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Who Are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?

Ever wondered where your credit report and credit score come from? These crucial tools in the financial world don’t just spring up by themselves. They are created by credit bureaus, companies that collect, weigh and distribute your information. There are hundreds of credit bureaus in the U.S. However, it’s the three major credit bureaus that matter the most: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

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What Is a Credit Bureau?

Also known as a credit reporting agency, a credit bureau is a company that collects your personal and financial information. The bureau then sells that information to potential lenders, creditors, employers and landlords. This information is presented in the form of a credit score and credit report. These reports give a more concise picture of the potential risk a borrower, like yourself, may pose to a lender. Major credit bureaus have relationships with financial institutions like banks and credit card issuers who pass on their information and then buy it back.

Credit reports combine a detailed history of your payment history, your experience with credit products and the details of your debts you’ve carried. They may also include public records, like tax liens, in your report. This information helps lenders decide whether they want to lend you money. It can also help determine how much you can borrow and your interest rates. Typically, the better your score, the better the rates.

The three major credit bureaus are all publicly traded, for-profit companies. This means they are not government-run agencies. However, they are bound to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This legislation provides rules and conditions as to how the bureaus can behave and handle the information they have. Let’s take a look at the three major credit bureaus below.

Equifax

Who Are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?

Founded in the late 1890s, Equifax is the oldest of the three major credit bureaus. Today, Equifax operates in 24 countries, gathering, analyzing and distributing data on more than 820 million consumers. Its database also includes more than 91 million businesses around the world.

The company now offers credit reporting, credit monitoring and identity theft and credit fraud protection to consumers. They’re the only of the major three credit bureaus that reports open and closed accounts in separate sections. Most others list all accounts alphabetically. This makes it easier to quickly identify how many debts you have and how much you owe.

In September 2017, Equifax announced a major data breach that affected 145.5 million consumers in the U.S. The accessed information included consumers’ names, addresses, driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers. If you’re unsure whether you were affected by the Equifax breach, you should check your credit report as soon as possible. That way, you can catch any fraudulent activity sooner rather than later.

Experian

Who Are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?

Originally managing the western United States’ credit, Experian now operates on a global scale with clients in over 80 countries. The company promotes itself as one that helps both individuals and businesses thrive financially.

In the U.S., Experian holds the personal and financial information of about 220 million consumers and 25 million businesses. The company specializes in customer insight, credit risk, market insight, fraud detection, debt management and more.

TransUnion

Who Are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?

Originally created as the holding company for Union Tank Car Company in 1968, TransUnion quickly evolved into the credit bureau business a mere year later. The company then became the first credit bureau to use an automated tape-to-disc transfer of its information to speed up its processes. Today, TransUnion operates in 33 countries.

TransUnion seeks to provide consumers and businesses with the necessary information to manage risk. This is done by providing data-tracking and analytics for businesses and credit reports, scores and monitoring for consumers. It has credit reports for more than 500 million people worldwide.

The Differences Between the Major Credit Bureaus

All credit bureaus collect and report on most of the same consumer information. This means your credit history, debt history and personal information. However, each of the three major credit bureaus work independently of one another. Each uses their own processes and algorithms to collect your information and create your credit report.

Because these credit bureaus work independently of one another, lenders and creditors must report their information to each bureau separately. This results in slightly differing credit reports and credit scores from one bureau to the next. So when you request your credit report, you’ll want to take a look at all three of them. That way, you can compare and contrast and find any errors that may be dragging a credit score down. You can access each credit report for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also purchase a credit report directly from the credit bureaus whenever you need. It’s important to note that when you purchase your report from Experian, you receive the FICO® 8 Score.

The Takeaway

It’s important to know who the three major credit bureaus are and how they are different. This helps you manage and analyze your own financial information like your credit report and credit score. That way, you can be more on top of catching errors, if any, or fraudulent activity. Staying on top of these things can snag you a better mortgage rate or one of the best rewards credit cards.

Tips for Staying on Top of Your Credit

  • It’s important to keep track of your credit card spending, to avoid overspending and falling into debt. Tracking this will prevent any surprise charges on your credit card statement. Plus, spending under your credit limit will reflect well in your credit report.
  • Again, you should take advantage of the free credit reports you can get from AnnualCreditReport.com. That way you don’t have to pay to see your current financial standing. Since you can get each report for free each year, it can help to space out when you request them. Doing this allows you a look at your reports throughout the year, rather than at one point in the year.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion

Liz Smith Liz Smith is a graduate of New York University and has been passionate about helping people make better financial decisions since her college days. Liz has been writing for SmartAsset for more than four years. Her areas of expertise include retirement, credit cards and savings. She also focuses on all money issues for millennials. Liz's articles have been featured across the web, including on AOL Finance, Business Insider and WNBC. The biggest personal finance mistake she sees people making: not contributing to retirement early in their careers.
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