What Are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?
Key points about: the three main credit bureaus
The three major bureaus create credit reports that lenders use to decide who qualifies for credit cards, home loans, and other forms of credit.
Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are the three main credit bureaus, and they collect financial information to create credit reports.
The type of information credit bureaus use in reports includes past and current credit accounts, payment history, and the percentage of available credit in use.
A credit bureau, or credit reporting agency, is a company that uses financial data about you, such as how you’ve used credit and your payment history. There are three credit bureaus that operate nationwide, as well as many other consumer reporting agencies that focus on smaller market areas and consumer segments.
The three major credit bureaus
The three main credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While they all have a similar purpose, each one may provide somewhat different information.
What do credit bureaus do?
Each credit bureau uses and maintains consumer financial information in credit reports. Credit bureaus use the information in credit reports to calculate your credit score.
Credit scores are important because lenders use your score and credit report to determine your eligibility for credit, including credit card accounts, and payment terms, such as credit limits and interest rates.
What information do credit bureaus collect?
Credit bureaus collect personal identification information, like your name, Social Security number, and birthdate, as well as:
- Past and current credit accounts, including credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages;
- Payment history;
- Missed payments and accounts that have been given to a collection agency;
- A list of hard and soft inquiries.
This is just a partial list. You can review your credit reports to know what credit information all three major credit bureaus are collecting.
How do the three credit bureaus update their information?
Credit bureaus update their information in a variety of ways. They may get new information from creditors, such as your credit card issuer or mortgage lender. Financial information may also come from public records, such as bankruptcy filings or foreclosures.
The credit bureaus also sometimes share information with one another. This happens when you place a fraud alert with one of the bureaus. The bureau is required to inform the other two bureaus of the alert.
Why are scores from the three credit bureaus different?
When reviewing credit scores from the three credit bureaus, you may notice slight differences. It’s normal for credit bureaus to have varying credit scores because the underlying data in each credit report may be different as creditors don’t always share the same information with all three credit reporting agencies. Creditors can choose to share information with only one or two of the three credit bureaus.
Also, each credit bureau may use or offer credit scores that are tailored to their data — which weighs financial factors differently. For example, your history of making on-time payments might be the most important factor in one model, while another scoring model may weigh your current credit availability and usage as the most important.
The credit bureaus may also differ in how far back in the past they examine your credit history.
So, if you review your credit reports from two or all three credit bureaus, it’s normal to see scores that may be slightly different. When the scores vary by a large amount, that’s when you may want to review the credit reports more closely to see if one contains an error that is drastically affecting the score.
Other credit bureaus
The three main credit bureaus operate nationwide, but there are dozens of smaller consumer reporting agencies that gather data for specific consumer segments or market areas. For example, there are credit bureaus that gather personal information on consumer checking accounts and others that provide ID verification to help with fraud detection and prevention. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) maintains a list of every credit bureau.
How to check your three credit bureaus
Per the Federal Trade Commission, every consumer gets one free copy of their credit report every year from the three credit bureaus. And through December 2023, each of the national credit reporting agencies allows consumers to check their credit report once per week for free. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free credit report.
When you understand what credit bureaus are and what they do, it can help you better understand your financial standing. And that can help you make more informed decisions to reach your financial goals.
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