NEW YORK – March 10, 2015 – Fixing an error on a credit report may become less of an ordeal for the nation's roughly 200 million credit users in the wake of a landmark agreement with the largest credit-reporting agencies that aims to make the process fairer to consumers.

New York State's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the deal, struck with Experian Information Solutions, Equifax Information Services and TransUnion, at a news conference Monday. The changes, he said, will help millions of consumers get the financial help they seek to pay for cars, homes and tuition by clearing up inaccuracies on their credit reports.

Though negotiated by Schneiderman, the new rules will be applied nationwide.

"The credit-reporting system in America … suffers from inaccuracy and often from outright injustice," Schneiderman said. "The nation's largest reporting agencies … have accepted to a degree they haven't in the past the responsibility that comes with that role, to ensure the fairness of the dispute process and their data."

Lenders, such as banks and credit card companies, as well as collections agencies, report accounts and payment histories to the credit-reporting companies. Those firms then score an individual's collective credit data, and that metric is used by creditors to determine whether a consumer can get a loan, and what interest they'll pay if they do. A consumer's payment history can mean the difference between having to put down a deposit with a utility company, paying higher premiums on an insurance policy and whether they can get a job with some employers.

Often, when consumers have tried to challenge a negative posting, credit-reporting companies have maintained the negative information based on the lender's say. Now, the credit-reporting agencies will have to rely on more than the lender's word and do an independent inquiry into the consumer's claim.

"That is a rubber-stamp approach that will no longer take place after today's agreement," Schneiderman said. "They have to do their own independent investigation."

Other key changes will deal with the reporting of medical debt. At least a fifth of all consumers see their credit negatively affected because of medical debt, and often it is an insurance company's delayed payment that causes the delinquency, Schneiderman says.

Going forward, medical debts cannot be reported for 180 days, giving insurance companies time to make good on claims. And the credit-reporting companies will erase previously reported medical debts that have been or are currently being paid off, instead of leaving them to scar a credit report for seven years.

Debts for tickets, fines and other obligations that a consumer did not enter an agreement to pay can no longer be reported. And under the new plan, consumers whose disputes are not resolved to their satisfaction will get information on what they can do to follow up.

The Consumer Data Industry Association, the trade group representing the three credit-reporting firms, said in a statement that the agreement came about after months of discussions.

Copyright © 2015 USA TODAY, Charisse Jones. Bebeto Matthews, AP