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.
There are many credit bureaus in the United States, but most people are familiar with the big three: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These bureaus are all publicly-traded, for-profit companies who are not owned by the government.
The government does, however, have legislation, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, regarding how these and other credit bureaus should operate.
Credit bureaus have business relationships with many banks, credit card issuers, and other businesses that you may have an account with. Because of this connection, your account history will appear on one or all three of your credit reports with these bureaus.
You have a right to view your credit report and you can order a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also purchase a credit report directly from any of the credit bureaus at any time. Two of the credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian, offer 3-bureau credit reports which include all three major credit reports in a single document.
You may also need to contact a credit bureau directly to dispute inaccurate information in your credit report, purchase a credit score, or to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report.
Otherwise, you generally wouldn’t interact with a credit bureau, even though they play a major role in your financial life.
Do and Don’t Do
The major credit bureaus receive credit-related information from companies that you do business with. They may also pull relevant public records, like tax lien or bankruptcy, and include that information in your credit report.
The major credit bureaus sell your credit information to businesses who have a legally valid need for viewing your credit information. Your information is also sold to companies who may prescreen you for their products and services. For example, a company who you’ve applied for credit with would have a valid need for looking at your credit report.
The major credit bureaus only provide the information or other analytical tools to help businesses make decisions about which customers to accept and the price they should charge. The bureaus themselves do not make the decision.
These three credit bureaus, like all other credit bureaus, are separate entities and operate independently of each other. They generally do not share your account information with each other.
Your creditors may report to all three of the major credit bureaus or just one of them.
Because of that, the information in your credit file may be different between the three credit bureaus.
When potential creditors and lenders check your credit, they may only pull one bureau’s credit report, rather than viewing all three. (It’s often less expensive for businesses to check just one credit report.)
Because your credit reports may be different from each other, it’s important that you review your reports from all three bureaus.