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What Are the 3 Credit Bureaus? How Does Credit Bureaus Work?

The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, responsible for compiling and providing credit reports that lenders use to evaluate creditworthiness.

by Kowsalya

Updated Dec 22, 2023

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What Are the 3 Credit Bureaus? How Does Credit Bureaus Work?

What Are Credit Bureaus?

Credit bureaus are companies tasked with compiling and maintaining credit histories for individual consumers. The primary purpose of credit bureaus is to provide prospective lenders with a means to assess the creditworthiness of individuals applying for loans, credit cards, or other financial products.

The detailed credit reports created by these bureaus serve as the basis for generating credit scores—three-digit numbers typically ranging from 300 to 850. These credit scores play a crucial role in determining whether an individual qualifies for a loan or credit card, influencing the lender's decision on loan size and interest rates.

Credit bureaus operate as private entities and are regulated under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA establishes guidelines for how credit bureaus collect, disburse, and disclose consumer information. The business model of credit bureaus relies on the information provided by banks, finance companies, retailers, and, in some cases, landlords with whom consumers engage in financial transactions.

The credit bureau compiles and analyzes this information to create comprehensive credit reports, which are then sold to lenders and other entities interested in assessing an individual's creditworthiness.

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What Are the 3 Credit Bureaus?

The below credit bureaus play a crucial role in collecting and maintaining credit information about consumers, which is used by lenders and creditors to assess creditworthiness when individuals apply for loans, credit cards, or other financial products. The three major credit bureaus in the United States are:


  • Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Employees: Approximately 14,000
  • Business Presence: Operates in 24 countries, with a significant presence in the U.S. South and Midwest.
  • Market Position: Claims to be the market leader in most countries where it operates.


  • Headquarters: Costa Mesa, California (domestic headquarters)
  • Corporate Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland
  • Employees: Approximately 21,700 across 30 countries
  • History: Originally handled reports for the Western U.S.


  • Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois
  • Regional Offices: Hong Kong, India, Canada, South Africa, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Brazil
  • Employees: More than 10,000
  • History: Founded in the 1960s

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How Does Credit Bureaus Work?

Credit bureaus, such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, operate by collecting and compiling detailed credit histories on individual consumers. These histories include personal information like names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and credit-related activities such as debts, payment history, and credit applications. Lenders, in turn, use these credit reports, obtained from one or more of the major bureaus, to assess the creditworthiness of individuals when they apply for loans or credit cards.

It's essential to note that each bureau may have slightly different information, as not all creditors report to every bureau. Credit bureaus, regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, play a crucial role in shaping credit scores, influencing lending decisions, and helping individuals manage their financial reputation.

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Are Free Credit Scores Available From All Three Credit Bureaus?

Yes, free credit scores are available from all three major credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Individuals can access their credit reports for free once a year from each of these bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. Additionally, individuals can obtain free weekly credit reports from all three bureaus on the same website.

The free credit scores provided are typically based on the VantageScore® 3.0 model. While VantageScore® is a widely used credit scoring model, it's not the only one employed by lenders. Lenders utilize various credit score models, and the score you receive for free may differ from the score a lender uses to assess your creditworthiness.

Therefore, the free credit scores offered by the credit bureaus provide a general overview but may not precisely reflect the scores that lenders use in their decision-making processes.

How Do Credit Bureaus Get Information?

Credit bureaus obtain information from various sources to compile credit reports. Here's a detailed overview:

Voluntary Reporting by Creditors

Financial institutions, credit card issuers, banks, credit unions, auto lenders, mortgage lenders, and debt collection agencies voluntarily provide information about your credit activities to the credit bureaus. This information includes details about credit applications, account openings, credit limits or loan amounts, account balances, payment history (including late or missing payments), and whether an account is in collections.

Public Records

Credit bureaus also collect information from public records, which may include:

  • Bankruptcy filings
  • Property records (e.g., liens)
  • Court records
  • Wage garnishments

Specialty Reporting Agencies

In addition to the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion), there are specialty reporting agencies that focus on specific information, such as apartment rental payments, insurance claims, medical payments, etc. These agencies might provide more detailed or specific data.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Compliance

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that regulates the collection and use of consumer credit information. Credit bureaus have the right to collect this information without explicit consumer permission. However, businesses that wish to access your credit report for purposes like employment or rental applications need to have a permissible purpose under the law.

Data Accuracy and Privacy Protections

The FCRA also ensures that the information collected by credit bureaus is accurate, private, and fair. Consumers have the right to dispute and correct inaccuracies in their credit reports.

What Are the 3 Credit Bureaus - FAQs

1. What are the three major credit bureaus?

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

2. What information do credit bureaus collect?

Personal data, credit history, debts, payment records, and credit application activity.

3. How often can I access free credit reports from each bureau?

Once a year per bureau through AnnualCreditReport.com.

4. Do all lenders use the same credit score model as the bureaus?

No, lenders use various models; the bureaus often provide scores based on VantageScore® 3.0.

5. Why do lenders check my credit report?

To assess your creditworthiness when you apply for loans, credit cards, or other financial products.

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