, the head of research and development for Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division. “In addition, we observe a persistent and particularly robust, durable cellular immune response. With each new dataset, we build on our solid foundation of evidence that our single-shot COVID-19 vaccine plays a critical role in ending the pandemic, which continues to evolve and pose new challenges to global health.”

The announcement follows an announcement earlier this week by Moderna that its mRNA vaccine had produced antibodies against several coronavirus variants, including the Delta strain, in a lab study. A separate study published in the journal Nature suggested mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer could provide “persistent” protection against COVID-19 for years — provided the virus doesn’t mutate too much beyond its current forms.

That came on the heels of a recommendation by Los Angeles County health officials for people to resume wearing masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status, due to an increase in cases blamed on the variant.

Walensky also told NBC’s “Today” show that Americans who received the J&J vaccine likely don’t need to go back for a booster shot, a statement supported by the preliminary data announced Thursday.

“We have every reason to believe, based on how J&J is performing with other variants of concern – and that is quite well – and how its sister vaccine, AstraZeneca, has performed against the Delta variant in other countries … people are agreeing that they anticipate that the J&J will perform well against the Delta variant, as it has so far against other variants circulating in the United States,” she said.

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