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Asking Consumers To Check Their Credit Scores Has Unexpected Consequences

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For some consumers, it may make more sense for them to avoid some information they receive about themselves.

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That’s a takeaway from a recent study that found that for some consumers checking a credit score ultimately leads to a drop in that score, according to Boston College Carroll School of Management Assistant Professor of Marketing Megan Hunter.

Hunter and a colleague studied data about the actions people took when they were reminded by a consumer services firm to check their credit scores and the subsequent impact on those scores, said Hunter, a co-author of the report in the journal Marketing Science.

The study’s most intriguing findings center on consumers with declining credit score trends. First, those consumers were more reluctant to check their credit score, said Hunter. And those that saw their scores had declined were less likely to check their score the following month – an indication that this segment of consumers did not try to make changes that would improve their scores.

The researchers looked at what happened when the company asked its users – via email – to check their credit scores.

“Users who are on a declining credit score trend, when nudged to check their credit score, upon checking, their score declines an additional 23 points,” Hunter said.

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The researchers saw different results for consumers whose credit scores were stable or improving.

“For users on an increasing or flat credit score trend, upon checking their score, their score increases an additional 9 points,” said Hunter, who added that the results were similar for consumers with low, medium and high credit scores.

Hunter said the findings are important for companies who communicate personal financial information to their customers. Computer simulations run by Hunter and co-author Jessica Fong of the University of Michigan, also showed that sending such information can decrease consumer retention as well as harm the outcomes for certain consumers.

Information avoidance has been a topic of study for several years. Hunter said many of the results were surprising.

“We would have expected that for a user who was avoiding looking at her credit score, upon seeing that she was doing badly – or had a declining credit score – they would have been inspired to work to improve their credit score, but we see instead that they do worse,” Hunter said. “Additionally, we find that this result holds even for users in the top tercile of credit scores.”

But for users with top credit scores that are trending upward, upon checking, their credit score increases an additional 21 points, said Hunter, noting that it is difficult to improve upon the highest credit scores.

Hunter said the next steps in the research will be determining the driving forces behind these results. Among the factors that deserve further attention are the roles of credit card debt and debt repayment strategies.

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