A: There are three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Lenders rely on credit reports developed by one or more of these companies to decide whether you are creditworthy.
Each credit bureau gathers, on an ongoing basis, information about you and your credit history. This information includes:
Your name, address, social security number, date of birth and employer.
The amount of debt you are carrying, what kind of debt you are carrying, your ability to repay your debts and your bill payment history.
The frequency and specific occasions when lenders and other interested parties have requested to see your credit report (going back two years).
Matters of public record such as liens, bankruptcies and overdue child support (going back seven years).
Credit card companies, banks, lenders and other sources that have loaned you money provide the bureaus with this information. The sources supply it in return for the ability to turn to the credit bureaus when they want to obtain credit information on you.
All three bureaus work independently with a company called Fair Isaac Corporation. Fair Isaac has specialized software that uses the information on your credit history to calculate a three-digit number, ranging from 300 to 850, known as your FICO score.
You have three FICO scores, one from each credit bureau, because they each collect information differently and use their own proprietary methods to assess that information.
Each credit bureau also gives a different name to its FICO score. Equifax calls it your BEACON score, Experian calls it your Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model score and TransUnion calls it your EMPIRICA score. Scores over 750 are considered excellent, while those below 620 are risky. Your FICO score can differ from one company to another by as much as 100 points.
Lenders, employers, landlords, automobile companies, insurance agencies and other service providers buy this information in the form of a credit report. It helps them decide whether to lend or do business with you and determine the rate they will charge you. They may look at one, two, or all three of your reports and/or scores.
These credit bureaus are not government entities and are not funded by the government. They are national, independent, for-profit companies owned by their shareholders. Each is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the federal law that covers credit bureaus and credit reporting. Individual states may also have their own versions of this law.
LendingTree offers a 3 Bureau Credit Report that shows your credit information from all of the major credit bureaus in one easy-to-read online report. The Report includes a free credit score, as well as helpful tips and easy to understand explanations of your credit.