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First, you need to know what is a credit bureau and then you need to know that the big three credit reporting agencies in the U.S. are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. These top three credit reporting agencies report your three digit credit score. Your credit score is an indicator of your creditworthiness, a reflection of your payment history, and is a major factor in everything from getting a job, to renting an apartment, buying a house, and leasing a car.
A credit bureau is basically a data collector that uses the consumer’s social security number and other identifying information to compile a file of credit history. This credit history is then provided to lenders and creditors to determine your eligibility for a personal loan, business loan or credit card you applied for.
Highlights /Key Takeaways
- Credit reporting agencies: Also referred to as credit bureaus, they collect information to generate credit reports and provide that information to help lenders determine individuals’ creditworthiness.
- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion: These are the three main credit bureaus in the United States.
- Different credit scores: Individuals will have slightly different credit scores across the three credit reporting agencies, but the same set of habits can help maintain and improve all of your credit scores.
- How credit reports and scores are generated: Your score is generated from your credit history including on time payments, how long you have had established credit, what type of credit you have, and your credit utilization rate.
- How to manage your credit: By knowing what are the three major credit reporting agencies and how important they are to your life, you realize the importance of managing your credit, paying bills on time, and making sound financial decisions.
What Are the Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies?
Equifax Credit Bureau
Founded in 1899 in Atlanta, Georgia as a retail credit company, Equifax collected customers' data and recorded and distributed it. In 1970, it computerized its data on a large scale. Today it is the oldest credit reporting bureau. It currently operates in 24 countries.
Equifax Credit Reports
Equifax credit reports typically include:
- Personal information
- Credit account information: Including types, dates opened, and amounts of accounts
- Credit inquiries: hard and soft inquiries
- Collections accounts
Equifax Credit Scores
- Individuals can access their VantageScore credit scores via various Equifax products and services.
- VantageScore credit scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the better.
- The information on Equifax credit reports can be used to calculate credit scores via many different credit scoring models.
Equifax Products and Services
Equifax offers the following products and services:
- Equifax Complete Family Plan: For $29.95 per month you get three credit bureau monitoring and alerts, three bureau VantageScores and reports, and help protect up to four of your children’s credit reports with locking features.
- Equifax Complete Premier: For $19.95 per month, help monitor your credit and social security number, access to three bureau Vantage Scores and report, and credit monitoring and alerts.
- Equifax ID Patrol: At $16.95 per month, you get three bureau credit file monitoring, lock and unlock your Equifax credit report, and uncover potential identity threats.
- Equifax Complete: For $9.95 per month, you receive Equifax alerts for any key changes, access to a team of ID restoration specialists, and up to $500,000 in ID theft insurance.
- Equifax Credit Monitor: For only $4.95 per month, you get access to your VantageScore and trends, alerts for key changes on Equifax, and access to lock your credit score and get an alert if someone attempts to access it.
- Equifax Core Credit: This is a free product. You get access to your credit score based on the Vantage Score 3.0 scoring system. It’s available monthly and no credit card is required.
Experian Credit Bureau
Experian collects and aggregates information on people and businesses. It is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland and operates in 37 countries. It is the largest of the three major credit reporting agencies. One of its unique features is that it collects rental payment history from landlords and reports it.
Experian Credit Reports
Experian credit reports include the following information:
- Personal information
- Accounts: Including installment loans and revolving credit accounts.
- Public records
- Credit inquiries: Soft and hard inquiries
- Payment information: Late and on time payments, date accounts opened, and loan amount
Experian Credit Scores
Experian provides consumers with their FICO Score model 8 for free. FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the score the better. The data on Experian credit reports can be used to calculate credit scores using various scoring models.
Experian Products and Services
Experian offers the following products and services:
- Free credit monitoring: Check for any changes with access to a report that is updated every 30 days.
- 3-bureau reports and FICO Scores: Understand your full credit profile by looking at each report and Fico score.
- Annual credit report: Get access to a federally mandated free credit report every year
- Experian CreditLock: Lock or freeze your credit at any time. You can also easily unlock it whenever you’re ready.
- Credit file disclosure: Get access to all of the information in your credit file maintained by Experian.
- Credit score disclosure: Receive your exact credit score through Experian so you can know what range it falls in and then take steps to improve it.
TransUnion Credit Bureau
TransUnion is an American consumer credit reporting agency that operates in more than 30 countries. It collects personal credit information as well as business credit information. It was founded in 1968 as a holding company and a descendant of Standard Oil. It’s now a publicly traded company owned by Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and Advent International.
TransUnion Credit Reports
TransUnion credit reports include the following information:
- Personal information
- Public records
- Account information: Including type and number of accounts, amounts owed, and dates opened
- Accounts with adverse information: These can be late payments or missed payments
- Satisfactory accounts: Accounts reported in positive standing
- Regular inquiries
- Promotional inquiries: Inquiries from yourself and not a creditor
TransUnion Credit Scores
TransUnion uses the VantageScore 3.0 model for credit scores where scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the better, with 850 being the best possible score. Lenders can use information on TransUnion credit reports to calculate credit scores using various scoring models.
TransUnion Products and Services
TransUnion offers the following products and services:
- Credit Monitoring: For $29.95 plus tax, you get unlimited updates to your TransUnion credit report and score, instant alerts, credit locking capabilities, ID theft insurance, a score simulator, and personal debt analysis tools.
- Credit Protection: For $29.95 per month plus tax, you get credit protection services including instant alerts, unlimited updates to your TransUnion credit report and score, ID theft insurance, access to ID theft specialists, and more
- Score Simulator: For $29.95 per month plus tax, you get access to personalized credit planning and can see how future decisions can potentially impact your credit score. So, before you apply for that new credit card, see what it would do to your score with the score simulator tools.
- Free annual credit report: Federal law allows you access to your credit report from all credit bureaus once per year so you can verify that all of your information is correct.
- Freeze credit report: This security freeze prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. You can also unfreeze your account at any time.
- Dispute credit report: You can manage your information through the TransUnion Service Center, file a dispute there, and check on the progress of the dispute as well.
- TransUnion credit report: Currently offering free weekly credit reports through the end of 2023 and you can browse paid subscriptions that offer more information and give you frequent access to your credit scores.
- Fraud alert: This notifies creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity whenever they are running your credit. You can add a 1 year, 7 year, or active military duty fraud alert, and remove it at any time.
- Active duty credit monitoring: Eligible military consumers get access to free credit monitoring and other credit related services so they don’t need to worry about their credit while they’re serving their country.
- TrueIdentity: This service helps you protect your credit by locking it at any time, it offers alerts, and comes with up to $25,000 in ID theft insurance.
How to Contact The Three Main Credit Bureaus
When you have questions about your credit history, or you may want to file a dispute about something that isn’t accurate on your credit report, you need to contact the three main credit bureaus. Remember to contact the bureaus directly or goto a reputable site. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams online that are not the credit bureaus and will charge you for services that are legally free.
The contact information for the credit reporting agencies is as follows:
Experian: You can reach them by phone 1 888 EXPERIAN (1 888 397 3742) or on their website. Their site has links to click on for different departments; it also has links to all of their social media channels.
Equifax: Call Experian at 1-888-378-4329 or visit their website for FAQs, links to their social media pages,and online account assistance.
What Do Credit Reporting Agencies Do?
Credit bureaus collect individuals’ information from creditors and lenders to generate credit reports. The information on credit reports is used to calculate credit scores, which indicate individuals’ credit worthiness. These credit scores and the entire credit reports are made available to lenders and creditors, with your signed consent. In turn, the lender or creditor will use this information to approve or deny you for a loan or a credit card etc.
However, credit reporting agencies do not actually make lending decisions themselves. They are just information gatherers. For example, you may want to buy a condo and you apply for a mortgage with your credit union. Your credit union will have you sign a disclosure that gives them access to your credit score and your credit report. The credit bureau will then release the information to your lender. And based on their findings, they may approve you for the loan, or the lender may advise you to take certain steps first, like paying down debt, or paying off a collections account.
How Credit Bureaus Collect Information
Credit bureaus get your information from a variety of different companies; they basically collect and store data. Some ways that credit bureaus get their information are from creditors including banks, credit unions, credit card companies, auto finance companies, and loan providers. They also get information from public records, such as court and property records.
How Lenders Work with Credit Reporting Agencies
Lenders work closely with credit reporting agencies. In fact, your credit score is usually one of the top qualifications for getting approved for a personal loan, home mortgage, auto loan, or a credit card.
Some pertinent information on how lenders work with credit bureaus includes:
- Credit reporting agencies do not make lending decisions, but the information they collect does impact individuals’ ability to access credit products.
- Lenders perform credit checks on individuals with one or more of the credit bureaus when considering applications for credit cards, auto loans, personal loans, and mortgages.
- Lenders typically report to credit bureaus, but they are not obligated to do so. Some lenders may not report to all three credit reporting agencies, which means your credit reports may have slightly different information. For example, a credit card may report to two out of the three credit bureaus, so the one they don’t report to won’t show the credit card as a line of credit.
- Lenders will use credit scores, which are calculated using information in credit reports, to help them make decisions.
Why You Have Different Credit Scores
Individual consumers have different credit scores for many reasons including:
- Different credit bureaus have different information on the credit reports they generate. Lenders do not have to report to all three credit bureaus.
- There are a variety of credit scoring models.
- Lenders and creditors may use proprietary scoring models.
- There may be errors or outdated information on one of the bureau’s sites and not the others
How You Can Control Your Credit
It’s crucial to monitor and work on improving your credit because creditworthiness impacts your ability to borrow. Not only do lenders look at your credit scores, but so do insurance companies, utility companies, landlords, and employers. It’s not enough to just pull an annual credit report; instead you need to check your credit at least every 30 days.
- Know your credit scores and how to check your score with each bureau:
- Equifax: Get Your Free Credit Score
- Experian: Free credit Score
- TransUnion: Credit Score Monitoring Services
Some tips for improving your credit score include:
- Pay your bills on time.
- Pay down your debt.
- Keep your credit utilization low.
- Only apply for credit when you need it.
- Check your credit report for errors.
- File a dispute if you find an error a discrepancy
Now you know the answer to what are the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You know that they provide credit reports and in turn produce your credit scores. Lenders work with the credit reporting agencies to determine your creditworthiness, check out your credit history, and see if your credit score qualifies you for the loan product you’ve applied for.
Understanding and managing your credit scores is so important. It affects so many aspects of your life including where and how you live, if you own a luxury car, if you can afford a boat, and if you can get a business loan to open up your dream business. Having a good credit score can be one of the major keys to financial success and financial freedom.