What Are The Three Credit Bureaus?

8 Min Read
Updated Oct. 26, 2023
Written By
Sam Hawrylack
Young African-American woman uses credit card for online shopping.

Your credit reporting information determines if you can obtain a loan, get insurance and hook up utilities without a down payment. Sometimes it even affects your ability to secure certain jobs.

Three credit bureaus report information about you, and they can hold a lot of control over your financial life. So, what are the three credit bureaus, and what do they report about you?

You’ll learn everything you need to know about the credit bureaus and how you can ensure they have the correct information about your financial life below.

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What Are The Three Major Credit Bureaus?

There are three credit bureaus that collect, analyze and report information on your credit report. These bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

The credit bureaus are responsible for collecting information from your creditors, such as credit card companies, mortgage lenders and banks. They then report this info on your credit report. The information provided in your credit report helps determine your credit score and helps lenders decide if they will approve you for a loan.

Your credit score is the number lenders look at when determining if you are a good credit risk. Credit scores range from 300 – 850. The higher your credit score, the easier it is to get approved for loans. Consumers should aim for a 670 score or higher to have “good” credit for the best chances of securing reasonable rates and terms.


Equifax is a credit reporting agency located in Atlanta, Georgia. They were founded in 1899 as Retail Credit Company, when they began researching the creditworthiness of consumers for the local grocers’ association.

Through the years, they branched out into the insurance industry. They then eventually acquired two major data companies, landing them where they are today as one of the nation’s three largest credit reporting agencies.


Experian is another credit reporting agency that operates in multiple nations. They have over 20,000 employees in 44 countries working together to help businesses and consumers take control of their financial lives.

Experian’s goal is to empower consumers and to help everyone have access to fair and equitable credit by using Experian’s powerful resources and data to reach the desired result.


TransUnion is also a part of the three largest credit bureaus in the United States. Operating around the globe, TransUnion provides credit and public record data to help businesses make lending decisions about consumers. TransUnion provides credible and informative data to businesses to help consumers get the funding they need.

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Credit Bureaus Vs. Credit Reporting Agencies

Credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies fall under the same categories. They report consumer behavior so lenders and other businesses can make lending or business decisions before dealing with a consumer.

There are many credit reporting agencies in the United States, but three main credit bureaus deliver credit reports to consumers and businesses. Equifax, TransUnion and Experian are the credit bureaus most banks and financial institutions use when making lending decisions.

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What Kind Of Information Do Credit Bureaus Collect?

  • Name: This includes current and past names, including maiden names, names from prior marriages or any financial affairs handled under another name.
  • Social Security number: This number identifies you and ties you to the financial accounts you carry. Social Security numbers are helpful because many people have the same name and credit accounts can get confused without the differentiating factor of the Social Security number.
  • Date of birth: Your date of birth is another identifying factor used to ensure credit bureaus have the correct information with the right person.
  • Address: The credit bureaus collect all address information and keep it on file. As a result, your credit reports often show past addresses, which is important for certain lenders, especially mortgage lenders.
  • Current and past credit accounts: The credit accounts are the bread and butter of the credit report. The credit bureaus keep track of everything from your first credit account to any accounts you hold today. Most credit accounts fall off your report eventually, but you might find some that stick around for 10 or 20 years.
  • Payment history: Your payment history or payment patterns on your financial obligations makes up the largest part of your credit scores. It’s often what lenders look at first too. They want to know, do you have a habit of paying your bills late, or do you have a spotless payment history with on-time payments and no defaults?
  • Negative marks like foreclosures or accounts in collections: If you had any major hiccups in your financial history, such as losing a house in a foreclosure, having a car repossessed, collections or judgments, they’ll appear on your credit report. The credit bureaus keep track of these issues and report them for the duration of the statute of limitations, which varies for each type of occurrence.
  • Public records like bankruptcies: Bankruptcies stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, depending on the type you file. This lets lenders know of your past financial trouble. They don’t affect your credit score for the entire 10 years, but it has a significant impact the first couple of years.
  • Outstanding balance: Next to your payment history, your outstanding balance compared to your total credit line is the next most important factor of your credit score. If you have over 30% of your credit line outstanding, it can hurt your credit score, so lenders often look at your outstanding balance early in the approval process.
  • Credit inquiries: Each time you apply for credit, the credit bureaus mark your credit report with an inquiry. This shows other lenders that you recently applied for credit and can be a red flag if you have a lot of inquiries at one time, as it can signify that you’re in financial despair.

Why Do Credit Scores Differ?

You might find that you have different credit scores depending on who you talk to or where you get your credit score. This is because there are numerous credit scoring models and even industry-specific credit scores that certain businesses prefer to use.

Along with different credit scoring models, each model has various versions. For example, FICO and VantageScore are two of the most popular credit scoring models, but even within those two, there are 16 different FICO versions and 4 VantageScore versions.

You might even find you have different credit scores between the credit bureaus. This is because they each weigh information slightly differently, and not all creditors report to all three bureaus. You might have a car payment at a bank that only reports to TransUnion, for example.

Some lenders also use industry-specific credit scores, such as the auto industry. If they only care about certain factors, they may prefer to use an industry-specific credit score versus the overall credit score.

Do You Need All Three Scores?

Not all lenders look at all three credit scores. It depends on the type of loan you’re applying for and the bank’s standards. Some lenders may pull all three credit scores and use the middle score as your qualifying credit score. Others may take an average of the three or use the lowest one.

Since you don’t know which credit score a lender might use, maximizing your score with all three credit bureaus is important. Since you may not know which credit bureau each of your creditors reports to, maintaining a good payment history and using your credit wisely ensures that you’ll have a solid credit history with all three bureaus.

How Can I Check My Credit Report?

It’s free and easy to check your credit report using AnnualCreditReport.com. Every consumer is eligible for a free credit report from each bureau weekly. This changed recently due to the pandemic and increasing risk of fraudulent activity. Normally, consumers have access to one free credit report from each bureau annually.

It’s important to pull your credit reports at least once a year to ensure everything is accurate. Credit bureaus receive information from various sources, and sometimes mistakes happen.

Whether it’s human error or your accounts have been hacked, pulling your credit reports regularly and checking for validity of the information is the key to a healthy and accurate credit score.

What If I See An Error On My Credit Report?

If you notice an error on your credit report, it’s important to dispute it immediately. This is best done in writing and should include the following information:

  • The error you found, including the name of the creditor and the account number
  • The reason you think the information is incorrect
  • Any proof you have to back up your dispute
  • Your contact information
  • The report number

It’s a good idea to send the letter via certified mail, so you have proof when they receive it. The credit bureaus have 30 days to review your request and respond.

The Bottom Line

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion report a lot of important information about you to lenders and financial institutions. It’s important to understand their role, how you can ensure they have the right information about you and how to establish a good credit history.

Your credit will follow you for the rest of your life, whether you’re applying for a loan, trying to change jobs or need to set up new utilities.

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