What Exactly Do The Three Major Credit Bureaus Do (And Why You Should Care!)


By Amy Beardsley

Expert contributor for Credit Knocks


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Summary: Discover the names of the three main credit bureaus, what they do, and why it matters. Plus, learn the name of the fourth credit bureau you shouldn’t ignore.

You know credit scores are important. But what about credit bureaus? They’re pretty important, too. 

But did you know there’s more than one?

That’s right!

There are three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. And their role goes beyond what you might think.

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From credit monitoring and credit freezes to generating a credit score, each bureau does similar things. Yet, they’re also unique in the services they provide.

For instance, you might have different credit scores from each of the three agencies.

I bet you’re thinking…

How can I have different credit scores?

Most people don’t know they have multiple credit scores.

But you do!

It comes down to the way each bureau compiles your information and the factors they consider. 

And that’s not all.

Keep reading to discover what the big three credit bureaus do, how they work, and why it matters.

What Is A Credit Bureau?

A credit bureau collects information about your credit and financial history. It compiles and analyzes credit records of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.

What happens with all of that information?

A credit bureau uses the data to generate a credit report and score, which is like a report card for your financial stability.

Lenders, banks, and credit card companies rely on your credit history to help them decide whether to lend you money.

Then, if you apply for a car loan, home mortgage, or credit card?

The company behind the application checks your record with one or more credit bureaus.

But wait… there’s more.

Just like creditors use details from the credit bureaus, credit bureaus rely on information from creditors.

Did you know that 90% of lenders use FICO credit scores for underwriting decisions rather than the free scores you get from Credit Karma?  Learn more.

A creditor can share information about you (and all of their other customers) with the credit bureau:

  • Payment history
  • Account balances
  • Date of last activity
  • Credit limits

This helps keep your credit file up-to-date and allows other lenders to see the most recent information in your history.

Remember that credit bureaus can also be called credit reporting agencies. The terms are interchangeable.

But here’s the thing:

A credit reporting agency is not the same as a credit ratingagency.

A credit rating agency analyzes the financial strength of companies and government entities. You might have heard of A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s - those are two common credit rating agencies.

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What Are The Names Of The Three Main Credit Bureaus?

The three main credit bureaus that track and analyze your credit file are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

So, why are there three credit reporting agencies?

Great question!

Credit reporting has been around for a while - since the 1950s, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

The first bureaus were small and community-based.

They kept track of consumer financial data for a specific county or town.

As technology made communicating and tracking credit files easier, local credit agencies joined to form the three major regional companies you know today. Eventually, the three grew to have a national presence.

Now, there are three big credit agencies:

  • Experian Credit Bureau: Experian is the largest of the three  major credit bureaus. It has an enormous amount of services - both paid and free - to help you track your credit history and improve your credit score.
  • TransUnion Credit Bureau: TransUnion is the smallest credit bureau, yet still has plenty of free and paid services to help you stay on top of your credit.
  • Equifax Credit Bureau: Equifax isn’t the biggest credit bureau, but it’s the one that’s been around the longest - since 1899, if you can believe it. It has free and paid tools for managing your credit.

Understanding FICO Scores


Did you know lenders pull different FICO scores when you apply for a car loan vs a home loan?  And yet another for credit cards?  And the scores can vary (a LOT!)  Learn more about your FICO credit scores in this guide.

Why Are Credit Bureaus Important?

Even though the three credit bureaus offer similar services, they’re not the same, and it’s essential to understand why each exists.

You see, not all creditors report to all three credit agencies.

But here’s the kicker:

A vendor might only check one credit bureau when you apply for a loan, credit card, house or car insurance, or open a new cell phone account.

For that reason alone, it’s crucial to keep tabs on your credit file at all three agencies.

Let’s dive into what each agency does and how they’re different:

Experian Credit Bureau

Experian collects personal and financial information to create your credit report.

It uses your history to calculate your credit score, which banks, credit card companies, and lenders use to gauge how risky it might be to lend you money.

The number of tools and services available from Experian can help you manage your credit from one central dashboard.

Experian makes it easy to monitor your credit record.

That means if you’re trying to get a car loan, home loan, or credit card, Experian has your back.

What can be better than that?

Well, for starters, most services are free.

You need to create an account to access some tools - but it’s free to set up and free to use.

A free Experian account gives you access to:

  • Credit report
  • Credit monitoring
  • FICO 8 Score
  • Experian Boost 
  • Credit score tracking
  • Identity theft protection
  • Online dispute center

As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive.

There are paid services, too.

The free account is an excellent place to start, but the paid tools are perfect to take your credit to the next level.

For instance, Experian CreditWorks gives you access to your credit report from all three bureaus and provides daily updates of your credit report and FICO Score.

TransUnion Credit Bureau

Like Equifax, TransUnion exists to collect and analyze your financial data. It generates a credit score using the VantageScore 3.0 model.

TrueIdentity is the bureau’s free identity protection.

I know what you’re thinking…

It seems like everyone offers free identity protection these days, so what’s the big deal?

Well, for starters, TrueIdentity comes with $25k in identity theft insurance, and the free account doesn’t ask for your credit card to sign up.

But the best part?

The program lets you lock and unlock your TransUnion credit report with the click of a button.

For more control over your credit file, CreditCompass can help.

It’s a paid membership that gives you daily updates to your credit score and report and instant emails if someone applies for credit in your name.

A CreditCompass membership also connects you to an identity theft specialist.

That way, you won’t be left wondering what to do if your information is compromised.

Equifax Credit Bureau

Equifax provides a similar function to the other two credit bureaus: it compiles your financial information into a credit report and uses it to calculate a credit score.

Like TransUnion, Equifax uses the VantageScore 3.0 model for credit score reporting.

The agency has tools to help you manage and improve your credit, too.

For instance, you can create a free account called myEquifax.

It takes about two minutes to set up, and here’s what you get:

  • Free credit report from Equifax
  • Free credit score from Core Credit
  • Easy option to freeze or place a fraud alert on your credit report
  • One-click access to start a dispute

With paid services, Equifax has one of the most affordable credit monitoring programs available.

It’s called Equifax Credit Monitor.

It gives you daily credit score and report updates, credit monitoring, and easy access to lock your credit file.

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How To Contact A Credit Bureau

The downside to having three major credit bureaus is that you generally have to contact each one to file a dispute or place a fraud alert.

Bummer, right?

Luckily, each agency makes the process easy.

To start, there’s a ton of free information online to help with just about every situation imaginable.

The agency’s FAQ files can usually answer your question.

But sometimes?

You need more than text on a screen.

You want an actual human on the other end of the line.

Here’s how to contact the three main credit bureaus.

How To Contact Experian

Experian has different customer service numbers for their various services. 

Most of the time, you can get your questions answered by calling 866-617-1894.

Want to cancel an Experian service?

You’re better off contacting Experian USA at 479-343-6239.

To make sure you get an actual person, call during regular customer service hours:

  • Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. PT
  • Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT

Because it’s such a big entity, there’s more than one address:

  • Address for disputes: P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
  • Address for credit freeze: P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

How To Contact TransUnion

TransUnion has a couple of different phone numbers depending on what type of help you’re looking for.

Here’s how to reach tech support for login help or technical issues:

  • Phone number: 833-806-1626
  • Customer service hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET

Just need general help?

The general support number can assist with your credit report, fraud alerts, or your credit score:

  • Phone number: 833-395-6938
  • Customer service hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET

And if you need to submit documents by mail, here’s the address:

TransUnion Consumer Solutions

P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19016-2000

How To Contact Equifax

A few customer service numbers are available for Equifax. It comes down to the type of support you need.

For questions about the 2017 Equifax data breach or Lock and Alert help, call 888-548-7878, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

Here’s the number to cancel your Equifax membership or for anything else: 866-640-2273.

The customer service hours are limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

To dispute information on your credit report by mail?

Here’s the address you need:

Equifax Information Services LLC

P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta, GA 30374-0256

What Is the 3-Credit Bureau Report?

Now you know that your credit file at each of the big three credit bureaus can contain different information. 

How can you get your hands on all three?

Simple. 

It’s called the 3-Bureau Credit Report.

It lays out your credit history information from all three major credit bureaus and breaks down your credit score for each one.

Why does that matter?

I’m glad you asked.

Because here’s the deal:

If you're applying for a loan, you don’t know which credit bureau the lender will use to pull a report.

Let’s say you apply to Discover, Chase, American Express, or Citi for a credit card…

Or maybe you apply for an auto loan or mortgage... 

If your score is different at each agency, but Experian is your highest score, you’d want to apply to a creditor who pulls an Experian credit report.

But there’s a catch:

Tracking down which credit agency a lender uses isn’t easy!

And even if you find the answer, remember one thing:

It can vary by state.

That means if your cousin applied for a Discover card in Louisiana and they pulled his Experian report, but you live in Oregon, they might use your TransUnion or Equifax history instead.

Who Is The Innovis Credit Bureau?

With all this talk about the three credit bureaus, you’re probably wondering:

What is the Innovis credit bureau?

Innovis is another big credit agency like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It isn’t talked about much, so it’s less well-known.

But that means there are four main credit bureaus.

You know the free annual credit report you get every year under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)?

That’s right…

It applies to Innovis, too.

There’s just one problem:

You can’t get your Innovis credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Instead, you must contact the company:

  • Online: Submit a request from their website
  • By phone: 800-540-2505
  • By mail: Complete the request form and mail to Innovis Consumer Assistance, PO Box 1689 Pittsburgh, PA 15230-1689

The 3 Main Credit Bureaus: The Bottom Line

I hope this guide gave you a solid understanding of the credit bureaus. 

You might have been surprised to know there are four main credit bureaus because you typically only hear about Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

But Innovis also tracks your financial history and credit behavior.

Each serves an important function and offers tools to help you manage your credit report and keep tabs on your credit score.

*Study found 48% of professional credit repair clients who stuck with their service for 6+ months saw an average of 100+ points to their credit score.  Source.

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