The 3 major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax
October 31, 2023 6 min read
If you’ve ever applied for credit, you may already know a little bit about credit reports. But did you know that there are multiple versions of credit reports and you could have multiple credit scores too?
It all starts with credit reports and the organizations that provide them. Credit reports are compiled by companies called credit bureaus. They’re also known as credit reporting agencies or consumer reporting companies.
There are many bureaus out there. But the three nationwide credit bureaus may be most important. Learn what they are, how they collect credit information and more about how credit reports and scores are related.
- The three major credit bureaus are Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®.
- Credit bureaus are different from credit-scoring companies, such as VantageScore® and FICO®.
- Credit reports contain information about people’s identity, credit history and credit activity as well as information from public records.
- Information in each bureau’s credit reports might come from different sources, including creditors and public records, which can result in small differences in credit scores.
What are the three credit bureaus?
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three nationwide credit bureaus. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), credit bureaus are companies that compile and sell credit reports.
If you have a credit card or have ever received a loan, you should have a credit history—as long as that information has been reported to one or more of the credit bureaus.
Each credit bureau creates its own credit reports. That’s why you may have different versions of your credit history and multiple credit scores too. You can read more about how each credit bureau compiles its credit reports by visiting the links below.
Are there other credit reporting agencies?
Besides the three nationwide credit bureaus, there are also specialty reporting agencies that collect much more specific information. As the CFPB explains, these agencies 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.
What do credit reporting agencies do?
According to the CFPB, credit reporting agencies compile and sell credit reports to help lenders predict how likely you are to repay debts on time.
What information do the major credit bureaus collect?
The three credit bureaus usually 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:
- Hard inquiries related to credit applications
- The date an account is opened
- The loan amount or the credit limit
- The account balance
- Your payment history, including late or missing payments
- Whether the account is in collections
- Public records
Your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports. That’s why it’s important to know how credit reports are created—and how you can get them corrected if there’s inaccurate information.
How do credit bureaus get your information?
The three credit bureaus gather information from a combination of sources. But generally, there are a few main ways credit bureaus collect information about you.
Some financial institutions and lenders voluntarily send information to the credit bureaus. According to the CFPB, that includes places like:
- Credit card issuers
- Banks and credit unions
- Auto lenders
- Mortgage lenders
- Debt collection agencies
Credit bureaus also obtain public records and include that information in their reports. Those records might include things like:
- Bankruptcy filings
- Property records, such as liens
- Court records
- Wage garnishments
How does my credit information stay private?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that helps protect the accuracy, privacy and fairness of information collected by credit bureaus.
When credit bureaus collect information on consumer credit behavior, they have the right to do so without people’s permission. But businesses that might want to access information through a credit check need to have “a permissible purpose” under the law to obtain your credit report. In most cases, the business will disclose to you that they are pulling your credit report.
How to check your credit reports
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to learn how. But keep in mind 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.
Another way to monitor your credit is by using CreditWise from Capital One. With CreditWise, you can access your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0 credit score—without hurting your credit. CreditWise is free for everyone, even if you’re not a Capital One customer.
Checking your credit reports and your credit scores regularly can help you:
Credit bureaus vs. credit scoring companies and models
FAQ about the three credit bureaus
These frequently asked questions about the three credit bureaus might help if you’re looking for quick answers.
Which of the three credit bureaus is most important?
None of the credit bureaus should be considered the “most important.” Reviewing reports from all three bureaus can help you better understand what information might be used to calculate your credit scores. But remember, lenders have their own criteria to decide on things like loan and credit applications.
Which of the three credit bureaus is most accurate?
All three credit bureaus generally provide accurate credit reports. And no credit bureau is better than another. But credit reporting errors happen, so it never hurts to check your credit reports for mistakes.
How do I contact all three credit bureaus?