What Are the 3 Major Credit Reporting Agencies?

In modern times, with data protection being a high-profile topic, many consumers are choosing to stay informed. They want to know who has access to their data, how it’s stored, and under what circumstances it can be sold.

If you’re in the process of researching your loan options, you may already be familiar with the names Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These are the three major credit reporting agencies currently operating in the US. There are other smaller agencies out there. It is most likely, however, that any potential lenders will check your credit history with one of the above.

So who are they, why do they have your data, and who keeps them in check?

What is a Credit Reporting Agency?

A credit reporting agency collects and holds historical credit information on consumers and businesses. This information is compiled into a consumer credit report that includes a credit score. This information is sold on to relevant businesses that have a legitimate excuse to buy it. These may include lenders and creditors that you have applied to for loans. Your data can also be sold to companies for targeted marketing campaigns or to pre-screen you for products and services that may interest you.

A credit reporting agency only gathers and reports on your data. They offer advice, analytics, and recommendations on interest rates and lending terms to potential creditors. It has no influence over the individual business’s decision to approve or deny a loan.

Where Do They Get Their Information?

Credit reporting agencies collaborate with financial institutions such as credit card companies, banks, and credit unions. They gather and store information on your credit history. Regular information gathered can include:

  • Any loan defaults or missed payments.
  • Amount of debt you owe to them.
  • Late payments over 30 or 60 days.

Credit reporting agencies can also take relevant information from both local and state public records to show bankruptcy and tax debt. Information from cell phone and utility bills, as well as rent payments, can all be gathered to contribute to your credit score.

Who Governs Them?

All three companies mentioned are publicly traded. Due to the high volume and sensitive nature of the data on file, they are regulated by the federal government under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). They are also monitored by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The Main Players

Collectively known as The Big Three, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion have dominated the market share for over a century. Here’s a bit of history about them.

Equifax

Equifax was founded by Cator and Guy Woolford in Atlanta, Georgia in 1899. It collects data on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses worldwide. It has its
headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and operates in 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and the Asia Pacific.

In September 2017, Equifax was the victim of a cyber-security breach, exposing the data of approximately 145.5 million US Equifax consumers. Personal information (including full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers) was hacked, blemishing the company’s long-standing reputation.

The consequences of this breach were widespread. In an effort to make things right, Equifax now offers a free credit monitoring service to its affected customers. Other fee-paying services include fraud protection and identity theft protection products and FICO and VantageScore credit scores.

Further services from Equifax include:

  • Basic Credit Information Report.
  • Enhanced Credit Information Report.
  • Equifax Portfolio Review.
  • Equifax Alerts.
  • Equifax Risk Score.

Experian

Technically founded in Dallas Texas in 1897, Experian as an intellectual concept dates back as far as 1803. Here, a group of London tailors began sharing information to avoid doing business with bad debtors, with the ultimate aim of improving their individual wealth. However, this also paved the way for the concept of information sharing and credit reporting agencies.

Experian is now based in Dublin, Ireland, and operates in 37 countries, with headquarters in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil. It collects information on over one billion people and businesses. This includes 235 million individual US consumers and more than 25 million US businesses.

Experian offers credit scores based on the FICO 8 credit score calculation system. It also provides customers the option to subscribe to Credit Tracker to get regular updates on their credit score and credit report. Experian also sells decision-analytics and marketing assistance to businesses, including individual fingerprinting and targeting.

Other services Experian offers include:

• Identity theft and fraud protection products.
• Targeted marketing, including individual fingerprinting.
• Decision-analytics and marketing assistance.

TransUnion

TransUnion is the smallest of the Big Three. It began life as a holding company for the railroad leasing organization, Union Tank Car Company in 1968. A year later, it acquired the Credit Bureau of Cook County, thus beginning its involvement in credit reporting. TransUnion now collects information on over one billion individual consumers in over thirty countries.

TransUnion markets credit reports and fraud protection products to consumers. The company appears pro-active with products and features to benefit the consumer.

Other TransUnion services include:

  • CreditLock: to allow an individual to maintain security over their data.
  • SmartMove™: to facilitate background checks for those operating in a landlord capacity.
  • ResidentCredit: to make it easier for property owners to report their tenant’s data to TransUnion. The analysis showed that reporting rental payments had a positive impact on the tenant’s credit scores.

Other Things to Note

All credit report agencies are separate entities. The information they have on you will be similar because the majority of it is acquired from the same sources. They will never, however, share your information with each other. The only exception to this is fraud alerts and credit freezes.

All credit reporting agencies are required by US law to provide consumers with one free credit report every year.

It is recommended that you regularly review your credit report information to ensure it is accurate. After all, it’s your information.

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