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What are the major credit reporting agencies?

The three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — explained.

Your financial stability plays a huge part in determining whether or not you’re approved for a loan or credit card application. While lenders use the information you provide in your application to determine approval, they heavily rely on your credit report.

Your credit report is held by credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and it’s a detailed record of your applications for credit, payment history and other borrower behavior. Find out more about these agencies and the role they play in your credit journey in this guide.

What are the three credit reporting bureaus?

There are multiple credit reporting agencies operating in the US, but the major three bureaus are :

  • Equifax. This credit bureau provides personal and business credit reports — credit alert services are also available. In 2017, Equifax suffered a cyberattack that compromised the personal information of over 2 million consumers.
  • Experian. This is the largest credit reporting agency in the US. This data-focused bureau handles the credit information of 235 million consumers and lets credit providers make more accurate credit decisions through data sharing.
  • 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 loan or credit.

Each credit bureau also offers credit monitoring for a price. This type of 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 place a freeze on their credit file.

How to contact the major credit bureaus

If you find any information that’s incorrect on your credit report it’s important to get in contact with the credit agency to dispute the error.

Equifax888-766-0008Equifax Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion888-909-8872TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

What is a credit reporting agency?

A credit reporting agency, or credit bureau, constantly collects, holds and distributes consumer data from credit providers and public records that pertain to a borrower’s history — this information forms your credit report.

Your credit information can be bought by businesses or other providers who care to look further into your financial background in order to approve or deny your request for credit or services. All operations of the three credit bureaus are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

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 that you apply for an account with send information to credit reporting agencies so it can be noted on your report. Even if you’re not approved for the account it will be listed. If you are approved for the account, information such as the account open and close date, payment information and any default listings will be included.
  • 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 judgements and bankruptcy information is also included in your report.

It’s important to note that unless you’ve held or applied for a credit account in the US, you probably won’t have a credit report.

Can I get a free credit report online?

You can access your free credit report from all three bureaus from once every week.

After you’ve received your one free report from each bureau under federal law, any additional credit report will have to be bought from the bureau you choose to deal with.

Compare credit score and monitoring services

You can access your credit report for free, but paid services can also give your credit score and set up monitoring so you can be automatically alerted if something out of the ordinary is happening with your credit.

Name Product Starting price Trial period Credit scores Credit monitoring Credit reports Update frequency
Experian Credit Report
7 days
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
Monthly, Annually
Get your credit report and FICO score for just $1 with enrollment in Experian CreditWorks credit monitoring. Cancel anytime.
TransUnion Credit Report
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion credit score, monitoring and identity theft insurance.
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
Get quarterly access to your most widely used FICO® Scores and a 3-bureau credit report.
Equifax Small Business Credit Reporting
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
Monitor your key business relationships to protect your company from losses.
7 days
$1 for a seven-day trial to get access to your credit score and credit report from TransUnion.
Credit Karma
TransUnion, Equifax
TransUnion, Equifax

Compare up to 4 providers

Are there any differences between credit reporting agencies?

Each bureau receives different information from credit providers and public sources. However, as all of these wells of information are not the same and because some providers pick and choose who they report to, you’ll find that your credit report may be different when you order from each of the agencies.

This could also affect the way your credit score is calculated, especially if one bureau is missing some key information or has a mistake listed on your credit report.

Bottom line

The three major credit reporting agencies operate slightly differently. That’s why when ordering your credit report from one bureau, you should have a good idea of what information is listed on the other two so you can cross reference to make sure that your credit history is accurate.

If you discover a fishy account on your credit report or see a blatant error, get it cleared up as soon as you can so you’re not negatively affected when trying to prove your creditworthiness down the road.

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