Most people who have entered into the world of credit have heard of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These three credit reporting agencies—also called credit bureaus and consumer reporting agencies—play a big role in our ability to get mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and sometimes even renting an apartment or getting a job.
Learn more about Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and how to contact these agencies.
Credit reporting agencies are for-profit companies that gather and sell information about a person's credit history. They get most of the information they collect about you from your creditors. Almost all creditors supply information about their accounts using a standard electronic reporting system. You may hear it referred to as "Metro 2." It has a number of "fields" (that is, boxes or blanks) in which the creditor may insert information about you and your credit.
Credit reporting agencies turn around and sell the credit information they have collected from a variety of creditors and other sources to banks, mortgage lenders, credit unions, credit card companies, department stores, car dealers, debt collectors, insurance companies, landlords, and employers. These companies and individuals use the credit information to supplement applications for credit, insurance, housing, and employment.
Credit reporting agencies may also provide identifying information and credit reports to government agencies for their use in extending credit, reviewing the status of an account or attempting to collect a debt, granting a license or other benefit, or investigating international terrorism.
You might hear about "credit reporting agencies," "credit bureaus," or "consumer reporting agencies." Those are three names for the same thing. Sometimes you will hear about "credit reports" or "consumer reports;" again, the same thing. "Consumer reports" and "consumer reporting agencies" are the terms used in the federal law that protects consumers in connection with their credit reports, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. But most people refer to them as credit reports and credit reporting agencies.
There are three nationwide credit reporting agencies:
If you have any form of credit, then it is almost certain that all three of these agencies have a credit report on file for you.
Nowadays there are also regional and small credit reporting agencies, many of which get their information from one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. In addition, there are nationwide specialty reporting agencies that gather and report only particular types of information, such as bad check writing or rental or medical histories. There may or may not be a report on you with these smaller or specialty agencies.
Keep in mind, though, that you do not get your annual free credit report by contacting any of these three nationwide credit reporting agencies directly. Instead, you order reports from the Annual Credit Report Service at www.annualcreditreport.com. (Learn more about getting your free annual credit report in What's in Your Credit Report.)
However, there are other reasons that you may need to contact the three CRAs. For example, you might want to pay for an additional credit report or you may need to dispute an item on your credit report. In those situations (and a few others), you will need to contact the credit reporting agency directly.
To get general information about credit reports, as well as credit scores, see Credit Reports and Credit Scores: What's the Difference?