Payment history to be reported

CenterPoint Energy will report customers’ bill-payment history to credit agencies come January.

Anna Ewart

As temperatures drop, heating bills can skyrocket.

CenterPoint Energy will begin reporting customers’ bill payment information to credit agencies starting in January. The move could affect the credit scores of natural gas customers across the state.

Greg Schirmers, credit manager for CenterPoint Energy in Minnesota, said the change could affect credit scores negatively or positively. Reporting payment information to credit agencies will improve the credit scores of customers who pay on time, but damage the scores of those who frequently pay late or don’t pay at all.

Schirmers said the company decided to start giving this information to credit agencies so that people would be more likely to pay heating bills.

“For customers who are not paying, but have the means to pay, it may influence them to make payments on their account,” he said.

Nationally, more than 153,000 customers owed CenterPoint about $49 million at the beginning of October, according to the company’s Web site.

Although this kind of payment reporting is new in Minnesota, CenterPoint has been doing it in other parts of the country for years.

Other utility companies provide this information to credit agencies too, but big-name provider Xcel Energy does not.

Nick Jacobs, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, said he recommends students create budget plans, which allow customers to pay a set amount each month.

CenterPoint in Minnesota does offer this type of plan, which is based on energy use in previous years and weather patterns.

Having a bad credit score could affect a person’s ability to get a loan in the future and how much the loan would cost, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Car and home insurance companies could use credit scores to decide how risky individuals are to insure. Phone and credit card companies also use them.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act bars creditors from using race, marital status and national origin as factors in their credit scoring systems. However, the law does allow creditors to use age as a factor.

Jacobs said many people believe students need to learn to manage their credit more responsibly.

He also said CenterPoint’s decision could force students to take their credit scores seriously.

CenterPoint will report the bill payment history of everyone whose name is on the bill.

University senior Ben Elton said he was slightly worried about this change, but said he only has one roommate, so it’s not as big a deal for him.

It could be difficult for students living in situations with four or five roommates, he said.

University junior Angie Nelson said the new policy wouldn’t affect her credit score, but its ramifications likely would reach into her circle of friends.

“I’m always the one who pays bills on time,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of friends who are behind; I guess it might affect them negatively.”