Unlike most New Year's celebrations, we turned our calendars with more trepidation than ever as we face an uncertain and difficult 2009.

Many people have resolved to be more responsible financially by saving more and spending less. And people realize just how precious jobs really are. Work might just be a coveted activity in light of the hardships many face.

But for so many people, making ends meet and keeping a roof over their families' heads will be more difficult than ever. We have already seen the surge in foreclosures, which unfortunately may not abate for some time. As more and more Americans face financial challenges, their good credit standing will be at risk, which will make their personal economic recovery even more difficult down the road.

But the real challenge of maintaining good credit is in the credit rating system itself. There probably is no better example of a consumer-oriented industry devoid of transparency than that of Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

Many people would agree that seemingly there is a “secret sauce” that represents the algorithm used to generate our credit scores. And each credit reporting agency uses different information in different ways, which results in a different score. Additionally, some report some items while others don't. While we might know the components that go into our scores (available credit, timeliness of payments, etc.), it is hard to manage something when even the “experts” cannot explain how the system works.

If you have never had to update your credit report or dispute information with one of these three agencies, be thankful. I learned from a friend who sent five letters to dispute a claim that it still hasn't been resolved. When the consumer asked one of the representatives the best phone number to follow up, they said they could not give it out. How is this possible — that we cannot talk to the people who should be the stewards of our credit?

With so much emphasis and weight put on credit scores, it should be a consumer-friendly system, and not the domain of a few black-box companies that confuse consumers into submission and lack the customer service to educate those they are supposed to help.

If this is the year for change and if Congress is on the consumer's side, the credit reporting agencies and the credit rating system needs to be overhauled — for the sake of the consumer.

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