John Oliver Says Your Credit Score Might Be Meaningless (VIDEO)

Jeff Pfeiffer
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On HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the host regularly goes viral for expounding upon outrages to be found in everything from Donald Trump and the New York Yankees to other high-profile people and things. But some of his most profound work has been in exposing the intricacies, ineptitudes and even outright corruption to be found in some of the elements of day-to-day-life that can be rather dry to think or talk about, if people are even aware of them.

To his credit, Oliver always presents these in easy-to-understand, hilarious ways. Such was the case on last night's show, when he went in on credit bureaus and their seemingly sacred reports.

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A good credit report is something most people strive for, without perhaps even knowing why. It's just something you want to have, because, as Oliver points out, this "single most important three-digit number in your whole life" is used by everyone from employers to landlords, and it can have a major impact on whether one gets that job or apartment, or not.

But as Oliver also goes on to say, even these folks -- and even folks from the credit bureaus who conduct these reports—don't have much evidence that a good credit report is the ultimate marker of a trustworthy person. As evidence of this, Oliver points at himself: "My credit is probably fine, but I routinely waste HBO's money on stupid costumes, pyrotechnic displays and checkered dress shirts. I clearly cannot manage this company's money well."


Oliver's takedown includes reports of the credit bureaus' longstanding history of errors—some of them minor, others much more catastrophic to people's lives, including one man who didn't get an apartment because he was mistaken with another man who was labeled a terrorist; and a woman who spent six years trying to clear up her misidentification with a woman of another name who had outstanding debt.

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Oliver presented a stat that companies like major players Equifax, Experian and Transunion brought up about how such errors account for "only" about five percent of consumers. But with clients numbering 200 million, that 5 percent leads to about 10 million people being impacted.

An Oliver bit wouldn't be complete without a little bit of activism, so at the end he says that he has created three fictional, and frankly terrible, companies, whose names are "problematically similar" to Equifax, Experian and Transunion. "Equifacks," "Experianne" and "TramsOnion" now have websites. But it should be okay for the real companies; perhaps only five percent of people will mistake these for the credit bureaus, and, according to them, such a number is acceptable.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Sundays, 11/10c, HBO.