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What are the three credit bureaus?

Learn about the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and how they create your credit score.

Financial stability plays a huge part in determining whether you’re approved for new credit. While lenders use all the information in your application to determine approval, they heavily rely on your credit report.

Your credit report is created and held by three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs), or credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These agencies collect your financial and credit information and make it accessible to lenders and other inquirers.

How do the major credit bureaus work?

Credit reporting agencies, or CRAs, gather and organize your credit information into a comprehensive report. They sell these credit reports to lenders that need access to an applicant’s credit history to decide whether to grant them new credit and, if so, on what terms.

The three major credit bureaus in the US are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. All three credit bureaus are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

How do credit reporting agencies receive my information?

Credit bureaus can receive your personal information in a number of ways:

  • From creditors and businesses. Most credit providers send your account information to credit reporting agencies to be noted on your report. This includes information such as the account’s open and close dates, payment information and defaults.
  • Collecting data. Credit bureaus dig through government information and records or buy data from a smaller credit reporting agency to create a more detailed credit report.
  • Public information. Publicly accessible information, such as court judgments and bankruptcy information, is also included in your report.

Unless you’ve held or applied for a credit account in the US, you probably won’t have a credit report.

Do credit bureaus calculate my credit score?

No, your credit score is calculated by FICO and VantageScore, which are two widely used credit scoring models.

Credit bureaus compile and provide credit reports, which can include your credit score from FICO and VantageScore. They also detail your credit history. This history includes your active accounts, balances and payments due, age of accounts and your requests for new credit. Bankruptcies and delinquencies are also included.

Is one credit bureau better than the other?

Credit bureaus operate similarly, and one is not better than the other. However, some lenders or services only report to one or two agencies, so your credit report may be slightly different with each bureau.

The three major credit bureaus operating in the US are:

  • Equifax. This credit bureau provides personal and business credit reports, and it also offers business risk information and financial marketing and analytical services. In 2017, Equifax suffered a cyberattack that compromised the personal information of over 2 million consumers.
  • Experian. As the largest credit reporting agency in the US, Experian handles the credit information of 235 million consumers. It also offers a checking account and Experian Boost®, a credit-building product.
  • TransUnion. This is the smallest credit reporting agency of the “Big Three,” but it offers a more extensive employment history record. Banks can use this information to verify your employment data when you apply for a personal loan or credit card.

Thanks to the FCRA, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year. However, all three major bureaus now offer free reports weekly, which you can get easily through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Each credit bureau also offers credit monitoring for a price. This service allows consumers to access their credit score and report, plus added protection in the form of credit alerts via email or text and the ability to freeze their credit file.

How to contact the major credit bureaus

If you find any incorrect information on your credit report, contact the credit agency to dispute the error by phone, mail or online.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen or someone else is using your credit, request a credit freeze. You’ll need to create an account to do so, but it will protect your credit from further damage.

OnlinePhoneMail
ExperianExperian dispute registration888-397-3742Experian
PO Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
EquifaxEquifax submit a dispute888-766-0008Equifax Consumer Fraud Division
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
TransUnionTransUnion start a dispute800-916-8800TransUnion Consumer Solutions
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000

Bottom line

The three major credit reporting agencies operate similarly in that they all provide an individual’s credit history to creditors. However, they also have some key differences — like whether they include your employment history.

If you discover inaccurate information on your credit report, file a dispute with the major credit bureaus and get it cleared up as soon as possible so you’re not negatively affected when trying to prove your creditworthiness down the road.

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