Credit reporting bureaus – What consumers need to know |

What are the three major credit reporting bureaus?

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Credit reporting agencies hold the key to your financial history. Find out everything you need to know about the top bureaus before you order your credit report.

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 does a credit bureau do?

A 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.

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Who are the major credit reporting agencies?

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.

What credit score do lenders use?

FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) score when weighing your application for credit. FICO has developed a system to calculate consumer credit scores for the top three credit reporting agencies — scores can range from 300-850.

FICO is a big player in the credit world, but FICO is not a credit reporting agency.

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 credit check online?

You can access your free credit report from all three bureaus from once every 12 months.

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

Information that’s included in your credit report

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.

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How to contact the major credit bureaus if you spot an error

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

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.

When’s the last time you checked your credit score?

Kyle Morgan

Kyle Morgan is a writer and editor for who has worked for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He can be found writing about everything from the latest car loan stats to tips on saving money when traveling overseas. He lives in Asbury Park, where he loves exploring new places and sipping on hoppy beer. Oh, and he doesn't discriminate against buffalo wings — grilled or fried are just fine.

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