Credit bureaus are private companies that record your credit history. They receive information about your payment habits from people who loan you money. That information gets compiled into the database of each credit bureau and becomes part of your credit profile. This guide can help you understand what credit bureaus do and how they can impact your credit and your financial life.

Important Update: Bureaus Offer Free Weekly Reports Through April 2022

In light of the unprecedented financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus have expanded free credit report access. You can now download your credit report from each bureau once per week through annualcreditreport.com.[1]

We recommend taking advantage of these free weekly reports to check your credit often during this crisis, so you can avoid mistakes.

Table of Contents:

What is a credit bureau, and what do they do?

Credit bureaus track and report on the history of your credit usage, behavior, and patterns. They are also referred to as credit reporting agencies or CRAs. In this article, we use all three terms.

The three major national credit bureaus in the United States are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Additionally, multiple minor credit bureaus may also play a role in your financial life.

Credit bureaus are the agencies that create and maintain consumer credit reports. They also distribute your reports to outside parties when legally permissible, and typically only with your direct permission. But they can sell some information without your consent.

Credit reporting agencies are highly regulated by a consumer protection law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Two government agencies manage the regulations included in FCRA—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

What are credit bureaus allowed to do?

Credit reporting agencies are privately-owned companies that are allowed to sell credit data about consumers. They make money by providing services, including:

Using your data to create credit reports

The credit bureaus have large amounts of data about consumer behaviors that they use to create their own customized version of consumer credit reports. Companies use credit reports to find new clients, cross-sell new goods and services to existing clients, manage accounts, offer new services, and cut down on delinquent accounts and fraud.

Selling data to companies

Credit bureaus can sell data to companies who want to do business with you. While companies do need a “permissible purpose” to access your credit report, you give them permission when you apply for new credit. You can also permit background checks involving your credit history. Then companies can decide if you are the type of client they want to do business with.

Despite the protections offered by the FCRA, credit bureaus can still sell some of your credit information without your permission. Credit data can be used for non-lending decisions, such as extending pre-approved credit card offers. The good news is that you can opt out of receiving these offers if you wish.

Selling data directly to consumers and businesses

Credit bureaus also make money by selling credit reports to consumers and subscription services to monitor credit changes. Although the FCRA allows you to get one credit report for free from each credit bureau every twelve months, you typically must pay if you want to check your reports more often.

Additionally, CRAs can sell businesses your credit reports. This is what happens when you use something like a third-party credit monitoring tool. The business pays to access your credit report, and then you pay the company to help you monitor your credit.

How credit bureaus collect information

The goal of credit bureaus is to track as much information as they can about consumers within the scope of the law. They do this so that they have the most complete credit data possible on each consumer.

Credit bureaus get information from companies that do business with you, including credit card issuers, landlords, banks, credit unions, loan companies, collection agencies, and others. They track and record any financial history which involves credit that has been reported about you to them. Companies are not required to report your information to every credit bureau. This means that if you have a loan with a smaller bank or credit union, that account may not appear on all three of your credit reports. This can lead to differences in your credit score. Your score may be different, depending on which credit bureau’s information was used to calculate it.

Credit bureaus also have access to public records. This allows them to track relevant public credit data about you, such as bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Contact information for national credit bureaus

Equifax
(800) 685-1111
www.equifax.com

Experian
(888) EXPERIAN
(888-397-3742)
www.experian.com

Trans Union
(800) 888-4213
www.transunion.com
*We list the smaller credit bureaus at the bottom of this page.

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Reasons to contact a credit bureau

If there are errors on your credit report, you have the right to contact the agencies and correct them. You can contact each credit bureau directly to dispute information that you believe is inaccurate. These must be valid errors, and there is a process that you must follow. However, it is your right to have a correct credit file.

You can also contact a credit bureau if you want to place a fraud alert on your credit report or freeze your credit report.

It’s important to note that the credit bureaus are not legally required to share most information with each other. This means that you usually must contact each bureau individually. This is true for credit disputes and credit freezes. Fraud alerts are the exception. If you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, they will pass that information along to the other bureaus.

What information do credit reporting agencies have?

The credit reporting agencies maintain personal credit information about you. Credit bureaus can report both positive and negative information. You have a right to know about that data and change what is in error. You also have a right to privacy to the fullest extent of consumer protection laws.

Personal information that CRAs can report

  • Personal identifying information such as your address, date of birth, Social Security number, previous addresses, phone numbers, aliases (variations of your name), and employers
  • Account information for any type of credit or loan account, not including account numbers
  • Public records, such as bankruptcies and foreclosures
  • Credit inquiries

Account information that is negative can, by law, only be reported for a set time.

Personal information that CRAs don’t report

  • Bank account information
  • Income
  • Medical records
  • Tax liens
  • Criminal and civil court judgments, besides bankruptcy and foreclosure
  • Religion, political affiliation, race, disabilities, marital status

Are credit bureaus necessary?

When lenders and creditors decide whether or not they want to extend credit to a consumer, that consumer’s credit history plays a key role. Knowing a person’s history means the lending institution can understand its risk to approve or deny the loan. They can also adjust interest rates and fees based on that risk.

In the past, loans were often given by people who knew one another or could have members of the community vouch for them. That system was not always fair. National credit reporting agencies and uniform credit reporting rules made the process more equal for everyone.

With the information in a credit report, lenders can make unbiased decisions on who should get a loan and what interest rate is reasonable given the borrower’s risk. Without credit reporting agencies, getting a loan would likely be a much more complicated and exclusive process as it was in the past.

That being said, President Biden has recently proposed that the federal government would create a national database of credit information. A public credit reporting agency would eliminate the role of private credit bureaus.

Other credit reporting agencies in the U.S.

Many of us have heard about the big three credit bureaus. But there are other smaller credit bureaus that provide essential information to specific groups. They are often specialized. The fields those bureaus cover are listed here, along with contact information for each bureau. Some of them also give free reports.

Type of credit service Name Phone & Address Free Report?
Employment screening Accurate 800-216-8024

Accurate Background, Inc.

7515 Irvine Center Drive Irvine, CA 92618

Yes.
Employment screening ADP Screening & Selection Services, Inc.. 800-367-5933

ADP Screening & Selection Services, Inc.

301 Remington Street

Fort Collins, CO 80524

Yes.
Employment screening backgroundchecks.com 866-265-6602

Consumer Relations Department

P.O. Box 353 Chapin, SC 29036

Yes, but you must state errors from other reports.
Employment screening Checkr 844-824-3257

One Montgomery Street, Suite 2000

San Francisco, CA 94104

Yes, on its company portal.

 

Employment screening, and also lenders, rental housing managers, and social benefits processors EmpInfo 800-274-9694

5900 Silver Creek Valley Road

San Jose, CA 95138

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening First Advantage Corporation 800-845-6004

P.O. Box 105292

Atlanta, GA 30348-5292

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening General Information Services, Inc. (GIS) 866-265-4917

Consumer Relations Department

917 Chapin Road P.O. Box 353 Chapin, SC 29036

Yes.
Employment screening HireRight 800-381-0645

Consumers Department 14002 E. 21st Street Suite 1200

Tulsa, OK 74134

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening Info Cubic 877-360-4636

Applicant Services 116 Inverness Dr. East

Suite 206

Englewood, CO 80112

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening IntelliCorp 216-450-5200

Compliance Department

3000 Auburn Drive, Suite 410

Beachwood, OH 44122

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening OPENonline 888-381-5656

Compliance P.O. Box 549

Columbus, OH 43216-0549

Yes, on its company website.
Employment screening Pre-employ.com 888-381-5656

Compliance P.O. Box 549

Columbus, OH 43216-0549

Yes.
Employment screening Sterling 888-889-5248

4511 Rockside Road

Independence, OH 44131

Attn: Consumer Reports

Yes.
Employment screening Truework 888-889-5248

4511 Rockside Road

Independence, OH 44131

Attn: Consumer Reports

Yes, you can use Treuwork to verify income & employment on its company website.
Tenant screening Contemporary Information Corp. (CIC) 800-288-4757

CIC Consumer Relations

42913 Capital Drive Unit 101

Lancaster, CA 93535

Yes.
Tenant screening CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions 866-873-3651

Consumer Relations Department

PO Box 509124

San Diego, CA 92150

Yes.
*Company can freeze your consumer report if you request it.
Tenant screening First Advantage Corporation Resident Solutions 800-845-6004

First Advantage Consumer Center

P.O. Box 105292

Atlanta, GA 30348-5292

Yes, on its company website.
Tenant screening Real Page, Inc. (LeasingDesk) 866-934-1124

Consumer Relations

2201 Lakeside Blvd.

Richardson, TX 75082

Yes *Company can freeze your consumer report if you request it.
Tenant screening Screening Reports, Inc. 866-389-4042

Screening Reports, Inc.

220 Gerry Drive Wood Dale,

IL 60191

Yes, but you must have a rental application processed by the company.
Check and bank screening Certegy Check Services 800-237-3826

CFDR Request PO Box 30046

Tampa, FL 33630-3046

Yes.
Check and bank screening ChexSystems 800-428-9623

Consumer Relations 7805 Hudson Road

Suite 100 Woodbury, MN 55125

Yes *you can also get a free score.
Check and bank screening CrossCheck, Inc. 800-843-0760

Consumer Inquiry Department

P.O.Box 6008 Petaluma

CA 94955-6008

Yes.
Check and bank screening Early Warning Services 800-745-1560

Consumer Services Department

16552 North 90th Street

Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Yes.
Check and bank screening TeleCheck Services 800-366-2425

Consumer Resolution Services

P.O. Box 6806 Hagerstown

MD 21741-6806

Yes.
Insurance A-PLUS Property (by Verisk) 800-627-3487

Consumer Inquiry Center

P.O. Box 5404 Mt.

Laurel, NJ 08054

Yes.
Insurance LexisNexis CLUE (Auto & Property Reports) 888-497-0011

Consumer Center

P.O. Box 105108

Atlanta, GA 30348-5108

Yes *Company can freeze your consumer report if you request it.
Insurance Insurance Information Exchange (iiX) 866-560-7015

Compliance

1716 Briarcrest Drive, Suite 200

Bryan, TX 77802

Free report? Yes – but only if there is an adverse action from information in the report.
Medical MIB, Inc.  866-692-6901

50 Braintree Hill Park Suite 400

Braintree, MA 02184-8734

Yes, on its company website.
Medical Milliman IntelliScript 877-211-4816

P.O. Box 2223

Brookfield, WI 53008

Free Report? Yes, but only on prescription drug history.
Utilities National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) 866-343-2821

NCTUE Disclosure Report

PO Box 105161

Atlanta, GA 30348

Yes, on its website. *Company can freeze your consumer report if you request it.

FAQ

Q:How many credit bureaus are there?

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A: There are three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Additionally, there are numerous smaller credit reporting agencies with limited scopes of activity.
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Q:When do credit bureaus update?

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A: The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to be accurate and timely, but it does not give specific update times. Credit bureaus are dependent upon the information provided to them by creditors. After they receive updates, the CRAs adjust credit files. It can take as much as a month for changes by creditors to be noted on a consumer credit report. The credit reporting agencies must go through a process to make sure the information is valid. Any errors or questions can delay the reporting procedure.
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Q:Who reports bankruptcy to the credit bureaus?

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A: Bankruptcy courts do not report information to credit reporting agencies. However, credit bureaus will collect information about bankruptcy because they have access to public records. They have automated this process and use sophisticated services to gather that information.
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Q:Can I self-report to the credit bureaus?

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A: Yes, and no. You can’t contact credit bureaus directly and tell them about payments you regularly make. However, you can allow credit bureaus to know about your payments to utility companies and report your rent. Programs such as Experian Boost will let you report utility and other regularly reoccurring bills. This action is a form of “self-reporting” because using this type of service will include new information in your credit profile that wouldn’t be included otherwise.
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Q:When do collection agencies report to the credit bureaus?

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A: Collection agencies can report an account to the credit bureau as soon as they purchase the debt. However, if you dispute the debt during the debt validation process and can prove that the collector does not have all information necessary to verify the debt, then you can ask the credit bureaus to remove the account. Otherwise, it will remain for seven years from the date the account first became delinquent. For medical collection accounts, there are special rules. The collection agency must give you 180 days to settle the account or work with your insurance company to make sure it is paid. After 180 days, they may report the account.
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Q:When do credit card companies report late payments to credit bureaus?

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A: Generally, credit card companies will report to the credit bureaus only if you are more than 30 days late, but some do not report missed payments until 60 days after the due date.
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Q:What role do the three credit bureaus play in your credit score?

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A: The credit bureau’s data is used to create your credit report, and your credit score is built upon the information in your credit report. The most common scoring systems are FICO and VantageScore. VantageScore is a credit scoring model developed by the three credit bureaus in an effort to compete with FICO, which is used in 90% of lending decisions. However, VantageScore is a separate company and not part of the three major credit reporting agencies. VantageScore is the scoring model used by many popular credit monitoring apps, including Credit Karma.
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Q:Do all credit bureaus work the same way?

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A: Mostly, but not exactly. Credit bureaus have the same general methods of operation. They receive data about your credit behavior from your creditors and record them for your credit file. Each bureau operates slightly differently and highlights different aspects of your financial history in your credit report. Equifax summarizes “open” and “closed” accounts. This makes it easier to dispute. They also show an 81-month history. Experian will show you when closed accounts are going to drop off from your credit report. TransUnion has the most complete employment section.
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Q:Do credit bureaus make errors?

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A: Yes. In fact, over one-third of credit reports have errors, according to a consumer reports study published in 2021.
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Q:How often are the big three credit bureaus required to give you a free credit report?

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A: Federal law (FCRA) requires that the credit bureaus give you a free report once every twelve months. They are also required to provide a free report to verify that a disputed item has successfully been removed from your credit report. Some states require the credit bureaus to provide additional free reports each year. Currently, the credit bureaus have agreed to provide free reports each week during the pandemic until April 2022. However, this is not required by law.
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Q:Do you have to dispute with all three credit bureaus?

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A: Yes, because they are separate companies, they do not share information about credit disputes. If an error appears on all three of your reports, you will need to make three disputes. Alternatively, you can make the dispute once with the data furnisher, and if you are successful in that dispute, they must correct the information with all three bureaus.
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Q:How do credit bureaus investigate a dispute?

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A: The credit bureaus are required by law to respond to your dispute request and contact the original creditor to verify the disputed information. They will use any information or documentation you provide. Then they ask the creditor to investigate and verify the information. Any information that cannot be verified must be removed. The bureau will then notify you of the results. The results must be provided within 30 days unless the credit bureau requested more information from you; in that case, they have 45 days.
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Q:Can I sue a credit bureau?

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A: Yes, but you’ll need to have a solid case. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does allow a consumer to sue a credit bureau in Federal court for a failure to correct errors in your report.
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Q:Can I prevent a credit bureau from selling my information?

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A: Credit bureaus can and do sell information about your creditworthiness to companies so those companies can market to you. When you receive “prescreened” offers for loans and credit cards, you should know that happens because your data was sold to them. You can opt-out of those mailing lists by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or by calling 888-567-8688.
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Q:What laws govern and regulate credit bureaus?

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A: The regulations contained in The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs what credit reporting companies can and cannot do. Individual states may also have additional credit protection laws for consumers. You can contact your state Attorney General’s office for more information.
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Q:Do credit bureaus share information?

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A: Because credit bureaus are private companies and competitors, they do not share most information. While this is beneficial to your privacy, this can also cause some confusion. Not every company shares credit information with the major bureaus, so your good credit habits may not be recorded with all three CRAs. Additionally, credit report disputes and credit freezes are not shared between the bureaus. Only fraud alert information is shared between them.
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Article last modified on September 28, 2021. Published by Debt.com, LLC