Credit bureaus — also known as credit reporting agencies or CRAs — are publicly traded, for-profit corporations that compile and sell consumer credit information.
How do credit bureaus work?
Credit bureaus collect payment history information reported to them by lenders and creditors you have accounts with. They also gather relevant information from public records, such as items in collections and bankruptcies.
Credit bureaus don’t determine your eligibility for the best credit cards and loans. These companies simply gather credit information and sell it to creditors, insurance companies, employers and businesses that have legitimate reasons to access your credit information.
Nevertheless, your credit report and credit score affect lending decisions. So whether or not a lender will approve you for a loan or credit card, how much they lend you, and the interest rate they'll charge you will depend on your credit history.
What are the big three credit bureaus?
Although credit reporting agencies obtain information from many of the same sources, they are not affiliated. That means they employ different credit scoring methods to determine your credit score, so your scores from each bureau may be different.
While there are multiple credit scoring models, two companies lead this industry in the United States: FICO and VantageScore. The vast majority of financial institutions use FICO scores to determine if borrowers are creditworthy.
Both FICO and VantageScore models have a scoring range from 300 to 850. While lenders are the ones that determine what score range they consider good, a FICO score of at least 670 and a VantageScore of 700 will generally qualify as good credit.
Experian is the largest of the three credit bureaus. It offers credit and consumer services, as well as marketing information products and services for businesses.
Becoming an Experian member grants you one free credit score and report. You also get free monthly credit monitoring, dark web surveillance reports and Experian Boost, which takes into account utility and subscription bills to build credit history.
Equifax sells both consumer and business credit reports. It also offers credit monitoring and identity theft protection plans as well as credit scores and credit reports from all three bureaus.
After a data breach in 2017 that compromised the credit information of more than 147 million consumers, Experian made free credit monitoring services available to those affected.
You can get regularly-updated TransUnion credit reports and scores as well personalized debt analysis and credit trends by signing up for basic membership with this bureau.
Membership also includes Credit Lock Plus, which shields your TransUnion and Equifax reports from identity theft, and up to $1 million in ID theft insurance.
How do you contact the big three credit reporting agencies?
It's important that you check your credit reports regularly to make sure they don't contain outdated or incorrect information that could negatively impact your credit score.
You can obtain all three of your free credit reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you find errors on your reports, there are two ways of fixing them: disputing the error directly with the corresponding credit bureau for free or hiring a credit repair agency to do it for you.
If you don't have time to file a dispute on your own and have money to spend, check out our list of best credit repair agencies for more information.
But if you want to dispute the error yourself, all three bureaus allow you to do so online, via postal mail or over the phone
|Dispute by mail
|Dispute by phone
|Click here to file an online dispute with Equifax
|Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Include supporting documents
|Results within 30 days
|Click here to file an online dispute with Experian
|P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013Include supporting documents
|Results within 30 days
|Click here to file an online dispute with Transunion
|TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
Include supporting documents
|Results within 30 days
To remove items from your credit report, you'll be required to provide your social security number, current address, and documents that support your claim.
You can also protect your credit report from fraud by implementing a credit freeze through any of the three bureaus. While these companies don't share your credit account information with one another, they do share freezes.
Freezing your credit will not affect your credit score and you can lift it at any time by contacting the credit bureaus directly.
Credit Reporting Agencies FAQ
What are the three credit bureaus?
The three major credit bureaus are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
Each credit bureau collects, updates, and sells credit information on consumers in the United States.
Lenders and creditors use the credit reports compiled by credit bureaus to determine your creditworthiness, which is your eligibility for loans and lines of credit.
Which credit bureau is most used?
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus in the United States. Most lenders and creditors will use one or all three of these nationwide CRAs to access your credit score and credit history.
Besides the three nationwide credit bureaus, there’s a growing number of smaller credit-reporting agencies that provide credit reports and financial advisory services.
According to the CFPB, some of these smaller consumer reporting companies also offer alternative financial services, such as specialty reporting in industries like real estate and auto loans.
That being said, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the only credit bureaus that are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to allow you to check your reports free of charge once every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
How often do credit bureaus update?
The three nationwide credit bureaus generally update your credit report every 30 to 45 days.
However, some lenders may operate under different billing cycles and report updates to the credit bureaus more frequently.
When do credit card companies report late payments to credit bureaus?
Credit card companies generally report late payments to the credit reporting bureaus at least 30 days after the payment due date.
That 30-day grace period should give you time to make your payment, although there may be a late payment fee.
When do debt collection agencies report to credit bureaus?
If you have an account that is extremely past due, your creditor may sell your delinquent account to a collection agency. Once that account is sold, the collection agency can report this item on your credit report.
According to the consumer financial protection Bureau (CFPB), creditors aren’t required to notify you if your account is going to be sold to a debt collector — but they usually will.
Collections have a negative impact on your credit and can stay on your report for up to 7 years.
Who can see your consumer reports?
Consumer reporting companies are required by law to keep your credit information confidential, but they can provide consumer reports and credit scores to an array of businesses, including:
- Employers, government agencies or volunteer organizations
- Banks or credit unions
- Landlords and residential real estate companies
The CFPB states your information can be shared with these entities for the purpose of employment screening, verifying your creditworthiness for a financial product or determining your eligibility for government assistance.
Summary of Money’s guide to credit bureaus
- The three major consumer credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Credit reporting agencies maintain and keep updated records of credit data, calculate credit scores based on credit history and issue credit reports.
- Consumer reporting agencies can sell your credit information to credit card issuers, lenders, insurers and employers.
- Regularly checking your credit reports for errors or outdated information can improve your credit score.
- You can get a copy of your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.