Whether you’re just learning the basics of cultivating your credit score or are a credit health expert, you’ve likely heard of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. If you’re looking to improve your credit score, take out a loan, or finance a large purchase, you’ll need to have a decent understanding of these three reporting agencies to get started.
However, there’s a lot of information out there, and diving in can seem a little overwhelming, especially considering a lot of the information available on credit bureaus is full of legal and financial jargon that is difficult for most people to understand. Developing an understanding of each bureau has significant benefits, though. So, to help you take control of your credit, we’ve gathered all the information you need to know about the three primary credit bureaus below.
What Is the Purpose of Credit Bureaus?
Credit bureaus – also referred to as credit reporting agencies – are companies that collect specific data regarding how you manage your finances throughout your life. Most importantly, these organizations analyze your income, timeliness of payments, and borrowing history. They then use this information to calculate your credit score, which many lenders use when deciding whether to offer you a loan.
Ultimately, all three agencies compete for business from creditors. These companies exist to provide creditors with guidance when making a lending decision. They house your financial history, as it relates to credit, and they, in turn, provide creditors with that history as well as your credit score. This allows the creditor to determine the potential risk of defaulting on your loan.
Who Are the Three Credit Bureaus?
Now that you know why credit reporting agencies exist, it’s important to understand who the primary three credit bureaus are, the information they gather about you, and how they calculate your credit score.
Equifax is one of the primary credit reporting agencies that many lenders pull information from to make lending decisions. Typically speaking, Equifax uses the VantageScore credit reporting model to determine your overall credit score. The agency utilizes a variety of identity monitoring and protection software to analyze your financial history accurately. The company developed from the Retail Credit Company, established in 1899, to Equifax in 1975.
Transunion is another primary credit bureau that gathers personal and financial data to provide potential creditors with a picture of your overall financial health. One of their core values is establishing trust for both lenders and consumers through fair, safe, and accurate credit reporting, which they call Information for Good.
The final major credit reporting agency, Experian, utilizes information from multiple sources and across many reports. Unlike the other two bureaus we’ve discussed, Experian uses the FICO score model to determine your credit score. They view themselves as a consumers’ bureau and strive to ensure consumers have access to the resources they need for financial health.
What Is the Difference Between the Credit Agencies?
There are several differences between the three credit agencies. First, it’s important to remember that each agency competes with the other to earn business. Therefore, they use different models to assess your borrowing history and analyze risks. Because each bureau competes with the other, some creditors may not report financial information to all three agencies. Contrary to popular belief, these credit agencies are not government entities and do in fact charge the creditors to report your information to them. Therefore, your credit report can look different on all three bureaus, and no one is “better” than the other.
Where Do the Credit Bureaus Get Their Data?
The three main credit agencies receive data from various sources. In most cases, creditors report your information to the bureaus, which serves as the primary source for the information that appears on your report. Any information you provide a potential lender, such as your name, address, yearly income, occupation, and monthly bills, may go to one or all of the bureaus.
Additionally, the agencies may receive information that appears on your report from public records. If you apply for public assistance, update your driver’s license, voter registration, or file your taxes, these agencies may use the information on those reports. Additionally, any public records on file with local courthouses, such as evictions, debt settlements, and bankruptcies, may impact your credit report.
Why Are My Credit Scores Different at Each Bureau?
Most likely, your credit score is at least a little different for each credit reporting agency. There are several reasons you might see varying scores, such as:
- Whether your lenders report your loans to all three bureaus or just one or two.
- The frequency with which the individual credit report updates.
- The length of time an account is on your credit history.
- The scoring models that each agency uses to determine your score.
- Whether an account is in dispute or was recently updated.
To keep up with your scores and make sure your lenders correctly report your accounts to the bureaus, you should check your credit scores frequently. While it does take some time for certain changes to reflect on your credit report, if you see something you don’t expect, it’s best to reach out early.
What Do the Credit Agencies Report?
Despite being three individual and competing companies, all three major bureaus report the same type of information. Here are some examples of the information they may include on your credit report:
- Employment information, such as your current employer and estimated yearly income.
- Student loan accounts, balances, and payment history.
- Credit card lines, utilization, and payment history.
- Bankruptcies, evictions, repossessions, and other public records.
- Charged off debt and collection accounts.
- Accounts paid in full or settled in full.
What To Do if Your Information Is Reported Incorrectly
Sometimes, agencies receive inaccurate information that can negatively impact your credit score. If you check your report and notice something is incorrect, you can submit a dispute with the reporting agency. You should dispute any wrong information. Something as simple as an incorrect payoff date can significantly impact your credit score, so it’s important to take action once you’ve noticed the error and fix your credit. If you find yourself overwhelmed or getting nowhere with your efforts, please contact us for some free advice.