It wasn’t that long ago that managing your personal finances involved little more than a budget and a checkbook. These days, you also need to stay on top of your credit reports and credit scores.
Yes this is reports, plural – as in, more than one. In fact, you have three major credit reports, each of the three major credit bureaus. You will need to check all three of them regularly to make sure your credit is in good condition.
If this information surprises you, you are not alone. The appalling state of personal finance and credit education in the United States means that thousands of people Google things like “What are the 3 credit bureaus every day?” And “How do I check my 3 credit reports?” “
Fortunately, we are here with the answers. Let’s get started.
What are the three consumer credit bureaus?
In general, there are two main types of credit reporting agencies (also called credit reporting agencies): consumers and businesses. As you can guess, consumer credit bureaus collect credit data on individual consumers. Business credit bureaus collect credit data on small businesses.
In the consumer world, the top three credit bureaus are:
Credit bureaus are independent businesses. Although they are regulated by the government, they are not owned or operated by any government agency.
Equifax was founded in 1899 as the Retail Credit Company. It changed its name to Equifax in 1975, shortly after the establishment of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The company was originally founded in Atlanta, Georgia, where it still maintains its headquarters.
For many years, Equifax has primarily focused on selling data to insurance companies. This was used to assess applicants for new insurance policies. Over time, the company turned more to consumer credit. Today, Equifax is one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the United States and Canada. It also operates, or has investments in, two dozen countries around the world.
In addition to credit reports, Equifax offers several consumer products. This includes credit monitoring and identity theft insurance. It also provides business services such as data analysis and compliance management.
Experian can trace its roots back to the mid-1900s and to the Credit Data Corporation. The modern Experian is much younger. Through a series of sales and spinoffs, it was officially established as the Experian in the 1990s.
Although known as one of the “Big 3” news agencies in the United States, Experian is a global business. Its main office is located in Dublin, Ireland. In the United States, Experian’s main offices are located in Costa Mesa, California.
Experian has its fingers in many areas of data analysis, including consumer and business credit reports. It also deals with identity services, such as identity theft protection and identity verification. Company-wide, Experian offers services such as advanced data modeling, fraud management, and regulatory compliance.
TransUnion was originally founded as a holding company in the 1960s. It officially entered the credit game the following year with the purchase of the Credit Bureau of Cook County. TransUnion became a publicly traded company in 2005.
Although TransUnion is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, it is a global company. It operates in more than 30 countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.
TransUnion has a strong consumer credit reporting business, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The company also offers consumer reporting, fraud management and advanced analytics services for large and small businesses. TransUnion even has a utilities division that provides data and analysis to government agencies and offices.
Are there other credit bureaus?
While the Big Three are arguably the most important, there are a few lesser-known credit bureaus in the United States.
Here are some common agencies you might come across:
- Experian Rental Office: Rental payment data
- ChexSystems: Checking savings account data
- LexisNexis CLUE (Auto and Personal divisions): Insurance and claims data
- Innovis: Identity verification and credit history data
- National Stock Exchange for Telecommunications and Consumer Utilities: Utility data
- Certification: Check history (paper checks)
In most cases, you will not be dealing directly with these agencies. But if you’ve ever been turned down for a bank account or utility connection, data from one of those offices may have been involved in the decision.
Do all of your credit reports contain the same information?
The information collected by credit bureaus comes from two main sources:
- Public documents
- Financial institutions
Public record data is collected or purchased by the bureaus. Credit data is reported to bureaus by banks, lenders and other financial institutions. In other words, financial institutions choose where and when to report.
Since the institutions report themselves, there can be a lot of variability. For example, a bank or a lender may report your credit information to one branch, but not to the other two. Or it may update your information at different times or frequencies depending on the credit bureau.
Also, credit bureaus are not required to share most information. If a lender reports an account to one credit bureau but not to the others, that bureau does not have to share the account data. The only time offices are forced to share data is if you submit a fraud or identity theft alert.
All of this means that your credit reports could be different from each other. This is why it is important to check not just one, but all three of your reports (see below).
The most common gap is in hard credit inquiries. Basically, when you apply for a credit card or loan, the issuer or lender will perform a credit check. Most often, they will only check one credit report. So this difficult investigation would show up on one credit report – with one credit bureau – but not on the other two.
How to check your three credit reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act ensured that you were entitled to at least one free credit report from each bureau each year. Asking for a copy of your own credit report will not hurt your credit score in any way. Remember that regularly reviewing your credit report and correcting any errors can dramatically improve your credit score. A good or excellent credit score is the best way to get approved for the loans you want at the best interest rates available.
The easiest way to get your free reports is to use the official website: AnnualCreditReport.com. This site was created by the three main offices. You can get all three reports at the same time. Your free annual credit report will not include your credit scores.
Alternatively, each credit bureau offers some sort of access to the credit report, usually as part of a credit monitoring service. These services may require you to open an account and / or pay a separate service fee.
How to dispute a credit report error with every bureau
It is important to file a dispute immediately if you find an error or a fraudulent account on your credit reports. You can do this easily online with each office, or by phone or mail if you prefer. Filing a dispute is completely free.
You may need to include the appropriate supporting documents with your filing. These could be documents such as bank statements, credit account statements, or other evidence of your dispute.
Report an error with Equifax
File a dispute online: Equifax credit disputes
File a dispute by phone: (866) 349-5191
File a dispute by mail:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0256
Report an error with Experian
File a dispute online: Experian credit disputes
File a dispute by phone: Contact listed on your Experian credit report
File a dispute by mail:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, Texas 75013
Report an error with TransUnion
File a dispute online: TransUnion Credit Conflicts
File a dispute by phone: (833) 395-6941
File a dispute by mail:
Consumer solutions TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000