How many credit bureaus are there?

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In a Nutshell

There are three major consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But there are also other types of consumer-reporting companies are out there that could play a role in credit approvals or in other situations.

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Keeping track of your consumer reports doesn’t mean just keeping up with the three major consumer credit bureaus.

It’s easy to assume that there are only three consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Whenever you look into your credit scores, these three major players may seem to be the only ones that are mentioned or matter.

But believe it or not, there are other minor consumer-reporting companies you may have never heard of before. And these smaller bureaus, such as Clarity Services, ChexSystems and MicroBilt/PRBC, also provide reports that lenders can use to help make decisions.

Knowing that these companies exist is half the battle. Read on to learn more about why it’s important to know about consumer-reporting companies and what you can do with your newfound knowledge.



The three major consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion

Most people are aware of the three major consumer credit bureaus. These companies collect information about a person’s credit history and compile reports that lenders can use to make credit decisions.

The typical data found on credit reports includes your personal and financial information, such as a person’s identifying information, address, credit accounts, payment history, account balances, credit inquiries, collection accounts and public records such as bankruptcies and civil judgments.

Why aren’t all of my credit reports the same?

It’d be easier to keep track of credit reports and credit scores if they were all exactly the same, but that’s not the case. There are a few reasons why your credit reports are different, one being that each credit bureau only has the information that gets submitted to it, which means the bureaus can have different information.

Not every lender reports to all three of the major consumer credit bureaus. If a lender only submits information to Experian and TransUnion and doesn’t submit that information to Equifax, then Equifax has no way of knowing about your account with that lender.

That’s why it’s important to check your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus for errors, not just one or two. The information in your TransUnion® credit report may be correct, but if one of your lenders incorrectly reported information to Equifax, you may never know about the error unless you check your Equifax® credit report.

You can get a copy of your Equifax® and TransUnion® credit reports by signing up for a free Credit Karma account.

Why aren’t all of my credit scores the same?

Your credit scores may be different for a number of reasons. One reason being that there are many different credit-scoring models that are used for different purposes. Each credit-scoring model can use the information on your credit reports differently, coming up with a different score. And some scores are geared toward the kind of credit product that you’re applying for. For instance, there are specific credit scores used to determine risk for auto loans and others to determine risk for credit cards.

What are the other consumer-reporting companies?

While the three major consumer credit bureaus get the most attention, smaller consumer-reporting companies may also be used from time to time depending on your lender and your situation. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there are other consumer-reporting companies that offer supplementary or alternative reports. Some of the other players include …

  • CoreLogic Credco
  • SageStream (subsidiary of ID Analytics LLC)
  • Innovis
  • LexisNexis Risk Solutions
  • MicroBilt/PRBC

Some of these consumer-reporting companies specialize in particular data, while others simply provide an additional source of information for lenders. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, for example, collects information from public records and other proprietary data sources, like professional license information and real estate transaction data.

According to the CFPB, as of 2012 there were about 400 consumer-reporting companies in the United States. In addition to the largest reporting firms, there are a variety of other agencies that report on alternative financial products and services, including checking accounts and payday loans.

Why are there so many consumer-reporting companies?

Credit is a big business in the United States. If you stop and think for a minute about all of the financial products you’ve applied for over the years (a student loan, auto loan, mortgage, credit card, apartment rental, etc.), it’s easy to see how often lenders need information about individuals.

While the three major credit bureaus typically focus on collecting the same types of information, some of the smaller consumer-reporting companies focus on collecting niche information. For instance, MicroBilt/PRBC offers services to help provide credit information on borrowers with little to no typical credit activity, often called a thin file.

You may want to check your credit with a specific bureau

In some cases, it makes sense to get your credit reports or scores from a specific bureau before you apply for credit. If you’re able to talk to the lender and find out which credit bureaus it uses when reviewing your application, it makes sense to pull your credit reports to check for errors before you apply for a loan with that lender.

Also, if you can see the same scores and reports that your lender will use, you may be able to get an idea about your chances of approval based on that specific lender’s credit requirements.

And even if a credit bureau is using the same credit-scoring model, you can end up with different credit scores because scores are calculated using information from different credit reports. Some lenders report to all three major credit bureaus, but others report to only one or two. So your credit reports may contain different information, which can cause you to have different scores. 

How to get your consumer reports from consumer-reporting companies

According to the CFPB, consumer-reporting companies must provide a copy of your report for a reasonable fee if you request it. And each of the three major consumer credit bureaus have to provide you with a free report upon request once every 12 months. To obtain your report from a consumer-reporting company, contact the company and ask how to get a free report or how to purchase it.

You’re also entitled to a free copy of your report if an adverse action is taken against you based on information in that report. Once you find out an adverse action has been taken — like a loan denial — you should receive an adverse action notice telling you the reason for the denial, which reporting company was used, and how to request your free report from that company.

Where can I get my free annual credit reports from the major credit bureaus?

You’re allowed one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). AnnualCreditReport.com can connect you to any of the three companies to request your report.

How to get your credit scores from the credit bureaus

You can get your VantageScore® credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion for free through your Credit Karma account, but what if you want a different credit score? All three major consumer credit bureaus offer access to your credit scores for a fee. Credit-scoring-model companies, such as FICO, offer access to your credit scores for a fee as well.

You can also access your credit scores for free from many major banks or credit issuers. Discover, Capital One, Chase and Citi all offer free credit scores if you sign up for their credit score programs.

Check with the credit-scoring-model company if you’re interested in receiving a particular credit score, such as a FICO® Score 8 or VantageScore® 4.0.


Bottom line

Now that you’re aware that there are more companies reporting on consumer information than just the three major credit bureaus, it’s time to decide what to do with your newfound knowledge.

If you already have an established credit history and decent credit scores, chances are you don’t have to worry too much. But there are a number of smaller consumer-reporting companies out there that lenders can turn to when making decisions, so it may be worth your while to take notice.


About the author: Lance Cothern is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. His work has appeared on Business Insider, USA Today.com and his website, Mone… Read more.