What Is a Credit Reporting Agency?

A Credit Reporting Agency Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

A store owner checks her credit score on her smartphone.
•••

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

A credit reporting agency is a business that collects information about consumers’ credit and financial history. If you apply for a loan or credit card, your credit history will significantly influence your lender’s decision. 

In the United States, three main credit reporting agencies collect consumer credit information: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The data collected by the three main credit reporting bureaus is used to compile your credit score. 

Definition and Examples of a Credit Reporting Agency

A credit reporting agency, also referred to as a credit bureau, is a company that collects information about a consumer or business’s financial and lending history. The information contained in a credit report is used to generate that person’s credit score.

  • Alternate name: Credit bureau

Banks and lenders look at a consumer or business’s credit report and score to determine creditworthiness. When you apply for a loan, the information in your credit report determines whether or not you’re approved, as well as the types of interest rates you receive.

There are three main credit reporting agencies in the U.S. that track consumer credit: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

How a Credit Reporting Agency Works 

If you’ve taken out a loan or applied for a credit card recently, your lending information was reported to at least one of the major credit bureaus. Credit bureaus receive this information from other companies, which are often referred to as data furnishers. 

Data furnishers send information about the state of their customers’ accounts. This information includes things like the current balance on your account and whether or not you pay your bills on time. These companies are not required to submit this information to the credit bureaus and do so voluntarily. 

Credit bureaus also check public records for things like utility payments and bankruptcy records. However, credit reporting agencies will not include data about your income, race, religion, or political preferences.

And because your credit report plays such a big factor in lending decisions, you have a right to ensure that the information contained in your credit reports is accurate. The Fair and Accurate Transaction Act (FATA) gives consumers the right to request a free copy of their credit report every 12 months.

You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You should check all three credit reports to ensure the information included is accurate and to look for signs of identity theft.  

Types of Credit Reporting Agencies

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three main consumer credit reporting agencies in the U.S. Your lenders will report your payment information to at least one of these companies. In addition, Equifax, Experian, and Dun & Bradstreet do commercial credit reporting. 

Equifax

Equifax is a global data, analytics, and technology company that operates in 24 different countries. The company tracks both consumer and business credit reports and offers a credit monitoring and identity theft service.

In 2017, Equifax suffered a data breach that exposed the private information of 147 million people. The company agreed to a $425 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and 50 U.S. countries and territories. The money is meant to help the individuals affected by the data breach. 

If you were affected by the Equifax data breach, you can still file a claim until Jan. 22, 2024.

Experian

Experian has been around for over 125 years and employs 17,800 people in 44 different countries. The company also tracks consumer and business credit reports and offers a credit monitoring service for customers. 

If you sign up for the credit monitoring service, you can choose between the free and paid version. The premium version costs $24.99 per month and provides comprehensive credit and identity theft protection.

TransUnion

In 1968, TransUnion was founded as a holding company for a railcar leasing operation. In 1969, the company expanded into credit monitoring, and by 1988, had achieved full coverage across the U.S. Unlike the other two credit reporting agencies, TransUnion doesn’t track business credit scores.

In addition, the company offers its own credit monitoring service for consumers. For $24.99 per month, you’ll receive daily updates on your credit score, email alerts about suspicious activity on your accounts, and up to $1 million in ID theft insurance.

Dun & Bradstreet

Dun & Bradstreet is the only credit bureau that focuses exclusively on commercial credit. Dun & Bradstreet reports on how businesses interact with their suppliers and vendors, so it’s a common choice for businesses looking to issue trade credit. The company also uses industry data and public records to generate business credit scores.

Key Takeaways

  • A credit reporting agency collects information about consumers’ credit and financial history.
  • The information contained in your report is used to determine your credit score. 
  • The three main credit reporting agencies in the U.S. are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
  • Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian also offer commercial credit reporting.