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Which is the best credit bureau? The most accurate? The best one if you want to check your credit report? These are all questions that are on people’s minds as they try to check their credit, and perhaps improve it.

The three largest national consumer reporting agencies (NCRAs) that compile and sell comprehensive credit reports are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each one is an independent, for-profit business that competes with the other two. While they may collect and report many of the same accounts, that information comes from lenders and other “data furnishers.” For the most part, they don’t share information with each other. (There are some notable exceptions, such as fraud alerts and the opt-out prescreen program.)

While each of these companies used to dominate certain regions of the country, those distinctions are largely in the past. All agencies operate nationwide.

To answer the question above, then, there are some crucial things to know about any one credit reporting agency versus another.

  • You generally won’t know which CRA a creditor, insurance company or employer will use to check your credit. So whether you prefer one over another, that’s largely irrelevant when it comes to getting credit. What matters is the one the lender uses.
  • A mistake on one report may or may not appear on the other two. You have to check all three for accuracy. And following the standard advice to stagger your requests for your free annual credit reports may not be the best advice.
  • Also with regard to accuracy, ultimately all three agencies are required to follow federal and state laws, including the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, when it comes to handling consumer disputes. They must investigate disputes and make corrections when appropriate, usually within 30 days.

The Best Advice?

There’s another possible twist on the question about the top credit reporting agency — whether one agency’s paid services are better than the other agencies’ services.

Typically credit reports themselves simply include the facts about payment history, debt and inquiries. Understanding what your credit means, though, usually requires that you get a credit score. Some services that provide credit scores also provide information about what areas of your credit are strong and which might need some work. They may also provide educational information about what you can do to build and maintain stronger credit.

You can use a paid service, such as a credit monitoring service, or a free service, such as Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, to view and understand your credit scores.

Ultimately, trying to figure out whether one credit bureau is better than another is a waste of time. All three are important, so review your reports with all three to make sure your information is accurate and complete. Monitor your credit score — whether through a free or paid service — to address any problems. That way, no matter which credit reporting agency your lender, insurance company or a prospective employer checks, you will be on top of it.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: Plush Studios/Bill Reitzel

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