Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies: What You Need To Know 2020

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There are three main credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies that you need to be aware of when learning about the US Credit System and how it works.

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • TransUnion

You need to know who the three reporting bureaus are, what information they collect about you and how to contact them if you are requesting anything to do with your credit reports. The “Big Three” as they are called are an integral part of your journey of credit repair and restoration.

In an effort to centralize credit reporting from local record keepers, these credit-reporting agencies eventually merged into the system we have today.

We will go over each credit bureau and what that means for you in your attempt to build or repair your credit score.

Who Reports To The Three Credit Bureaus?

Almost all major lenders, credit card companies and collection agencies report to one or all three main credit bureaus. It has become the only way for creditors to report both good and negative information about each borrower.

It is the best way for lenders to make informed credit decisions about each borrower they are working with.

By reporting information to the three credit bureaus, other lenders can see if the borrower has used their credit responsibly or if there is a high rate of late payments or default.

This is important for the integrity of the banking system. Otherwise, it would be a license to steal since someone could keep borrowing and never paying the money back. There would be no solvent banks if borrowers did not repay their debts.

Borrowers today have the motivation to pay their debts so they can obtain credit in the future for things like a car or home purchase. But in order for you to maintain an accurate credit report, you need to know who the “Big Three” are.

Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies: What You Need To Know 2020

What Information Does The Big Three Collect About Me?

The credit reporting bureaus collect information from your creditors, employers, and public records.

According to the Federal Reserve, the three major bureaus collect the following information.

  • Name and previous names or aliases used
  • Address
  • Full or partial Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Employment information
  • Your existing and past credit information.
  • Card accounts
  • Mortgages
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Terms of your credit, how much you owe your creditors and your history of making payments.
  • Your public record. Information about any court judgments against you, any tax
  • Liens against your property
  • Whether you have filed for bankruptcy.
  • Inquiries about you. A list of companies or persons who recently requested a copy of your report.

Who Looks At My Credit Report?

Your credit history is important to a lot of people:

  • mortgage lenders, creditors and banks
  • utility companies
  • future and current employers
  • insurance companies

It is especially important that you understand your credit report, credit score, and the companies that compile that information, credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies.

Why Do I Need To Know Who The Three Credit Agencies Are?

You need to know who the big three credit reporting bureaus are because whether you are applying for a job, insurance coverage or applying for a loan, the information they collect will be given to whomever has access to the report.

If there are mistakes on your credit report then whoever has requested it will also see those mistakes. One out of five people has an error on their credit report and they are not sure how to repair it. You need to know how to contact each reporting bureau and how to access your free annual credit report.


Equifax was founded in Atlanta in 1899 as the Retail Credit Company. By the 1920s it was one of the largest credit reporting agencies and had offices in both the US and Canada. As time went on the company garnered a reputation of collecting both accurate and inaccurate information about people. The majority of their information was sold to insurance companies for life, health, and homeowner’s policies.

In the 1970s, there were many complaints about the type of information they collected, such as school information and even someone’s sex life. What made matters worse was there was no way for a consumer to have mistakes corrected much less to see the information that was being collected about them.

Equifax and The Fair Credit Reporting Act

Columbia University Professor Alan Westin attacked Equifax to the point that congress took notice. That was how the Fair Credit Reporting Act was born.

The main points in the FCRA are:

  • You must be told if information in your file has been used against you.
  • You have the right to know what is in your file.
  • Consumer reporting agencies may not report outdated negative information.
  • You have the right to ask for a credit score.
  • You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information.
  • Consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information.
  • You must give your consent for reports to be provided to employers.
  • You may limit “prescreened” offers of credit and insurance you get based on information in your credit report.
  • Access to your file is limited but you do have the right to one free credit report per year.
  • You have the right to obtain a security freeze.
  • Identity theft victims and active-duty military personnel have additional rights.
  • You have the right to seek damages.

Equifax collects information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses worldwide. 

Today we can thank Equifax for the legislation that protects consumers from these types of information gathering services.


The company was originally established in the United States and called TRW Information Systems. Through multiple mergers and acquisitions, Experian is what it has become today. An Irish-domiciled multinational consumer credit reporting company. Experian collects and aggregates information on over one billion people and businesses including 235 million individual U.S. consumers and more than 25 million U.S. businesses.

Experian also sells analytics and marketing assistance to businesses, including individual fingerprinting and targeting. Think Facebook when it comes to this type of work. If a company wants analytics on your behaviors then that information can be valuable.

Experian offers online access to credit history and products that will protect you against identity theft. Like all credit reporting agencies, the company is required by U.S. law to provide consumers with one free credit report every year and follow the laws that are in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.


TransUnion is the smallest of the Big Three Credit Bureaus. Just like the other bureaus, TransUnion is required to offer one free credit report a year. Located in Chicago, Transunion has files on more than 200 million files that are profiling almost every American.

TransUnion also markets its credit and fraud protection services to consumers. Today, over 65 thousand businesses work with Transunion.

In 2013, TransUnion updated its traditional credit score offering to include trend data that helps predict future consumer repayment and debt behavior. TransUnion calls this product CreditVision.

In 2014, a TransUnion found that reporting a consumer’s rental payment information to credit bureaus can raise their credit scores. TransUnion initiated a service called ResidentCredit. This way landlords and the property owners would be able to report the tenant’s monthly rental history. This information on the reports shows the amount each tenant pays, payment history, and the remaining balance of the lease or the debt the tenant owes.

TransUnion has had its fair share of legal troubles as well. In June 2017, a California jury ruled against Transunion with a $60 million verdict in the largest Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) verdict in history. 

The Dispute Addresses For Each Agency

If for any reason you are unable to access your credit report online you will have to write the credit reporting agencies directly.

  1. Equifax. P.O. Box 7404256. Atlanta, GA 30374-0256.
  2. Experian. Dispute Department. P.O. Box 9701. Allen, TX 75013.
  3. TransUnion. Consumer Solutions. P.O. Box 2000. Chester, PA 19022-2000.

Why Do They Give You Three Different Credit Scores?

Many people want to know why they are getting three different scores from the big three bureaus. The answer is very simple. Not all lenders report to all three bureaus. They also may be using different scoring models.

Here is a hypothetical example:

You have an XYZ Express Credit Card. They only report to Experian. TransUnion and Equifax have no idea that you even have one of these credit cards. If they do not have the information then that information can not contribute to your FICO score.

This matters because if Bank A only pulls credit from Experian and there is something derogatory on that report then it could affect whether or not you can get a loan even if your scores and reports are different from the two other bureaus. I would often get calls at the bank asking which bureau we pulled from when a customer had a loan request.

FICO has several different scores that lenders can purchase based on the type of loan. An automobile credit report may use a different scoring model than a mortgage lender would see. The information will be the same but the score is different. There is also VantageScore. 90% of lenders will use a FICO score but that still leaves 10% who will use Vantage Score.

It also means that if a bank accepts a middle score of all three then it would also be lower than your highest credit score. You want to get all three bureaus as high as possible and make sure there are no errors on any of your credit reports. It is more about the errors than the credit score.

What Are The Differences Between the Three Credit Bureaus?

The only difference between the three bureaus is their size and the scoring models they use and offer the businesses that purchase credit reports from them.

 FICO alone has offered more than 60 different scoring models since 2011.

To keep up with consumer trends and the evolving needs of lenders, FICO periodically updates its scoring model, resulting in new FICO® Score versions being released to the market every few years.

Additionally, different lenders use different versions of FICO® Scores when evaluating your credit. Auto lenders, for instance, often use FICO® Auto Scores, an industry-specific FICO® Score version that’s been tailored to their needs.

Between all three bureaus, there are 19 FICO® Scores that are most commonly used by lenders.

Are Credit Rating Agencies Different Than Credit Reporting Bureaus?

A credit rating agency mostly compiles data about a business or a city, state, county or country and determines their credit rating. Consumers will never have a “credit rating” like this.

A credit reporting bureau compiles information about consumers for businesses that are looking to lend money. The lenders report your information to the bureaus for free and then the credit reporting bureaus charge the lenders when they want to pull a credit report.

Often the cost of your credit report is passed on to you from the lender. The consumer pays through application fees or a line item charge on your statement of fees, for a credit report.

Why Is My Credit History Not Being Reported?

Not every merchant reports your credit activity in the same way. Many lenders only report to one agency while others report to all three. At this time, there is no legal obligation for merchants to report your credit information. A credit company may never report your activity at all. The whole system is voluntary and up to the lender to report your payment history.

As an example, doctors do not typically report your payment activity to credit reporting agencies at all and legally they can not report it …. until they send your medical bill to a collection agency. It is at that point it will show up on your credit reports as a debt that is owed to the doctor. Not everyone is able to report your debts to the credit agencies.

The only recourse a small business has if you owe them money is to sell the debt to a collection agency, hire a collection agency to collect the debt, or take you to court to obtain a judgment. Judgments show up on your credit report under public records.

The law that regulates this is the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In 1970, the FCRA created a legal framework for credit reporting agencies and outlined the rights of consumers. This includes your right to a free copy of each of your three credit reports annually.

Final Thoughts

The “Big Three” are the main credit reporting bureaus that most lenders will use to gather information about your credit habits. There are several other credit reporting agencies out there that are smaller but usually do not play a role in the consumer lending process.

It is important that you are checking your credit reports from the three main credit reporting agencies and handling any errors as soon as you are aware of them. The more accurate your credit report is and the sooner you learn how to deal with repairing your credit, the sooner you can be on your way to becoming a viable borrower.

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Tricia Snow

Tricia Snow has worked in the banking and financial services industry for over 20 years. She has helped 1000's of clients obtain the financing they needed to purchase their dream home or start their own business.

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