Everything You Need To Know About the 3 Credit Bureaus
6-minute readOctober 15, 2020
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details.
The three main consumer credit bureaus, which are also known as consumer credit agencies are Equifax®, Experian™ and TransUnion®. While you may have heard of these credit bureaus before, you may be unsure of exactly what they do. Since Equifax, Experian and TransUnion play an important role in your current and future financial health, we’ve created this handy guide to educate you on them.
What Is A Credit Bureau, And What Does It Do?
A credit bureau gathers and maintains personal and financial information about you as a consumer, organizes that info and presents it in the form of a credit report. It then sells your credit report to lenders, creditors, employers and insurers.
The main job of a credit bureau is to provide key info to banks, credit card companies, and lending companies to determine your creditworthiness and how financially responsible you are. It helps lenders and creditors decide whether to extend a loan offer to you, can impact an employer’s decision to hire you, or whether a landlord will rent to you.
Credit bureaus gather information such as current and past credit accounts, payment history on your credit cards and loans, bankruptcies and accounts that have defaulted and are now with a collection agency and credit inquiries. A credit bureau also has your personal info, such as your mailing address, Social Security number and your date of birth.
What Are The 3 Main Credit Bureaus
While there are credit agencies for businesses and a handful of different credit agencies for consumers, the big three are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Equifax was founded in 1899 by a pair of grocers out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s currently headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and has a presence in 24 countries. On September 7, 2019, Equifax revealed that millions of its customers have been affected by a data breach.
The data breach exposed the credit card numbers, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and other personal details of 147 million people. Fortunately, the company has recovered since then thanks to its $425 million settlement to help those who were impacted.
Known as the company’s most comprehensive credit monitoring and identity theft protection product, Equifax premier can give you alerts any time there are changes to your credit report. It can also help protect you against fraud with financial alerts and lost wallet assistance.
Established in 1968, Experian is one of the nation’s largest credit agencies for consumers. In 2004, it began offering free consumer credit reports. Besides providing consumer credit reports, Experian also helps small businesses establish credit histories.
With Experian CreditWorks, you can easily monitor your credit reports from all bureaus and get updates on them every 30 days. Experian also offers CreditMatch, which can give you the chance to get personalized credit offers without affecting your credit scores. You can use it to find the best credit card for your unique situation.
There’s also IdentityWorks Plus or Premium that includes identity theft monitoring and alerts as well as fraud resolution and up to $1 million ID theft insurance.
TransUnion was originally formed in 1968. To date, the credit agency operates out of 33 countries around the globe. Although TransUnion is the smallest of the three major credit bureaus, it reports extensive data about your employment history and offers a few useful products, just like the other bureaus.
Its Credit Protection will send you instant email alerts any time inquiries are made to your credit report. If someone tries to get a car loan or open a credit card in your name, you’ll be able to stop the fraud before it gets too far.
In addition, TransUnion offers CreditCompass, which can give you recommendations to help you achieve the credit score you want. You can use it to track your progress and reach your financial goals.
How Do Credit Bureaus Get Your Information?
Credit bureaus get your information from a variety of sources:
- Creditors: Creditors are financial institutions that are owed money. They may be credit card issuers or banks that have lent you money for your mortgage and car loan. Creditors often report your information to the credit bureaus.
- Public records: Public records are documents or pieces of information that are available for anyone to access. Some examples of public records that credit bureaus may find and include on your reports are bankruptcy and tax liens.
- Other credit bureaus: In some cases, the credit bureaus share information with one another. For example, if you place an initial fraud alert with one bureau, it must forward the alert to the other two.
Why Your Credit Score Varies Among Bureaus
Your credit score probably won’t be drastically different among the three bureaus. No matter which credit score your agency is from, your score is made up of the same main factors – your payment history, the length of your credit history, mix of credit, how much available credit you’re using and new credit.
If you have a fair score with one of the bureaus, it will also be fair with the others. On the flip side, if you have a solid score with, say, TransUnion, it will be a high score across the board.
That being said, there are a few reasons why your credit scores might vary depending on the bureau.
- Lenders might not report to all three of the credit bureaus, and they might report different things to each of them.
- A credit bureau might collect info that the other two agencies aren’t collecting. Data also might not be presented in the same fashion among the three agencies. For example, Equifax is known to report a longer credit history and more accounts than TransUnion.
While you can’t control the differences in your credit scores, you can control other factors like your payment history and credit utilization that can play a vital role in your scores.
How To Dispute Errors On Your Credit Report
When you read your credit reports, it’s important to take a close look at them as there may be inaccuracies or errors. You may find errors such as:
- Identity errors: Your name may be misspelled or your address may be incorrect.
- Duplication errors: One of your debts is listed several times.
- Balance errors: The amount on your balance or credit limit is incorrect.
- Account errors: Your account may be reported as open when it’s actually closed or vice versa.
To report wrong info on your credit report, you can file a dispute. It’s entirely free to file a dispute. Remember, if there’s wrong info from all three bureaus, you’ll need to file a separate dispute with each bureau. If it’s just one report that has incorrect information, the dispute only needs to be filed with that particular credit bureau.
And when you file a dispute, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureau has 30 days to review and respond.
You can get started with the process by contacting the credit bureau directly:
- Online: credit dispute page
- Phone number: (800) 916-8800
- Mailing address:
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
- Online: credit dispute page
- Phone number: (866) 349-5191
- Mailing address:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
- Online: credit dispute page
- Phone number: (888) 397-3742
- Mailing address:
Experian's National Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Who Governs These Credit Agencies?
In 2012 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began supervising the larger credit agencies, financial companies and services. Besides supervising credit agencies that gross over $7 million in annual receipts, the CFPB creates and enforces laws for the credit reporting market as a whole.
Prior to that, reports by consumers were made to law enforcement at the federal level. And several agencies had the power to create rules.
How To Get A Credit Report
There are a handful of credit monitoring agencies that offer you a free credit report and credit monitoring. For instance, you can get a free credit report through Rocket HomesSM. To get started, you’ll just need to create an account.
By requesting your credit reports, you can get an idea of where you stand financially and whether you need to improve your credit. You can also find out what type of loan or credit card offers you may be approved for.
While federal law allows you to receive a credit report from all three major credit bureaus, once a year, obtaining them from a third party like Rocket Homes is a also a good idea. We can connect you to financial experts and show you what steps you need to take to improve your credit and plan for your financial goals. The best part is, we won’t charge you anything and you don’t have to worry about affecting your credit score.
Rocket HQSM has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rocket HQ and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Apply For A Mortgage Online
How To Look At Your Credit Score
Everyone’s heard the term “credit score,” but that doesn’t mean they know what it is, how to access it or that each person has more than one. Luckily, checking your credit score is not as difficult as you might think. Here is everything you need to know to become an expert at managing your credit.
What Is Your FICO® Score And Why Does It Matter?
Lenders use your FICO® Score to make decisions on loans, but what is a FICO® Score? Learn how it’s calculated, what factors affect it and what a good score is.