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What do the 3 credit bureaus do?

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Credit scores are complicated, and most people don’t even realize that they have more than one. Not only are there different types of scores that can apply to the same person (such as FICO and VantageScore), but each of the credit bureaus can also assign you a different score based on the way they compile your information and the factors they consider.

You may be wondering what the credit bureaus are and why they are given the power to decide something as important as your credit score. This comprehensive guide goes over the three main credit bureaus, how they work and the data they collect in order to compile consumer credit reports.

What are the three credit bureaus?

There are three main credit bureaus that handle the details that make up your credit scores: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

While each of the credit bureaus offers an array of products and services, they perform the same set of tasks when it comes to monitoring consumer credit information. Specifically, they each manage their own records that include information on accounts you have, balances you owe and payments you make. Because each credit bureau operates independently, they don’t always have the exact same information for each individual. If you have a credit card, mortgage or loan, you have a credit file with one of the three credit bureaus, if not all three.

Equifax

Equifax was founded in 1899 and has since grown to be one of the three main credit bureaus in operation. In addition to compiling and assessing consumer credit information, this company also offers credit and identity monitoring services and resources for consumers who want to improve or build credit or put a credit freeze in place.

Experian

As one of the biggest credit bureaus operating around the world, Experian supports clients in over 100 different countries. The company actively maintains credit information on approximately 220+ million U.S. consumers as well as 40 million U.S. businesses, and they offer credit monitoring, free credit scores and additional tools for consumers.

TransUnion

TransUnion also has a large global presence, as they reportedly oversee the credit information of hundreds of millions of people in 30 countries around the world. Like the other major credit bureaus, TransUnion offers identity and credit monitoring, free credit tools and credit resources, information concerning legal rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and more.

What information do the credit bureaus collect?

The credit bureaus include an array of information that helps them determine your creditworthiness and assign you a credit score. Information they compile typically includes identifying information, like your name, addresses (past and present), Social Security number and date of birth, as well as information on the accounts you have had, balances you owe and payments you have made. They also collect the following information:

  • Current and past credit accounts
  • Payment history
  • Negative information such as missed payment, collections, bankruptcies, repossessions and foreclosures
  • Hard inquiries

Why are credit scores different?

Credit scores from each of the credit bureaus can be different for different reasons. For starters, each credit bureau may maintain different information on each consumer, and they might also give more weight to specific factors when coming up with a credit score.

Also, note that the type of credit score a credit bureau assigns may be different ,and that you may get a FICO credit score from one and a VantageScore from another, for example. If you have your credit scores pulled at different times, you may also see varying scores due to the passage of time and more information being added to your credit reports.

Do you need all three credit scores?

According to Experian, it’s possible to only have a credit score with one or two of the credit bureaus but not all three. This is usually due to the fact that you have not met the minimum credit scoring criteria with each of the bureaus.

To have a FICO score with a credit bureau, for example, your credit report must have at least one undisputed account that is six months or older and at least one undisputed account that has been updated in the past six months. Further, your credit report cannot have a notation that you’re deceased.

To summarize, you are less likely to have a credit score with all three bureaus if you’re just starting to build credit from scratch. Since not having a credit score with each of the credit bureaus makes it less likely you’ll be approved for the best credit cards and loans, working on building your credit and improving your credit score with all three bureaus always makes sense.

How to dispute incorrect information

It’s a good idea to regularly review your credit reports. You can get a free copy once a year from each of the credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Fortunately, you can do this online and for free using the website AnnualCreditReport.com.

While it’s smart to look over your credit reports to make sure you have a solid understanding of your debt obligations and your overall payment history, federal regulators note you should also check for errors. This is mainly due to the fact that incorrect information on credit reports is fairly prevalent, and it could even lead you to early signs of identity theft. You may also find a simple mistake on your credit reports that should be fixed, such as an account you paid off and closed that is still listed as open, or the same debt listed twice.

Fortunately, there is a formal process you can use to dispute incorrect information on your credit reports. Specifically, you will need to mail a letter to each of the credit bureaus with the incorrect information, as well as the company that provided the incorrect information. In your letter, you’ll need to include the following information:

  • Your name and contact information
  • An explanation of mistakes on your credit report
  • A copy of your credit report with the mistakes highlighted or circled
  • Supporting information that shows why the information is wrong
  • A request for the information to be updated or removed

You can dispute incorrect information on your credit reports with each of the credit bureaus using the contact information below:

Experian Equifax TransUnion
Online Experian website Equifax website TransUnion website
By phone 1-888-397-3742 1-866-349-5191 1-800-916-8800
By mail Experian

P.O. Box 4500

Allen, TX 75013

Equifax

P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta, GA 30374-0256

TransUnion

P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19016-2000

The bottom line

The three main credit bureaus pull from a wide variety of information in order to put together your credit reports. Keep in mind, the credit bureaus are heavily regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which restricts and limits how they collect or share consumer information. Take advantage of your free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, and if you happen to find an error, contact the credit bureau and file a dispute. To keep in line with the law, the corresponding credit bureau(s) must address a mistake if they find one listed on your credit report.

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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