What are the Three Major Credit Bureaus?
The three major credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Credit bureaus collect and maintain data on each consumers’ credit use. If you have a loan or credit card, you probably have a credit file with all three of the main bureaus.
Also known as credit reporting agencies, credit bureaus can legally collect and sell your consumer credit behavior information without your consent. Businesses that check your credit, such as a lender or credit card provider, must have a legitimate reason to access your credit file.
In most cases, lenders must have your permission. Lenders and credit card providers often conduct a credit check when screening credit applications to determine your level of risk as a borrower.
The information collected by credit bureaus is used to:
- Calculate credit scores
- Help lenders make lending decisions
- Conduct pre-employment background checks
- Setting insurance rates
- Evaluate lease applications
- Determine whether you must pay a utility deposit
As a consumer, you have the right to see your credit reports for free once a year. You can pay to view your report more frequently if needed. You also have the ability to dispute information on your credit report if it’s inaccurate or should no longer appear due to its age.
What Do the Credit Bureaus Track?
Your credit reports include all sorts of identifying information, such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and addresses, both past and present. Credit reports also contain:
- Payment history (ie. whether you paid on time)
- List of current and past credit accounts
- Negative information (ie. missed payments, collections, repossessions, bankruptcies, and foreclosures)
- A record of who has accessed your credit report and when
If you’re concerned about data privacy, rest assured that credit bureaus are highly regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This sets limitations on how your data is collected and shared.
How do the Credit Bureaus Collect Their Data?
Lenders and creditors report how you manage your accounts, to include if you make payments on time, also known as your payment history. They aren’t required to report this information to the credit bureaus. However, most do because this data helps them to make lending decisions in the future.
Creditors can choose to report to one, two, or all three credit bureaus. This is why you’ll notice a slight variation between your credit reports.
Some accounts, such as rent and utilities, don’t appear on your credit report. However, these accounts can end up on your report if you don’t make payments and are sent to debt collection.
Credit bureaus also get information from public records, including bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, and repossessions.
Can Additional Data Improve my Credit Report?
If you’re relatively new to the world of credit, your score and report may benefit from having other types of account information added to your reports. This includes data such as rent reporting.
There are also new products such as UltraFICO and Experience Boost which gather data from linked bank accounts.
Why isn’t my Credit Score on my Report?
While the law requires credit bureaus to let consumers see the information on their credit reports, there is no legal requirement for credit scores. So don’t be alarmed if your credit report doesn’t show a score.
There are several types of credit scores, with the main ones being FICO and VantageScore. VantageScore was developed jointly by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Credit scores are created by taking information from your credit reports that is then run through a mathematical formula to predict how likely you are to repay debt. Because each bureau has slightly different datasets, your scores vary based on the scoring model and whose data was used.
Many banks, credit card issuers, and online financial sites offer a free credit score.
Do I have the Same Credit Score at all the Bureaus?
No. In fact, you should expect some variation in your credit scores, as it depends on which credit bureau’s data was used.
There will be differences in your credit scores because creditors report your payment history and other behaviors to credit bureaus. However, there’s no requirement that they report to all three bureaus.
This means that one of the credit bureaus may have more information than the others, which explains the difference in scores.
What’s important to remember is that your credit score will vary based on data from each of the credit bureaus. But don’t sound the alarm because your score is different. You only need to be worried if one of your scores is drastically different from the other two.
For example, if your Experian credit score is 827 and your Equifax credit score is 638, there’s an issue somewhere. Such drastic differences are a telltale sign of a problem.
How do I Check my Credit Report?
There are many ways to check your credit reports. One of the go-to websites is AnnualCreditReport.com, which provides the three free reports that you’re entitled to from each of the credit bureaus. It’s important to pull and review all three reports so that you can check for errors.
You also want to review your reports to ensure that your identifying and account information are correct.
Another way to see your credit reports is to go to each credit bureau individually. In 2019, Equifax launched Core Credit, which allows consumers to receive a free Equifax credit report and VantageScore® 3.0 credit score monthly.
How do I Correct a Mistake on my Report?
If you see an error on any of your reports, you’ll want to dispute it immediately. This involves filing a formal complaint to the bureau, who will then respond. Each bureau has a slightly different procedure for disputing credit report errors:
Because the credit bureaus don’t share information, you’ll need to fix any mistake with all three. Once an error is successfully disputed, you may notice an increase in your score. For example, a 697 TransUnion credit score may increase to a TransUnion credit score of 742.
How to Protect Your Credit Score
Protect your credit by asking each bureau to freeze your credit. Credit freezes are free, and you can unfreeze a report at any time. Freezing and unfreezing your credit doesn’t impact your score in any way.
Freezing is a great way to protect yourself from identity theft. Scammers will use your identifying information to open accounts in your name, which can ruin your credit for years.
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