Whistleblower: Paying to fix credit is big business
- Article by: Alejandra Matos
- Star Tribune
- March 3, 2014 - 10:27 AM
United Credit Consultants, based in Burnsville, has a team of 20 specialists that it says are trained to help consumers remove unverifiable and inaccurate information from credit reports.
UCC’s owner, Joseph McGlynn, says they never make promises but have helped thousands of Minnesotans restore their credit so they could buy a home or get a loan. His success in helping consumers is evident in the company’s 278 percent growth in a single year, he said.
The services that UCC offers are part of a legal but controversial for-profit industry known as credit repair companies, or credit service organizations. Government consumer protection officials and consumer advocacy groups discourage the use of these companies, saying they charge high fees for something that consumers could do on their own or with free help from a nonprofit.
Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for financial services at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, said he has seen a big leap in advertising from credit relief companies in the past five years, and many consumers never hear about his group and another local nonprofit, FamilyMeans, that do the same counseling for free. Dahlheimer said he thinks a company has a conflict of interest when it says it wants to rebuild your credit, yet charges fees for it.
“I compare our service and industry with attorneys. We can get an attorney for free or pay for one. At the end, which one do you think is going to work harder for you and have a better connection with you?” McGlynn said.
The company had a rocky start. McGlynn said he previously did not know he needed a state license to operate, but in 2010, UCC was fined $10,000 for failing to obtain a license from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Department spokeswoman Anne O’Connor said the company has since been licensed and paid the fine.
McGlynn, 29, refers to himself and his team as “personal trainers.” The price for this training depends on the consumer’s goals and how long it will take to get them there.
They do everything from helping consumers understand how their FICO credit score is calculated to sending letters to credit bureaus to verify the accuracy of information on a credit report, McGlynn said.
Daniel Long of St. Francis contacted UCC last year to raise his credit score. He said he and his wife paid UCC $1,800 and in a few months, his score rose from 580 to 680.
Dylan Stenglein and his wife also reached out to UCC when they wanted to buy a home. Stenglein, of Coon Rapids, said he paid UCC $1,600 over six months, with little results, before he gave up on the company. McGlynn disputes that, saying Stenglein “had a great response from our efforts so far.”
After reviewing UCC’s website, O’Connor said the company “goes against everything the department recommends.”
Attorney General Lori Swanson says on her website that credit repair companies “hardly ever improve a consumer’s creditworthiness.”
McGlynn said consumers should take the warnings from regulators like Swanson and O’Connor “with a grain of salt because they are protecting the masses,” adding that Swanson does not know how he conducts his business.
© 2014 Star Tribune