Credit bureaus have forever changed the way we borrow money. Americans used to go to their neighborhood bank where the loan officer greeted them by name, maybe lived just down the street. It was a very personal way of lending, but it no longer exists. Banks are too big now to personally know all their customers. Today the major credit bureaus have stepped into the void by offering your credentials (in the form of a credit history) directly to lenders.
TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax are the three major US credit bureaus (sometimes called credit reporting agencies). Each of them compiles and stores the personal and financial information on an estimated 205 million Americans. When you request your credit report from one of the bureaus, it pulls your information from its databases and formats it into a report. So a credit report is really just a snapshot of your credit at that point in time.
Because the bureaus hold such a large amount of personal data, the government passed legislation to help protect your privacy and your identity. Through the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit bureaus are restricted from sharing your sensitive information with just anyone. Under the FCRA, the bureaus can only share your information with companies that have your written permission or a court order.
The FCRA also entitles each consumer to a credit report from each credit reporting agency annually. You should regularly review your credit reports from each of the bureaus to make sure they are free of errors.
Under the FCRA, the credit bureaus are legally obligated to investigate any error you find on your report. If you find an error on your credit report, you should dispute the error by writing to the credit report company, as well as by contacting the reporting creditor. Make sure to include copies of any relevant documentation to prove your case. They should resolve the dispute within 30-45 days.
Select one of the bureaus below to see how to file disputes, or read Fixing Errors on Your Credit Report for more information.
While Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are "the big 3" credit reporting agencies in the US, there are two others that deserve mention.