Credit reporting agencies, sometimes called credit bureaus, are companies that gather information about consumers’ credit. These companies derive their income by selling this information to businesses in the form of a credit report.
The three leading credit reporting agencies in the United States are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. If you apply for credit, the credit provider will, in all likelihood, contact one of these three agencies to check your credit.
Although the government does not own these agencies, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs their rights, responsibilities, and operations.
What Do Credit Bureaus Do?
Credit reporting agencies obtain consumers’ credit-related information from public records to compile credit reports. If an entity has a valid reason to view a consumer’s credit report, the agency will sell it to them.
These entities include credit providers that want to evaluate a consumer’s credit history as well as businesses that pre-screen clients for products and services. For example, if you’re going to buy a car and need financing, the company uses your credit report to find out if you are creditworthy.
The credit reporting agencies themselves have no discretion about a person’s eligibility for credit. In addition to the credit reports themselves, they will also provide businesses and credit providers with analytical tools and information to help them manage their risk.
The three credit bureaus are entirely separate from each other. They build relationships with credit providers and account holders since these entities are their primary clients. Although they don’t share credit reports and additional relevant information with each other, they will share fraud alerts.
For example, if your social security card is lost or stolen, you can report your missing card to any of the three main credit bureaus. The agency you called will then alert its counterparts of the situation.
Some credit reporting agencies specialize in specific types of credit reporting. Special reporting allows these agencies to be the go-to source of credit information to particular companies, for example, landlords that need applicants’ rental histories.
If an organization contacts these specialist credit bureaus for a credit report on you, they may not find all the credit information on you, but only the information that relates to their area of specialization.
When Should You Contact the Credit Reporting Agencies?
Once a year, you can request a free credit report from each of the three agencies. If you already received a free report from a particular agency, you can pay them to provide you with additional reports.
You are entitled to view your credit report to ensure that all the information that it contains is accurate. If you find discrepancies in reports that influences your credibility, you should contact the credit reporting agency and dispute the information.
You can also contact a credit reporting agency to purchase a credit score, which is the result of your credit report. If you fear that you may be the victim of identity theft, you should also contact the credit report agencies to place a fraud alert and freeze your credit report until the matter is resolved.