The 3 Credit Score Reporting Agencies

Commonly known as credit bureaus, credit reporting agencies collect all kinds of information that is relevant to your "credit life" and sell it to businesses and consumers. There are many types of these agencies in the US, but the three most recognized are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Almost all creditors and lenders will report their information to one or more of these 3 credit score agencies.

Equifax is the largest and longest-running credit bureau and its headquarters is located in Ireland. Experian is also headquartered in Ireland and began operating in the States after its purchase of TRW Information services in 1996. TransUnion is the smallest of the three companies.

One of the factors that Equifax, Experian and TransUnion all have in common is that they maintain their own bureau credit reports which are compiled from the consumer credit histories collected from lenders. This is one of the reasons that credit reports may vary depending on the bureau that issues the report. Not all creditors submit their data uniformly to each bureau.

Another common concept is that each of the 3 credit score reporting agencies also has its own credit score. But while Equifax and TransUnion both use the FICO score algorithm to calculate their scores, Experian uses its own scoring model software. Most people recognize the FICO scoring model: over 90% of banks and other financial institutions use this to gain insight into a person's credit worthiness.

If you're questioning the power of the these types of agencies, you'll be happy to know that the government has a federal law (called the Fair Credit Reporting Act--FCRA) that protects consumers from unfair credit reporting business practices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) supervises the enforcement of this law.

One stipulation of the FCRA is that it allows consumers to request a free copy of each of their credit bureau reports one time per year. You can make your request for your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. But you are not allowed free acess to the credit scores themselves--this is not stipulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can pay to view your credit score and some promotions will offer a one-time access for free as long as you purchase something else.

Good practice would be to periodically check your credit report to make sure all the information is correct. It's a good way to prevent fraud which can, of course, be very damaging to your credit profile as well as a means to better managing your finances. Just knowing what your credit score is puts you ahead because being aware of your status can help you to prevent your score from dropping. Most financial institutions and even some employers use credit scores to evaluate risk.

Knowing your credit score is equally as important. Because many financial institutions use scores as risk indicators, preventing a low assessment of your score can open doors of opportunities for a better lifestyle. Find out what yours is from any one of the 3 credit score credit bureaus.