Understanding the 3 Major Credit Bureaus

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion create the credit reports that inform your credit scores

If you’ve ever applied for credit, you probably know a little bit about credit reports already. But did you know that there are several different versions of your credit report?  

Credit reports are compiled by three major companies called credit bureaus. Read on to learn what credit bureaus are, what information they collect and how your credit reports impact your credit scores.

What Are the 3 Major Credit Bureaus?

Credit bureaus are companies that compile and sell credit reports, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You might also hear them referred to as credit reporting agencies or consumer reporting agencies. 

Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion® are the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.

What Data Do the 3 Major Credit Bureaus Collect?

The three major credit bureaus typically collect information about your financial habits. 

The exact information each credit bureau collects might vary. But according to the CFPB, the information typically includes things like:

  • The date an account is opened
  • The loan amount or the credit limit
  • The account balance
  • Your payment history
  • Whether the account is in collection
  • Public records

Then, the credit bureaus compile the information into credit reports that lenders use to help predict how likely you are to repay debts on time.

Lenders might use your credit reports, along with other information, to help decide things like whether to approve you for credit, what interest rate to offer you and how to set your credit limit. And your credit scores are calculated based on information in your credit reports. So you can see why it’s important to know about your credit reports and how they’re created.

How Do Credit Bureaus Get Your Information?

The three major credit bureaus may gather information from different combinations of sources. But generally, there are a few main ways credit bureaus collect information about you. 

First, other financial institutions and lenders voluntarily send information to the credit bureaus. 

According to the CFPB, that includes places like:

  • Banks and credit unions
  • Credit card issuers, including store credit cards 
  • Auto lenders 
  • Mortgage lenders 
  • Debt collection agencies 

Credit bureaus also buy public records and include that information in their reports. Those records might include things like: 

  • Property records 
  • Bankruptcy filings
  • Court records 
  • Wage garnishments

What About Specialty Consumer Reporting Agencies?

Besides the three main credit reporting agencies, there are also specialty consumer reporting agencies that collect much more specific information about you. As the CFPB explains, they might collect data and create reports based on information like apartment rental payments, insurance claims, medical payments and more.

If you’ve never heard of these specialty reports, you’re not alone. The CFPB says you might not even know about them unless you find yourself having problems with things like getting a job or renting an apartment.

Why Do You Have Different Credit Scores?

It’s important to know that it’s normal to have several different credit scores. But what does that have to do with credit bureaus and your credit reports?

It might help to think of your credit scores as a quick summary of your credit reports. And remember that credit bureaus compile those credit reports. 

Credit-scoring companies—like VantageScore® and FICO®—use mathematical formulas called scoring models along with information from your credit reports to calculate credit scores. 

To put it simply: There are multiple credit bureaus, credit-scoring companies and scoring models. So your credit scores can be different depending on what information is used to calculate them, which company is doing the calculating and when they’re calculated.

What’s a Credit-Scoring Model?

Credit-scoring companies each use their own credit-scoring models to calculate credit scores. And each credit-scoring company also has different versions of their credit-scoring models.

A model might use information from just one or a combination of different credit reports. Then, each credit-scoring model might assign different levels of importance to that information.

And that’s not all. According to the CFPB, your score can even change depending on the day it’s calculated or the type of credit you’re applying for. 

Some lenders might even have their own custom credit-scoring models that they use to make credit decisions, according to the CFPB. And some credit bureaus offer their own credit scores, too. 

It’s understandable if this all feels a little complicated. 

Remember: There are multiple credit bureaus, credit-scoring companies and scoring models. So your credit scores can be different depending on what information is used to calculate them, which company is doing the calculating and when they’re calculated.

How to Check Your Credit Reports

Now that you know more about the three major credit bureaus, you might be wondering: How do I check my credit reports? 

One way to monitor your credit is by using CreditWise from Capital One. With CreditWise, you can access your TransUnion credit report and weekly VantageScore 3.0 credit score—without hurting your score. And CreditWise is free for everyone. You don’t even have to be a Capital One cardholder to enroll.

You can also get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to learn how. There may be a limit on how often you can get your report. You can check the site or call 877-322-8228 for more details.

How to Dispute Inaccuracies in Your Credit Reports

Regularly checking your credit is a good idea for many reasons. It can help you:

It also gives you the chance to check for errors in your credit reports. And if you do catch errors, the CFPB offers step-by-step instructions on how to dispute errors on your credit reports that you can use as a guide.

The Importance of Credit

Now you know a little more about the three major credit bureaus and why they matter when it comes to your credit reports and credit scores. 

Understanding more about how credit works, and why credit is so important, can help you get the tools you need to work on maintaining good credit

Or, if you’re at the beginning of your credit journey, you can learn more about how to establish first-time credit or build credit from scratch.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it is an accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

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