When Carlos Hernández set out to build a platform to help the Hispanic community with its money, he ran into a roadblock almost immediately.
"There was no way to get a credit check in Spanish," he says. "That was one of the earliest things we realized ... it was unbelievable that in 2021, with 62 million-plus Hispanics in the U.S., there was no way to get that simple first step in the credit journey in Spanish."
So he contacted the major credit bureaus and made one himself.
Hernández's startup is one of two organizations rolling out credit checks in Spanish, just in time for National Hispanic Heritage Month. His Crediverso launched a site last week where users can get a free credit report and take a series of steps — including learning how to improve their credit, signing up for credit monitoring and comparing card offers — in both Spanish and English.
The credit bureau Equifax followed on Monday with a similar initiative, making it so anyone can request a free credit report translated into Spanish online or by mail.
It's a change that, in Hernández's eyes, is both overdue and necessary in order to create wealth-building opportunities for Hispanics. Despite the fact that it's the second-most popular language in the U.S., it's been difficult to pull credit reports in Spanish for years.
"There's a lack of focus on this consumer, and it manifests itself in everything from the product features to the UX and the customer support and applications and the onboarding process being in [English]," Hernández says. "I'm not trying to imply that Spanish language is the only issue here, but it's a clear and obvious metric of where the attention and focus is of large financial institutions."
As of 2020, some 30% of low-income Hispanic families were unbanked (meaning they didn't have a bank account) or underbanked (they were not being adequately served by banks). Recent Census data shows that the pandemic has been hitting this population hard.
Because credit scores are used by lenders to evaluate borrowers, they can impact people's chances of being approved for everything from mortgages to cell phones. As such, financial experts recommend checking your credit score at least once a year in order to spot fraud early and know what to expect the next time you apply.
Under a special pandemic policy, Americans can pull their reports once a week online for free right now. Until last week, however, the major credit bureaus and organizations only offered a way to do so digitally in English.
FICO, the analytics company behind the most widely used type of credit score, got written up in The New York Times when it debuted a Spanish version of its website and credit tools in 2012. But those efforts have fallen off. A spokeswoman confirmed that myFICO.com "doesn’t currently have any Spanish-language resources." (Customers who need assistance can contact FICO and ask for a Spanish-speaking agent.)
Relatedly, Experian published a blog post in 2014 about "Crédito y Más" ("Credit and More"), which allowed people to check their scores, see a credit report and set up credit monitoring in Spanish. But the link doesn't work anymore.
"We no longer offer the Crédito y Más product," an Experian spokeswoman tells Money. "Currently, if a consumer calls in and informs the representative that a Spanish-speaking representative is required, they will be transferred to the appropriate assistance. Separate to this case, we’ve been exploring various initiatives to offer multi-language access points to U.S. credit reports."
To that end, Experian offers an educational credit e-book in Spanish. It's also hosting monthly Twitter chats about credit and finances for bilingual and Spanish speakers starting Wednesday under the hashtag #ChatDeCrédito.
Resources are scarce elsewhere on the web. The Federal Trade Commission has a webpage in Spanish explaining how to get "informes de crédito gratuitos," or free credit reports, but the site it points to — AnnualCreditReport.com — does not appear to have a Spanish option. Though TransUnion's website says it's "happy to provide" credit reports in Spanish, customers have to call them.
That's the gap that Crediverso and Equifax are trying to close.
"We recognize there is a clear demand for broader availability of information in Spanish, and we created this Spanish-language report to meet the growing demands," Beverly Anderson, president of global consumer solutions at Equifax, said in a news release. "We want to expand access to and understanding of credit, especially to vulnerable and historically underserved communities, so that they are empowered to move forward in all aspects of their financial journey."
Hernández says it's not easy or quick to build a credit check in Spanish, but it is worth the effort. (Crediverso's credit check uses data from Experian and displays a VantageScore 3.0, a type of credit score that uses a slightly different model than FICO. It also has a partnership with TransUnion to generate product recommendations.)
Putting in the work may also may be becoming more common: As he's been developing Crediverso, he's seen more Hispanic-focused fintech firms and initiatives popping up.
"This speaks to a larger societal trend to be more aware of consumers that have been underserved in the past," Hernández says. "It is a landscape shift in the state of play."
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