Whether you’re a real estate investor, business owner, or just a consumer who has paid bills, you’ve got a credit report. And that report is probably more important to your financial life than any report card you ever received in school. In fact, it plays a key role in what kind of credit you get and how much you pay. Even if you don’t ever borrow or use a credit card, it likely affects how much you pay for your auto and homeowner insurance. So you have to know what’s in your credit report, as well as how credit reports work.
Credit reporting agencies (more commonly called “credit bureaus”) are in the business of compiling information about people’s bill-paying habits and selling that information to other companies that may want to extend credit, insurance, or even a job offer, to them.
There are three major, national credit reporting agencies reporting on personal credit in the United States: Equifax, Experian (formerly TRW), and TransUnion. Plus there are hundreds of smaller credit bureaus that are affiliated with one or more of these “Big Three.” These specialized agencies get information from one or more of the three major bureaus and may supply additional credit information as well. There are also business credit bureaus; Cortera, D&B, Equifax and Experian are the main ones that compile reports solely on businesses around the world.
Credit reporting is big business, and the major credit reporting agencies are businesses in competition with each other. They are all trying to make their reports “better” than the others and they will not share information unless they are required to do so by law. That’s one reason why, when you see your credit report, you’ll see that it looks somewhat different depending on which agency supplied it. While most of the accounts will likely show similar information, they won’t all be exactly the same.