Who Are the Major Credit Reporting Agencies?
Credit bureaus, also called credit reporting agencies, are companies that collect and maintain consumer credit information then resell it to other businesses in the form of a credit report. In the United States, there are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. When creditors and lenders check your credit, they'll very likely to check your credit with one or all three of these credit bureaus.
All three of the major credit bureaus are publicly-traded, for-profit companies—they're not owned by the government.
The government does, however, have legislation—the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)—that regulates how these and other credit bureaus can and must operate.
What the Credit Reporting Agencies Do...and What They Don't Do
The major credit bureaus receive credit-related information from companies that you do business with. They also pull relevant public records, like tax liens or bankruptcy information, from state and local courts and include this in your credit report.
Credit bureaus collect and hold consumer credit information then sell it to businesses who have a legally valid reason for reviewing it. For example, a company with whom you've applied for credit with would have a valid need to look at your credit history. Your information can also be sold to companies that want to prescreen you for their products and services.
Credit reporting agencies can only provide information and analytical tools to help businesses make decisions about whether to offer you credit and what sort of interest rate they should charge you. The bureaus themselves don't make those decisions.
Credit Reporting Agencies Are Separate Entities
Credit bureaus often have business relationships with banks, credit card issuers, and even other businesses that you might have accounts with. Your account history will appear on one or all of your credit reports from these agencies because of these connections.
Credit agencies don't share your account information with each other (a fraud alert is the only exception). Your creditors might report to all three of the major credit bureaus or to just one of them so some of the information in your credit file can be different with each.
It's important that you periodically review your reports from as many of the agencies as possible to ensure that everything is correct.
When potential creditors and lenders check your credit, they might pull one agency's credit report rather than several of them. It's usually less expensive for businesses to check just one credit report.
Some Agencies Do Special Reporting
Some credit agencies specialize in certain types of reporting so certain lenders or companies would be more included to purchase reports from them than from others, depending on their needs. For example, PRBC/MicroBilt serves predominantly subprime lenders who are willing to extend loans to low-income individuals and those with historically poor credit. Innovis only provides data that will help confirm your identity for purposes of fraud prevention and detection.
These specialized agencies might not gather all information concerning your credit history but only the information that's pertinent to their particular scope. For example, some specialize in screening potential employees while others handle rental histories for landlords. Financial institutions have their own series of reporting agencies, including Telechek and ChexSystems, that focus on bank account activity such as overdrafts. Some agencies are unique to the medical or insurance industries.
When You Need to Contact the Credit Bureaus
You have a right to view your credit reports and you're entitled to order a free report from each of the major credit reporting agencies once each year. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com to make the request. You can also get a copy of your report at no charge if you've been turned down for credit, but you have to make the request within 60 days.
You can purchase your credit report directly from any of the credit reporting agencies at any time. Two of the major agencies, Equifax and Experian, offer credit reports which include information from the three major credit reporting agencies in a single document.
Disputing Information in Your Report
You might also want to contact a credit agency directly to dispute inaccurate information you've found in your report, or to purchase your credit score. This is different from your credit report. Your score is derived from the information in your credit report.
There are several credit reporting agencies in the U.S., but most people are familiar with the big three:
Contact information for other credit bureaus includes:
The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) is another major company in the credit industry. FICO developed and maintains the FICO credit score, but it is not a credit agency. Although FICO compiles credit scores based on data from the major credit bureaus, they do not collect credit report data on their own.