The 3 Credit Bureaus, and Why They Matter to You

These credit reporting agencies gather data about your finances into credit reports, which determine your score.
Bev O'SheaSep 7, 2021

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There are three major credit bureaus, and your credit score will vary depending on which one provided the data to create that score.

Key takeaways:

If you have a credit card or a loan, you probably have a credit file with one, two or all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They gather and maintain data on consumers' credit use.

These credit reporting agencies can collect and sell information on your consumer credit behavior without your consent. However, businesses that check your credit, such as credit card issuers and lenders, must have a legitimate reason to look at your credit file, such as screening credit applications. In most cases they must have your permission.

The information credit bureaus collect is typically used:

You have a right to see your credit reports and to dispute information that is inaccurate or should no longer be reported because of its age.

Your credit reports will include identifying information, such as your name, birthdate, Social Security number and addresses (past and present).

They also can contain:

» MORE: See what  show about you

Creditors report how you handle accounts, including payment history. They're not required to report to the credit bureaus, but most do because data on how borrowers have handled credit cards and loans in the past helps them make lending decisions.

Creditors may report to one, two or all three bureaus — so your credit report at each bureau can vary a bit from the others.

Some types of accounts don't routinely show up on your report, such as utilities and rent. But those accounts can still end up on your report if there's a payment problem that leads to a 

Data also comes from public records, such as:

If you are , you might benefit from getting other types of account information added to your reports. Options include:

While the law requires the credit bureaus to let you see the information in your credit reports, there is no such requirement for credit scores.

There are many types of credit scores, but the two main ones are and its competitor , which was developed jointly by the three main credit bureaus.

Scores are created by running the information in your credit reports through a mathematical formula designed to predict how likely you are to repay debt. Because the bureaus may have slightly different datasets, your scores may vary depending on which scoring model was used and whose data was used.

You can get a from many personal finance websites, such as NerdWallet, banks and credit card issuers.

You can to get the free reports you're entitled to from the three major credit bureaus. Because credit bureaus operate independently, each may receive information from a different set of sources. It’s important to check all three reports.

It’s smart to to make sure your identifying information and account information are correct, because mistakes can lower your credit scores.

You can also check a shortened version on some personal finance websites that offer a free credit report, like NerdWallet. NerdWallet’s credit report displays TransUnion data and goes back two years; the ones from all three bureaus via AnnualCreditReport.com typically cover a longer period.

If you see an error, you can dispute it. That means you file a formal complaint and the bureau must respond. Each credit bureau has a slightly different procedure for disputing.

It’s important to fix a mistake with all three major bureaus, because credit reporting agencies do not share information.

You can protect your credit by asking each bureau to . It's free to freeze your credit (and to unfreeze it when you want to apply for something), and it won't hurt your score.

NerdWallet recommends freezing to protect yourself from scammers opening accounts in your name and ruining your credit.

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