Individuals’ credit histories are monitored by three credit bureaus. Each of the three credit reporting agencies is a company. Many people believe that the credit bureaus are federal agencies, but this is not the case. Each is a for-profit company that sells their services to lenders and consumers. The three credit bureaus in the U.S. are:
The three credit bureaus track payment histories, delinquencies, judgments and collections for each person who has developed a credit history. Each company maintains a credit report and a credit score for each individual. These credit reports are used by lenders, employers, landlords and others, to determine the individual’s creditworthiness.
Lenders’ Relationships with Credit Bureaus.
Each credit bureau tracks the credit records of individuals who have developed a credit history. However, not all information that each company tracks is the same. This is because lenders have the choice regarding which credit bureaus they will subscribe to. They may choose one or all three. Lending companies pay a subscription fee to the credit bureau to access potential borrowers’ and clients’ credit records. Lenders report to the companies to which they subscribe. For this reason, an individual’s credit report with one agency may be much different than his or her
credit report from another agency. If a person seeks to repair their credit, or even if the just want to know their current credit score, he or she needs to obtain credit reports from all three agencies to get an idea of their credit standing.
Because these three agencies may track information from different lenders, each individual’s credit report and credit score with one credit bureau likely differs from the other agencies. The credit score, or FICO score, is simply a numerical representation of the information listed on the credit report. Each credit bureau provides FICO scores to
subscribing lenders. The credit bureaus will also provide these scores to consumers for a fee. In order for people to keep track of their credit, it is a good idea for everyone to know their credit score that is recorded with each of the three credit bureaus.
Consumer Services Provided by Credit Bureaus
– Free Annual Credit Report
Each of the three credit bureaus offer services to consumers. First, each of the three agencies provides a free credit report per year, upon request, to each individual. A company named Annual Credit Report manages the free annual reports for all three companies. People may gain instant access to their three credit reports online by visiting the website, www.annualcreditreport.com. Individuals can also request copies by mail or phone by calling 1-877-322-8228. Download a form to request the free reports by mail from https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf.
– Fraud Alerts
Each of the three credit bureaus offers a fraud alert service. Fraud alerts are placed on credit reports if the individual believes that their information has been fraudulently accessed or used. If a fraud alert is placed on a credit report, the individual requesting credit will be required to provide additional information and identification. The idea behind the fraud alert is that an identity thief will likely not have several pieces of the individual’s personal information. A fraud alert notifies the company or lender that they need to request additional identification from the applicant.
To have a fraud alert placed on a credit record, the individual must contact each of the credit bureaus’ fraud divisions. The first time a fraud alert is placed on the account, the alert will remain for 90 days. An extended alert will stay on the individual’s credit account for seven years. The fraud divisions for each of the credit bureaus may be found at:
Equifax Fraud Division
Experian Fraud Division
– Credit Monitoring Services
Each of the credit bureaus also offer a wide range of credit monitoring services. Consumers may purchase a level of service and pay a monthly fee for credit reports, credit scores and additional tools to assist them to monitor their credit.