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What Are Credit Reporting Agencies?

Credit bureaus, or credit reporting agencies, are the companies that maintain, collect, and provide consumer credit information to the lenders we use for our credit cards, car loans, mortgages, and other types of loans. 

Credit reporting agencies help to measure a consumer’s creditworthiness, which gives lenders an insight into the likelihood of whether or not a consumer will pay their credit obligations on time. CRAs, or credit reporting agencies, compile a consumer’s credit history into a credit report and then sell the information to potential lenders. 

What Is a Credit Reporting Agency?

As mentioned above, credit reporting agencies are the companies that collect and maintain your credit information. In the United States, the three major credit reporting agencies are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. All three of these companies are for-profit, publicly traded companies. You may come across smaller credit reporting agencies, but traditional lenders and creditors are most likely to use one of the three major CRAs to check your credit. 

CRAs use the companies and lenders you do business with to collect credit-related information about you. Whenever you pay your bill on time, or default on a bill, the businesses you work with report the data to the CRAs. CRAs can also pull from public records such as tax liens or bankruptcy information. All of this information is then compiled into your credit report. 

CRAs have the ability to sell your information to any company that may want to prescreen you for their products. However, any company that wishes to obtain your data must have a legally valid reason. An example of a valid reason is a company wanting to look at your credit history after you’ve submitted a credit application.

What Type of Information Do Credit Reporting Agencies Use?

CRAs collect and use four types of information: personal information, collections, and public records, credit accounts, and inquiries. 

Personal Information

CRAs can report personal information such as your social security number, name, address, and birthday. They use the information to confirm your identity. 

Collections and Public Records 

Missing a payment or making a late payment won’t automatically harm your credit, but any long-term unpaid debt that has been sent to a collection agency will and will be recorded on your credit report. Late payments don’t typically appear on your credit report until they have remained unpaid for over 30 days. Some reports even give bigger consequences on bills that have been left unpaid for 60 days or more. Negative items on your credit report can stay for around seven years. 

The following matters of a public record may appear on your credit report as well: 

  • Defaulted loans and payments 
  • Evictions 
  • Home foreclosures 
  • Bankruptcies 
  • Tax liens 

Credit Accounts 

CPRs keep a full record of every student loan, car loan, mortgage, credit card, and any other credit you have ever had. Within this record, the credit reporting agencies keep the following details: 

  • Credit limits 
  • Open and close dates 
  • Credit utilization 
  • Number of late and on-time payments 


Any request to see your credit report is known as a credit inquiry. Whether or not a credit inquiry affects your credit score depends on if it is a soft or hard credit inquiry. 

hard inquiry is a request initiated by a potential lender whenever you apply for a new credit account or loan. Any hard inquiry performed will remain on your credit report for up to two years. Having too many hard inquiries on your credit report within a short period of time will hurt your credit score. 

soft inquiry is when you request to see your own credit report, or when you are pre-approved for a new line of credit. A soft inquiry is not visible to potential lenders and will not impact your credit score.

Who Regulates Credit Reporting Agencies?

The three main CRAs are privately owned, but they are still subject to federal government regulations designed by the federal trade commission. To protect consumers’ credit information, the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed. The FCRA makes credit reports accessible to consumers, protects consumers, and ensures only those with legitimate reasons request and view a person’s credit history. 

How do Credit Reporting Agencies Differ From One Another? 

Credit agencies tend to differ in regards to the type of information that they work with. There is no legal requirement for lenders to report to all three credit bureaus, so most only report to one or two. If you’ve ever seen slight differences in your credit scores between the different bureaus, that is why. The differences shouldn’t be significant, however. 

The top three credit reporting agencies differ when it comes to their credit scoring ranges and calculations. TransUnion and Experian both have ranges of 350 – 850, while Equifax has a range of 280 – 850. 

How to See Your 3 Credit Reports 

To get your credit report, visit 

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