Credit and finance
Information about a person's finances and creditworthiness is one of the most sensitive categories of personal information. The Privacy Act has strict provisions for organisations and government agencies who handle credit information.
What is a credit reporting agency?
A credit reporting agency is a business that operates databases that record information about an individual's credit worthiness, commonly known as 'credit reports'. Databases that involve the reporting of information about an individual's eligibility to be provided with credit, or history in relation to credit, or capacity to repay credit are regulated by the Privacy Act and the Credit Reporting Code of Conduct.
What is a credit provider?
Financial organisations such as banks, building societies, credit unions and retail businesses which issue credit cards are automatically classed as credit providers. Many other businesses are also credit providers if they operate a business and a substantial part of the business is providing loans.
When can a default be listed on my credit file?
A credit provider may only list a default on your file if 60 days has elapsed since the day on which the payment was due and payable and the credit provider has:
- taken steps to recover all or part of the amount outstanding
- written to you at your last known address and advised you of the overdue payment and requested payment of the amount outstanding
- provided you with notice that they may list a default on your credit file.
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
You will need to contact the credit reporting agency to obtain a copy of your credit report. You will be asked to provide information to enable them to properly identify you. This could include your:
- full name
- date of birth
- previous address
- driver's licence number.
Credit reports are generally required to be given free of charge, however if you want your report immediately there may be a charge involved.
There are two main credit reporting agencies. Their contact details are available in our FAQ How do I get a copy of my credit report?.
How do I protect my financial information online?
Technology has changed the way we manage our finances. Online banking and online shopping have become a way of life. However, with this added convenience can come risks, such as fraud, identity theft and phishing attacks.
There are some simple precautions you can take to protect your personal and financial information online. To help safeguard your privacy, the Australian Government has released a 'StaySmartOnline' website with information and tips on how you can protect yourself online.
Could my loan repayment history affect my credit report?
- As the law stands now, a default on your loan repayments may be listed (i.e. if the payment is at least 60 days overdue and the credit provider has taken steps to recover the money – see above). However, loan repayments history cannot be listed on a credit report.
- As part of proposed changes to the Privacy Act, in October 2009 the Australian Government accepted recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to allow more ‘comprehensive’ credit reporting.
- If the Parliament agrees, five new types of information will be permitted to be listed on consumers’ credit reports. One of those five types is repayment performance history.
What does ‘repayment performance history’ refer to?
As detailed in the Government proposal (see note below):
- Repayment history is proposed to include:
- whether you have met your loan repayment obligations over the past 2 years and
- the number of ‘repayment cycles’ that you were late for a repayment in that period.
- The changes will provide that only minimal information about repayment history should be collected by credit reporting agencies and disclosed to certain types of credit providers.
- This will not include information about account balances or specific repayment amounts.
- Details on how the collection, use and disclosure of repayment history information will operate under the proposed changes will be outlined in the new draft laws.
Note: This is the Office’s very brief summary of elements of the Government’s proposals. See the Government’s responses to Ch 55 of ALRC Report 108 for more detail (link above).
When could repayment history start being shared?
- There is no definite timeline until the Australian Parliament passes new laws. However you should be aware that, in future, repayment history may be listed on your credit file and be used by banks and some other credit providers to assess whether they will lend you money.
What safeguards are proposed?
- Repayment history information will only be available to credit providers with responsible lending obligations.
- Responsible lending obligations are included as part of the new national consumer credit regime that is overseen by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). ASIC’s credit page has more information on the new national consumer credit regime.
- The Government has proposed other changes designed to improve dispute resolution and enforcement under the credit reporting system (Part IIIA) and the Privacy Act more generally (see Parts F and G of the Government response).
How can I prepare myself?
Some tips to prepare yourself include:
- Manage your current payments – Start a habit of paying bills before they’re due. This shows you’re able to pay back loans on time. That will help give you a better credit rating in the long-term (which is what credit providers are interested in) once repayment history is made available under any new laws.
- Make a plan – Ask your credit provider about repayment options if you’re struggling to meet repayments, or seek professional help if you think you might struggle in future.
- Check your file – Ask a credit reporting agency for a free copy of your credit report to understand what’s already on your credit file.
- Keep in touch – Keep an eye out for news on any credit reporting changes as they happen. For example:
- on your credit card statements and other loan statements
- in advice from financial advisers
- in the media
- on consumer credit websites
- sign up to the Office’s OAICNet news alerts.
See the Law reform section for more detailed information on the proposed changes to credit reporting, privacy principles and the Privacy Act generally.
Other places to go
- There are two main credit reporting agencies. Their contact details are available in our FAQ How do I get a copy of my credit report?.
- SCAMwatch is the Australian Competitions and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) website established to help you recognise, report and protect yourself from scams, see www.scamwatch.gov.au.
- FIDO is the Australian Securities and Investments Commission's (ASIC) website which provides financial tips and safety advice, including scams and warnings, www.fido.gov.au.
- Information for business on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing can be found at www.privacy.gov.au/law/other/aml.
- Got a question on credit? Chances are someone's asked it before. See our Frequently Asked Questions on credit.
- If you think an agency or organisation has misused your personal information, you can make a complaint. To find out more, see Complaints.