Credit bureaus are companies that collect and maintain records regarding the borrowing history of consumers and businesses. In other words, they create your credit reports. Credit bureaus track what loans and lines of credit you’ve used, for example, as well as whether you’ve paid your monthly bills on time. And they sell that information to lenders, insurance companies, employers and other groups that need to evaluate people’s financial trustworthiness. By far, the three most important credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. All credit scores are based on the contents of these bureaus’ credit reports.
The fact that credit bureaus know so much about us can be a bit unnerving. But you can easily see exactly what they have on you by checking out one of many free credit report websites. WalletHub, for instance, offers free TransUnion credit reports and updates them on a daily basis.
Below, you can learn more about the basics of credit bureaus.
Big 3 Credit Bureaus: Equifax, Experian & TransUnion
There are dozens of agencies that lenders can pull information from, but the “big three” – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – dominate the market. One of them, Equifax, has even lasted over a century.
Here’s a comparison of the three major credit bureaus, including how to contact them:
|Bureau||Number Of Users||BBB Rating||Date Founded||Phone Number||Mailing Address|
|TransUnion||500 million||A-||1968||1-800-916-8800||P.O. Box 1000|
Chester, PA 19022
|Equifax||800 million||A||1899||1-800-685-1111||P.O. Box 740241|
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
|Experian||820 million||B+||1996||1-888-397-3742||P.O. Box 2104|
Allen, TX 75013-0949
Other Notable Credit Bureaus
The big three credit bureaus have earned that nickname for a reason: They’re the only ones most people have to worry about. But they aren’t they only so-called consumer reporting agencies that may have you on file. Here are some of the others you may come across.
Business Credit Bureaus:
- Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) – D&B is the only major credit bureau that offers credit reports solely for businesses. Dun & Bradstreet also has a number of different scores and ratings based on these reports.
- The Big 2 – Two of the three major consumer credit bureaus – Equifax and Experian – are also among the biggest business credit bureaus. Of the two, only Experian offers a business credit score.
Specialty Credit Bureaus:
The term credit bureau is often used broadly to describe all “consumer reporting agencies” (CRAs). Equifax, TransUnion and Experian are indeed examples of such reporting agencies. But not all CRAs track consumers’ borrowing activity. Here are some examples of bureaus that monitor other aspects of your financial life:
- Accurate Background – This agency compiles information for background checks, which are sometimes required by employers.
- LexisNexis – LexisNexis collects data on your auto insurance history and issues an auto insurance score.
- Milliman IntelliScript – Your medical records are another vital source of information, which this bureau collects.
Keep in mind that these example bureaus are just a few of many. Other bureaus perform the same functions as them, along with other functions not mentioned. For the full list, check out WalletHub’s guide.
What Info Do the Credit Bureaus Collect?
The three major credit bureaus take in a detailed portrait of your financial life, and draw up credit reports based upon that. Whenever you do something related to credit (e.g. opening an account, making payments, filing bankruptcy) the creditor involved will send that information to the bureaus to add to your file. Creditors looking to make decisions about you then purchase these reports.
The main pieces of information the bureaus compile are:
- Credit history. This is a general term for the status of your credit accounts. It includes open and closed accounts, credit limits, payment history, and balances.
- Credit Inquiries. Any time someone, including you, pulls your credit report, it’s called a credit inquiry. These are divided into “hard” (e.g. applying for a loan) and “soft” (e.g. checking your own report).
- Public records. You generally don’t want these on your credit report. The three main types, all bad for your credit, are bankruptcy, tax liens, and civil judgments ordering you to pay money.
- Personal information. This consists of your demographics and employment history, and sometimes a voluntary personal statement to explain negative information.
How to Get Reports From the Credit Bureaus
You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the “big three” bureaus every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. We recommend you spread these out and order one every 4 months, as they all contain essentially the same information. You can get an additional free report if you place a fraud alert on your account or if your report is used to take adverse action against you (deny you a loan, increase your rates, etc.).
You should definitely check each report at least once a year to insure there’s no mistakes or fraud, but you only need to keep up with one on a regular basis since the information is so similar. With WalletHub, you can check your TransUnion credit report for free 24/7. Plus, WalletHub is the only credit site where reports update every day.
What If the Credit Bureaus Are Wrong?
When an agency services hundreds of millions of people, it’s bound to make some mistakes. In fact, according to the FTC about one in four people has an error on a credit report. If you find information that’s not right, you should contact the bureau as soon as possible. Every bureau allows disputes through mail, phone, or their website. For more help, check out WalletHub’s guide on how to dispute errors.
Knowledge is power, and credit bureaus know a lot about us. But as long as you make sure their info is positive information, they’ll be nothing more than a means to savings and new opportunities.
Image: Vector Tradition SM/Shutterstock