Nina Turner: Credit Scores Are Deeply Flawed And Designed To Keep People In Poverty

Nina Turner: Credit Scores Are Deeply Flawed And Designed To Keep People In Poverty

credit scores

Photo provided by Nina Turner, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Nina_Turner_%28Ohio%29

Activist, commentator and former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner periodically calls for the repeal of credit scores, and has tweeted at least three times in the last six months that the system used to decide how likely a person is to pay his or her bills is “a scam,” “designed to keep people in poverty” and one “we can live without.”

Credit scores have been scrutinized because they are often required — sometimes, by law — to buy insurance, apply for housing rentals, maintain employment or get transportation. These are all basic functions of meaningful participation in modern society, Jonathan Cinnamon wrote in his 2017 article, “Social Injustice in Surveillance Capitalism.”

“It’s like your passport to everything that you need to do as an adult,” said Frederick Wherry, director of the Dignity and Debt Network in a CNBC report.

Benefits of having a high credit score include lower interest rates on credit cards and loans, more negotiating power, higher borrowing limits and cellphone contracts and utility hookups without a security deposit. You can survive with bad credit, but it may not be easy and it definitely won’t be cheap, LaToya Irby wrote for The Balance. 

Supporters of the U.S. credit scoring system say one of its key benefits is that it’s nondiscriminatory, using just numbers to determine a person’s creditworthiness.

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Critics say the proprietary algorithms behind credit scores systematize biases that have been measured externally and are known to impact disadvantaged groups such as Black people. Because the algorithms are proprietary, they cannot be tested for built-in human bias, according to Danielle Keats Citron and Frank A. Pasquale, whose paper, “The Scored Society: Due Process for Automated Predictions”, was published in 2014 in the Washington Law Review.

A Credit Sesame survey of 5,000 U.S. adults found that more than half of Black American respondents reported having a low or no credit score, compared to 37 percent for white respondents and 18 percent for Asian Americans.

“As an African American person, I feel that the odds were always against me. Banks won’t give us loans, etc,” a survey respondent said.

Another criticism of the credit scoring system is it’s a form of economic inequality, a classification to shape an individual’s life chances, Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy wrote in a 2013 paper, “Classification situations: Life-chances in the neoliberal era.”

Too often, people are penalized for mistakes that the credit bureaus or data providers made, and irrelevant information — such as a job loss or illness — that doesn’t predict credit default. This can keep people from getting mortgages, good interest rates on car loans or credit cards or even a job, Mike Litt wrote in a CNN opinion piece.

Litt is the consumer campaign director at U.S. PIRG, a federation of independent, state-based, citizen-funded public interest research groups. He called on credit bureaus to make credit reports and scores fairer, more accurate and transparent.

“We’ve passed the tipping point for an overhaul, but it’s clear that we can’t rely on the credit bureaus to reform themselves,” Litt wrote.

Turner, a college professor, has taught African-American history and women’s studies at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College. She identifies as a democratic socialist and supports student debt cancellation, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, legalizing cannabis, and tuition-free tertiary education.

On “Unbossed With Nina Turner” — her TYT (The Young Turks) Network news commentary show on YouTube — Turner is described as a “progressive firebrand and hell-raising humanitarian (who) unites real, everyday Americans to take on the corrupt forces that seek to keep the power.”

Student loans are installment loans similar to car loans, personal loans and mortgages. They are part of credit reports and can impact credit scores.

Turner described poverty as a policy choice instituted by politicians and cited student loan debt cancellation as an example during an April 26, 2022 interview with Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration.

“The people who believe in keeping the status quo, they like it like this. They want people to be frustrated,” Turner said on an episode of Reich’s YouTube video series, Inequality Media. “They want people to lose so much hope that they opt out and they don’t participate. Just to use canceling student debt as one example, I met a woman who’s 74 years old, and she said to me, ‘Sen. Turner, don’t forget about me. I’m still carrying student debt.'”

A member of the Ohio State Senate from 2008 until 2014, Turner was the Democratic nominee for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014, but lost in the general election. She served as a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign. Turner ran in the 2021 special election for Ohio’s 11th congressional district but lost to Shontel Brown. She unsuccessfully challenged Brown for the seat again in 2022.