January 20, 2019

The Problem with Credit Scores

“What kind of person racks up debts and doesn’t pay them? Your credit score is an attempt to answer this question. These important three-digit numbers summarize our statistical risk for lenders. The allure of the credit score is its clarity: It cuts through appearances and converts our messy lives into an easily readable metric. The difference between a score of 750 and 600 is obvious. One is an excellent bet for a lender to make; the other is not. On balance, credit scores have made borrowing more convenient, and fairer, for consumers.

But the United States Department of Homeland Security wants to use credit scores for an entirely different purpose, one they were never built for and are not suited for. The agency charged with safeguarding the nation would like to make immigrants submit their credit scores when applying for legal resident status.

The new rule, contained in a proposal signed by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, is designed to help immigration officers identify applicants likely to become a “public charge”—that is, a person primarily dependent on government assistance for food, housing, or medical care. According to the proposal, credit scores and other financial records (including credit reports, the comprehensive individual files from which credit scores are generated) would be reviewed to predict an applicant’s chances of “self-sufficiency.” The proposal is open for public comment until December 10th.

Setting aside the proposal’s moral abdication when it comes to the needy, we should be troubled by another injustice: its abuse of personal metrics.”

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