Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Episode 798: Bad Credit Bureau

Mark Wilson
Getty Images

In 1874, if you wanted to buy groceries on store credit, the cashier would reach under the counter and pull out a little blue book. Inside would be your name, profession and whether you paid your debts on time. It was the beginning of the Equifax business model. And it was never about the regular citizens. It was about the businesses that wanted to lend to them. Regular people are the product. Banks and businesses are the customers.

And in many ways, that makes sense. Businesses do work better if they know something about their patrons. It's safer to lend money, which means it's cheaper and easier to get for "creditworthy" customers. Sort of a win-win but for one uncomfortable thing: Today, credit bureaus like Equifax have grown into massive corporations that slurp up virtually every piece of our financial lives. We never signed up for Equifax, or either of the other two companies that monitor just about every non-cash transaction. We never opted in. And it's hard to opt out.

On today's show: Why credit bureaus know so much about us, and why lawmakers have been struggling to regulate them for the past fifty years.

Music: "" ""and "." Find us:Twitter/Facebook.

Subscribe to our show onApple PodcastsorPocketCast.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Kenny Malone hails from Meadville, PA where the zipper was invented, where Clark Gable’s mother is buried and where, in 2007, a wrecking ball broke free from a construction site, rolled down North Main Street and somehow wound up inside the trunk of a Ford Taurus sitting at a red light.
Kenny Malone
Kenny Malone is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for WNYC's Only Human podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for Miami's WLRN. And before that, he was a reporter for his friend T.C.'s homemade newspaper, Neighborhood News.
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.

👋 Looks like you could use more news. Sign up for our newsletters.

* indicates required
New Orleans Public Radio News
New Orleans Public Radio Info