A credit bureau or credit reporting agency is a company that collects and stores information about how your credit and finances.1 This data is used to create your credit reports, which form the basis of your credit score.
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the three well-known credit bureaus that compete for the business of creditors.2 Let’s address the data collected by credit bureaus, how they obtain that information and how to contact them if something isn’t right.
What Data Is Included in Your Credit Report?
A credit report consists of your history as a consumer and borrower. To develop these reports, credit bureaus collect a few key pieces of information that identify you and offer insight into how you manage your financial obligations. Your credit report may include:
- Account information: The types of accounts you have, the dates those accounts were opened, your credit limit, account balances, payment history and more.
- Collections: May include unpaid accounts that have been passed on to a collections agency.
- Inquiries: Records of when you allow someone to access or check your credit reports, such as when you applied for a credit card or loan.
- Personal Information: Your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.1
Rules Credit Bureaus Must Abide By
While credit bureaus don’t need your permission to collect data, they aren’t allowed to do whatever they want with the information they acquire. There are strict guidelines they must follow, which are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).3
- Disputes: As a consumer, you have the right to dispute information on your credit report that you believe to be inaccurate. Your dispute must be investigated by a credit bureau and the item removed from your report if it hasn’t been verified to be accurate.
- Access to your information: Your information can only be shared with someone who has a “permissible purpose” to access it. This may include lenders, collection agencies, landlords, employers and you.
- Expiration date: For the most part, negative information has an expiration date of 7 years. But, items such as bankruptcies may remain on your report for up to 10 years.
- Free copy of your report: Credit bureaus must allow access to view a free copy of your report once every 12 months.
Changes in Credit Reports From Bureau to Bureau
Your credit scores can vary depending on the bureau you check with. This can happen because of the differences in data that make up each report. For example, creditors are not required to report information to credit bureaus. While many choose to do so, some may send your information to only a few of the main bureaus.2 This leads to variations in scores and reports.
Bureaus also tend to use independent scoring models that use different methods to evaluate your credit reports. This can also result in different scores, even if the same report from the same bureau is being used.2
Other Credit Bureaus to Be Aware Of
Any organization that collects information about consumers and sells it to others is known as a consumer reporting agency. While this largely includes Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, there are other credit bureaus to be aware of. Here are some others you may come across:
- ChexSystems: Collects and reports information on closed checking and savings accounts.
- LexisNexis: Provides reports to lenders with information that Experian, TransUnion and Equifax don’t collect.
- C.L.U.E. Inc.: Collects insurance-related information and creates consumer auto and personal property reports.
- CoreLogic: Supplies tenant screening reports to landlords. These reports may include any history of evictions and a background check.
Check Your Credit Regularly
It’s important to check your credit report regularly for errors. Becoming a member of websites such as Credit Karma allows you to access your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports any time for free. You can also request a free copy of your credit report once per year.
If you discover an error in your credit report, contact the associated credit bureau and file a dispute. They are required by law to investigate and correct any mistakes they’ve made.3