Sign up for your free Credit.com account    Sign Up Now
From the Experts at Credit.com

Who Are the Major Credit Reporting Agencies?

Advertiser Disclosure

The three major credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.

You’ve probably heard that your credit is extremely important. However, in order to learn where you stand, you’ve got to know where to start, which is logically with the consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). These agencies, also known as the credit bureaus, compile all your credit information. There are many specialty credit reporting agencies out there, but three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — are the go-to agencies for lenders looking to pull your traditional credit reports.

Still, there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to what the major credit bureaus actually do. What kind of information do they collect? Where does that information end up? Do they create credit scores or credit reports? And what’s the difference? Let’s break it down.

What Do the Major Credit Reporting Agencies Do?

The short answer is that these agencies compile details about your credit history so potential lenders can see what type of risk they’d be taking in giving you a new credit card or loan.

The major credit bureaus are all for-profit companies and are not owned by the government. They have reporting relationships with banks, credit card issuers, lenders and other financial organizations and compile your credit history in what are referred to as credit reports.

What Kind of Information Do Credit Bureaus Collect?

Credit reports include information about your existing credit accounts as well your payment history from a variety of financial institutions, including credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies and other lenders you may have worked with at some point.

Other businesses, like telephone and utility companies, may also report information to credit bureaus, but non-lending organizations like these tend to only report late payments and other negative information (like if an account is sent to collections, for example).

The major credit reporting agencies all collect a lot of information, but there are five key factors listed on your credit reports that are generally used to determine your creditworthiness when it comes time to get a loan or additional line of credit. These factors are: your payment history, the types of accounts in your credit file, your amount of debt, how long you’ve had credit and the number of hard inquiries on your credit file.

What Is Done With This Information?

Once the major credit reporting agencies have collected all the aforementioned information, compiled your credit history and generated a credit report, they sell that information back to the lenders, so those financial institutions, in turn, can determine your creditworthiness. Based on that information, lenders can decide whether or not to lend to you. If they decide you’re someone they want to issue a credit card to or offer a loan to, the information supplied by the credit bureaus will be used to help determine what your interest rate will be.

How Long Do Credit Bureaus Keep My Information?

Personal information — like your name, address, etc. — as well as positive financial information — like a strong payment history — can remain on your credit reports indefinitely.

The credit bureaus compile more troubling information as well, as this gives insight into how risky of a potential borrower you are. Most of these details can remain on your credit reports for seven years, but that timeline can vary depending on the item.

Here’s a breakdown on how long the some of the negative information collected by the credit bureaus will likely stay on your credit reports.

  • Bankruptcy: Ten years from the date of filing for Chapter 7 filings, seven years for Chapter 13 filings and seven years for each record marked as “Included in BK”
  • Charge-Offs (when a creditor or lender writes off the balance of a delinquent debt, no longer expecting it to be repaid): Seven years
  • Closed Accounts: Seven years if the account was paid late, no expiration date if the account was always paid on time
  • Collection Accounts: Seven years from the last late payment on the original account
  • Inquiries: Two years
  • Late Payments: Seven years from the date of the late payment
  • Judgments: Seven years from the filing date if paid; longer if unpaid
  • Tax Liens: Fifteen or more years if left unpaid, seven years from the date the lien is paid

Do All Three Credit Bureaus Have the Same Information?

The three main credit bureaus all operate independently of each other, so they don’t share information or communicate with each other. Because of this, your credit file may be slightly different from each of the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. This is why it’s a good idea to review each of your reports from the big three, so you can verify everything is accurate.

If you find something is inaccurate on any of your reports, you will want to dispute it, which you can do on your own or you can get help from a credit repair expert. (This guide can help you learn how to dispute an error on your credit reports.) It’s important to note that if an error is appearing on multiple reports, you’ll need to file a separate dispute with each bureau reporting the misinformation. You can file disputes with each of the major credit reporting agencies via their websites or by mail.

How Do You Get a Copy of Your Credit Reports?

Federal law entitles you to one free credit report from each bureau every twelve months. You can request your free annual credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you need to get an additional credit report during the year, you can purchase one directly from each of the major credit bureaus.

In addition, you can see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. By using this, you’ll get insight into how you’re doing in the five key areas focused on in your credit reports we mentioned earlier. You’ll also see two of your credit scores for free. Not only that, but you’ll get a personalized step-by-step action plan to help you know where to focus on improving to achieve your goals.

Understanding the Difference Between Credit Reports & Credit Scores

Now that you have a bit more insight into what the credit bureaus collect, and how they use this information, you may be wondering what the difference is between the credit reports they issue and the credit scores you hear so much about.

Basically, the information in your credit reports is used to generate your three-digit credit scores, which are a numerical representation of your creditworthiness. Because there are three major credit reporting agencies, and the information collected by them can vary, your credit scores may also vary depending on what bureau a lender is using to ascertain your credit history.

Beyond that, there are many different credit scoring models or formulas, which change from lender to lender. In fact, you’ve probably heard of FICO scores before — but you don’t have just one FICO score — you have dozens.

It’s a good idea to review your credit reports for the finer details influencing your credit scores, as well as to monitor your scores for any sudden changes, as this can be a sign of identity theft. Knowing your scores will help you have an idea of what types of terms and conditions you may qualify for on any lines of credit or loans.

Gerri Detweiler also contributed to this article.


Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    We wrote about that in How to Make Your Tax Lien Disappear. Hope that’s useful to you.

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Hi Farah —

    Credit.com’s two free credit scores are calculated using Experian data.

  • notnowlater

    It all depends David. Was the example lie maybe a car loan? Who paid it off? Do you deserve the release if say, someone else paid it? I saw an ex-wife who had to pay a loan in full just so she could sell HER house? The wierd example was the loan was obtained against HER house and was able somehow to attached though she had nothing to do with such a loan. Strange how how some things can be attached, then paid off, all as maybe in a dream? Maybe a quit claim deed wasnt recorded yet or some such thing. Just weird stranger things have happened. I never could even get fake addresses deleted or fake relatives from my my credit reports and i tried solid for years. Good luck!

  • Susan Lee

    I have a questions – I had signed the quickdeed over to my ex husband and thinking he was paying off the house but he’s not. My name is still on the loan but he can’t get it refiance because he doesn’t have enough credit to refinance the house??? I just got served yesterday knowing the house is going into foreclosure and my credit scores is bad?? If i write a letter that it shouldn’t hurt my credit scores because I am not longer the property owner what are the chances I will get??? I mean I’m going to write them a letter anyways but i Need help and direction??? Thank Susan

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      A letter is not the route to go here. You need to talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney asap. Just because you no longer have title to the home that doesn’t mean you can’t be sued for the debt. You may need to file bankruptcy to get out from under this loan, but the only way to find out what your options are is to talk with an attorney. The first consultation will likely be free. If you need help finding one visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

  • Paty

    my husband was recently a victim of identity theft.
    is credit repair recommended or a waste of money at this point?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      If there is wrong information on his credit reports due to ID theft he should be able to dispute that information without having to pay someone for credit repair. This article may help: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • Dee

    I have couple of items that are older than 15 years that still showing up. How do I get rid of them? I have medical bills that my ex is responsible and placed it in my name how do I correct that?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      For the items that are older than 15 years old (I assume they are negative), you can dispute them, Please note that unpaid tax liens or judgments can be reported indefinitely.

      As for the medical bills, it’s hard to say. What do you mean “my ex is responsible”? Is that part of the divorce decree or were these her bills and her bills alone (and not incurred in a community property state before your marriage dissolved)? If it was simply that she agreed in the divorce decree to pay them that doesn’t mean you aren’t both legally responsible for them as far as the creditor is concerned.

  • Sue

    how do I go about getting a copy of my childrens credit reports

  • Evelyn leon

    Hi. I paid my eviction this year but problem is im still having trouble looking for a place. Can somebody help me how can get this eviction out of my credit

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Evelyn —
      An eviction is not typically part of a credit report, though it if was sent to collections, the collections item would be. If it is accurate, you may not be able to get it removed. That doesn’t mean you can’t rent, though. We addressed the situation here: How to Rent With Bad Credit

  • Terri

    I checked my credit and one agency has no score; how do I make sure my credit is being reported to them?

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      Hi Terri —

      Even if you’re considered “unscoreable” by a credit reporting agency, you may still have a credit report with them. This is called a “thin file” — you have some items being reported to the bureaus, but there isn’t enough data to create a credit score.

      You can check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com from each of the major credit reporting agencies, which can help you pinpoint which of your credit accounts (loans, credit cards, etc.) are being reported.

      Also, getting a secured credit card can be a helpful tool for building a good credit score. Most credit cards report to all major credit reporting agencies, but it’s best to ask before applying to make sure the card will help you build credit! Hope that helps!

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    You can dispute it. Equifax’s online dispute form is here: https://www.ai.equifax.com/CreditInvestigation/home.action


Sign up for your free Credit.com account. Learn More

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.