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Down the rabbit hole: how to destroy your credit score in two clicks

Kim claims she never applied for the loan of $400 she investigated with online payday lender Nimble, but two years later she is still on an “insane merry go around” with the company. Marni Olsson-Young reports.

Words by Marni Olsson-Young
 

Two years ago, Kim contracted a severe case of Ross River virus and found herself unable to work and falling behind in her expenses. She began researching loan options and found herself on the website for Nimble, a company touting small, short-term loans, with just two clicks on Google.

After entering basic personal information into what she described as “a user-friendly portal” Kim, who asked that her surname not be used, was quoted an interest rate and payment terms for a $400 loan.

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Sceptical of what she labelled “the shark-infested pool” of online short-term finance, Kim decided not to apply for the loan due to the high interest rate quoted. Given the severity of her condition, she was instead able to obtain sickness allowance for the six months it took her to recover and return to work.

Unlike a lot customers who find themselves on the Nimble website after being lured in by the promise of fast cash, Kim never clicked ‘’apply’’. After providing basic details and toggling with infographics for no more than 10 minutes, she left the website without applying for the loan. Despite leaving the website empty-handed, the damage to Kim’s credit score was done.

In 2016, payday lender Nimble was exposed by ASIC for not meeting its responsible lending obligations. The investigation revealed Nimble had failed to make proper inquiries about borrowers’ financial circumstances before approving high-interest loans. Nimble settled the matter with ASIC by refunding $1.5 million in loans to 7000 affected customers.

Kim was unaware of the investigation when she visited the Nimble website, but now fears the basic details she provided will limit her ability to borrow legitimately.

When she recently requested a credit report through online platform Credit Simple, fully expecting to return a score of 100 per cent, she discovered she had a score of 85 per cent and notification of a dispute over a Nimble loan.

Kim initially queried the dispute through Credit Simple, which told her that Nimble recommended that “no correction” be made to her credit score. Since then, she has approached Nimble multiple times over the dispute, an experience she described as an, “insane merry go round”.

In emails to Kim, a Nimble customer service representative recommended she report the “suspicious activity” on her account to police in order for it to be handed to the correct team. Nimble advertises “Paramount Protection” via its security team that aims to protect the financial data of customers.

However, given it was Kim’s own activity on the Nimble website that resulted in the dispute, there is no fraudulent activity to report – only that she never applied for the loan to which her details are connected.

“I did not apply for a loan, but it’s all apples and oranges for Nimble,” she said.

Kim’s experience follows a period of scandal for Nimble and criticism of the wider payday loan industry. Nimble has not been shy about targeting financially vulnerable customers with a national advertising campaign focusing on the youth market. One of its advertisements features a ‘’hipster’’ bunny that encourages young characters to, “Nimble it, and move on” when faced with day-to-day expenses. In one advertisement, the bunny counsels a young girl who has taken too many selfies and cannot pay her phone bill.

Nimble relies on an algorithm to assess the financial information provided by consumers on its website. A bank feed service electronically extracts bank statement information, enabling Nimble “read-only” access to customer accounts.

Nimble states that “read-only” access does not allow it to move money or make changes to accounts, and the entire process is automated. According to customer information on Nimble’s website, “We’ll review and verify your financial situation and know where to pay you as soon as you’re approved (this is all done through our automated system).”

According to Katherine Temple, of the Consumer Action Law Centre, the automated process does little to sift out borrowers who cannot afford the high interest loans, allowing lenders to “make more mistakes quicker” in approving customers.

“Under the law, they are meant to make inquiries about customer’s financial situations and verify the information people give them, but that’s not always happening,” Ms Temple says.

Consumer Action speculated that in Kim’s case, it is possible that a “credit inquiry” has been listed on her report. In this scenario, even if she inquired about a loan but was not accepted, that inquiry may still be listed on her report and affecting her credit worthiness.

The law centre advises consumers to be wary of the credit reporting products offered by companies like Credit Simple. “Companies offering to clean or repair your credit report are very expensive and often very poor quality services,” according to Ms Temple.

(In 2017, Consumer Action together with the Financial Rights Legal Centre launched an advertising campaign across social media highlighting the risks of short-term, fast loans – Watch Your Nuts.)

 

Ms Temple emphasised that consumers are entitled to a free credit report every twelve months through ASIC.

Despite this, Consumer Action continues to warn customers of the payday lenders that are, “setting up young people to fail financially.” They have found that even if customers are diligent in meeting repayments, a history of borrowing from payday lenders can diminish their credit worthiness.

“If you have payday loans on your credit report then it is quite possible that other mainstream lenders who offer credit at much more reasonable interest rates will decide you are a credit risk,” according to Ms Temple. “It’s not all furry rabbits.”

If you are having money troubles you can contact the National Debt Helpline for advice from a free and independent financial counsellor – 1800 007 007 or http://www.ndh.org.au/.

 

 

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