In America, your credit score is serious business. You need a good credit score to do everything from renting an apartment to getting a new job to applying for more credit. Whatever the reason for your credit score needs, you should know a bit about the credit bureaus. We also review some alternative credit monitoring services here if you're looking for different options.
OUR TOP PICK
TransUnionTransUnion offers FICO and VantageScore, but also offers scores that are product-specific. For example, it might offer one score to lenders pulling credit for a credit card application, but another to employers or landlords.
Best ForPeople that mostly want to check their TransUnion credit report and score. It’s also a good option for people that want to manage their business credit.
Products + ServicesIn terms of consumer services, Transunion offers three major products: Credit Report, TrueIdentity, and Credit Monitoring, TransUnion offers a huge variety of services for businesses though. These include things like a tenant screening service, SmartMove, and other services that cover more than 14 fields, including marketing analytics, revenue protection, customer acquisition, fraud detection, business credit scores for B2B companies, and more.
- Most affordable monthly credit monitoring service from a credit reporting agency
- Lots of business services with diverse market focuses like healthcare, fraud detection, customer acquisition, and more
- Best tenant screening service – SmartMove
- Only provides access to TransUnion information
- Focus on business services, fewer consumer services
- Free credit monitoring service doesn’t include credit score
- Credit Report: Free through annualcrediterport.com
- TrueIdentity: Free – TrueIdentity is TransUnion’s credit monitoring and identity theft protection service. When you sign up you can get unlimited TransUnion credit reports, unlimited credit lock services, and unlimited credit alerts.
- Credit Monitoring: $19.99
ExperianExperian is a bit different. Although they offer FICO scores, VantageScore is only available to lenders upon request. This organization also offers a much wider array of consumer-oriented products than the other credit bureaus.
Best ForExperian’s credit services are best for people that are concerned about their Experian credit report and those that want to monitor their credit score and credit report from all three credit reporting agencies.
Products + ServicesExperian has one of the largest arrays of products on offer out of the three major credit reporting agencies. They include credit reports, 3 bureau credit scores, Experian CrediWorks Basic, Experian CreditWorks Premium, Experian IdentityWorks Plus, and Experian IdentityWorks Premium.
- Easy access to information from all three bureaus
- Comprehensive identity protection products
- FICO score simulator allows you to see how different actions will affect your credit score
- Many services are available for cheaper elsewhere
- Information may be used to send you unsolicited offers for credit products
- No online cancelation for monthly product fees.
- Credit Report: Free
- 3 Bureau Credit Report and FICO Score: $39.99 – one-time view of all three reports and credit scores
- Experian CreditWorks Basic: Free – allows you to check your Experian credit report every month.
- Experian CreditWorks Premium: $24.99/month – this gives you access to credit monitoring, identity protection, and credit lock services. It also includes credit reports from all 3 agencies and comes with a FICO score simulator.
- Experian IdenityWorks Plus: This is Experian’s identity protection service. It costs $9.99 per moth and includes $500,000 worth of identity theft insurance. You can also add child identity protection to your plan.
- Experian IdentityWorks Premium : $19.99/month. This service includes dark web surveillance, up to $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance, lost wallet assistance, credit lock, and more. You can also get credit monitoring for all three bureaus and FICO score alerts.
Understanding Credit BureausBefore you can understand which credit reporting bureau offers the best services for you, it’s important to understand what a credit bureau is. A credit reporting bureau is a private company that tracks individuals’ financial histories. They record your completed and missed payments, debt obligations, and other information about you. They provide this information to creditors who are trying to make a decision about whether or not to approve your application for a financial product or line of credit. Credit bureaus also use the information they have to recommend people as potential customers to businesses that provide financial products. That’s one source of the credit card and loan offers you get in the mail. The company making the offer got your information from a credit bureau because you fit the profile of a potential customer for them. Credit bureaus produce both a credit report and a credit score. We’ll cover how these organizations get the information they use in the next section. Later on, we’ll also cover the difference between a credit report and credit score.
Credit Bureau Information Collection MethodsCredit bureaus get their information from all kinds of different sources. They use public records to find out about judgements and liens. They also use voluntarily reported information from places like credit card companies, utilities, banks, and other financial organizations to track payments on loans and credit. It’s important to understand that not every company reports to every credit bureau. That’s one of the reasons why your score might be different at different credit agencies. This can both help and hurt consumers. If you have a bill that you make regular, on-time payments for and they don’t report to the credit monitoring agencies, then you’re missing out on a potential score increase. In the same way, if you’re behind on payments and the company doesn’t report, then your credit score won’t be affected. You’ll need to check your credit report and/or check with your different service providers to see if they report your payments to any or all of the credit bureaus.
What’s a Credit Report vs a Credit Score?Something else that can be confusing is the difference between a credit report and credit score. These two things are closely related, but there are several important differences.
Understanding Credit ScoresA credit score is a numerical representation of how likely it is that you’ll pay your bills on time. Most credit bureaus use either the Vantage or the FICO scoring system. These systems generate a score from 350-850. The higher your score, the better your credit. That means a higher score will make your more likely to get approved for things like loans and lines of credit. Additionally, your credit score plays an important role in the interest rates that you’ll be offered on financial products. Interest rates are how financial services businesses make a profit. That means they need to evaluate the risk that you’ll default on a loan or line of credit versus how much money they can make by providing that product to you. As a result, people with a higher credit score will usually get lower interest rates. That’s because the company can be reasonably confident that they’ll be paid back. As a result, they don’t have to charge as much to justify the risk of loaning you money. However, if you have a poor credit score, then you’ll pay much more for loans and lines of credit. That’s because the company needs to make more profit to offset the chance that you’ll default and fail to pay them back. The greater risk they’re taking demands and greater reward. Lots of different factors go into a credit score. However, your credit score changes over time, as new information is entered and other information “ages off” your score. That means that minor and even serious credit mistakes will eventually not be counted towards your score. Also, even before they are removed completely, negative information has less and less impact on your score the older it is.
Understanding Credit ReportsA credit report, on the other hand, is a total list of the different accounts and payments you’ve had and made in your life. Items don’t age off your credit report like they do your credit score. That means it will show every payment you’ve completed along with every payment that you’ve missed and has been reported to the credit reporting agencies. Creditors and lenders use a combination of your credit score and credit report when they’re making a decision about whether or not to approve you for a loan or line of credit. They also look at both of these things when they’re setting your interest rates. It’s important to understand the difference between a credit report and a credit score because it will allow you to understand what the different products the credit bureaus offer do for you. For example, you can get your credit report once a year for free from all of the major credit reporting agencies. However, the credit report doesn’t include your credit score. There are several things on your credit report. They include:
Identifying InformationIdentifying information includes things like your name, social security number, address, date of birth, and employment information. This information isn’t factored into your credit score at all. Instead, it’s only used to uniquely identify you and your records.
Public RecordsPublic records include information from state and county courts. This means things like bankruptcies, wage attachments, garnishments, judgements, liens, and other financial information that’s available via public records.
Trade LinesTrade lines are all of the open and closed accounts that you’ve had. That means credit cards, car loans, mortgages, student loans, personal loans, home equity lines of credit, and so on. The information on your credit report for trade lines covers the amount of the loan or line of credit, your payment history and amounts, how much you still owe, and the type of account each line is. This information has a tremendous impact on your credit score. Your payment history makes up 35% of your score, and your credit utilization makes up 30% of your score. Additionally, the mix of your credit accounts also factor into your score. Creditors like to see multiple different types of credit accounts, as this shows a consumer is able to handle lots of different types of debt and credit.
Credit InquiriesWhenever you apply for a loan or line of credit a company is likely to pull your credit report and credit score. This is known as a credit inquiry. These credit inquiries stay on your report for two years. However, they only affect your credit score for six months after the inquiry. Moreover, requests for information for the same type of product are treated as one inquiry. That means if you apply for an auto loan with four different banks, it will count as one inquiry even if all four banks pull your credit records.
CollectionsFinally, many companies and collection agencies also report charged off accounts to credit reporting agencies. This information can lower your credit score, as it shows that you fell so far behind on payments that the company decided it was no longer worth their effort to try and collect on the debt.
Ways to Use a Credit BureauNow that you understand the difference between a credit score and a credit report, and understand what a credit Bureau does, it’s important to look at the different reasons why you might want to purchase services from a credit bureau. There are four primary reasons why you might buy services from a credit bureau: boosting your credit score, preventing fraud and identity theft, applying for a loan, and checking for errors. We’ll cover each of these reasons below.
Boost Your Credit ScoreThe biggest reason that people use a credit reporting bureau is to boost their credit score. When you have access to your score and can see the different factors that contribute to it, then you have a much better idea of what you can do to improve your score. Like we explained earlier, boosting your credit score is a good way to get better odds of approval on things like loans and lines of credit. It’s also a good way to lower the interest rates you’re offered on these products.
Prevent Fraud and Identity TheftAnother important reason to consider getting products or services from the credit reporting bureaus is that it can help you prevent fraud and identity theft. This is important because fraud and identity theft can do serious damage to both your current finances as well as your financial future. This works because getting your credit report and having your credit report monitored allows you to know when new accounts are opened in your name. If you were the person that opened the new account, then you know all is well. However, if new accounts start appearing on your report, then you need to take immediate action. The faster you take steps to prevent fraudulent accounts from being opened in your name the less damage you’ll face. Moreover, it’s much easier to clear your name when there are fewer fraudulent accounts or identity theft issues on your account. Fraudulent accounts and charges can cause you to owe tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies for products and services that you never purchased. Of course, it’s possible to clear these accounts, but it can be a huge headache.
Applying for a LoanThe next reason you might want services from a credit bureau is if you’re applying for a loan. Reviewing your credit score and credit application can help you narrow down the product that you apply for. This saves you time. It also saves your credit score, as hard credit checks will lower your score. Moreover, this helps you spot any outstanding accounts or debts that you may have forgotten about. Clearing up these issues can help increase the chance you get approved for the loan or line of credit that you’re applying for.
Business ServicesAnother popular use of the credit bureaus is for business services. This can include things like getting credit reports on clients, finding ways to prevent fraud and loss, and finding prospective customers that might be interested in the products you’re offering. As a result, credit reporting agencies are a good source of valuable tools and information for many businesses. Moreover, these services are usually priced in such a way that companies of all sizes can afford them. That means it’s usually a good idea to ask the different credit bureaus how they can help your small business grow and thrive.
Checking for ErrorsIdentity theft isn’t the only way that negative information can find its way onto your credit report. Credit reports are handled by human beings, and human beings make mistakes. The errors on your credit report can be anything from a wrong former address or misspelled name to accounts that you never actually opened. This can lead to tragic consequences. For example, for people with a common name, someone else’s debts and accounts might be incorrectly assigned to your report. This can cause tremendous damage to your credit score and substantially lower the chance that you get approved for loans or lines of credit. It also means you’ll face much higher interest rates, which will cost you much more over the course of the loan. Fortunately, there are ways you can fix credit report errors. We’ll cover this in the next section.
Fixing Credit Report ErrorsFederal legislation provides several protections to consumers when it comes to credit scores and credit reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that any piece of information that’s not 100% confirmed to be true can’t be included on a credit report. That means you can dispute items on your report. You can assert that the information is just flat-out wrong. You can also request that the credit bureau verify the information on the report. If the credit bureau can’t verify 100% that the information is accurate then it must be removed from the report. You can dispute these items yourself or you can hire an attorney or credit repair companies to dispute items for you. There are also important restrictions on how long the credit reporting agencies have to respond to your requests for verification or disputes.
EquifaxEquifax offers third-parties, including lenders, access to your FICO score or VantageScore. When you request your credit score though, they provide a different number, one based on their own proprietary algorithms. They have a ton of business services that let companies grow their business as well, making them one of the most popular sources for advice on how to help small, medium, and enterprise businesses grow.
Best ForEquifax credit services are best for people that are looking to monitor their credit score from all three bureaus. It’s also good for people that need a free credit lock service.
Products + ServicesEquifax has three main products for consumers, credit reports, credit scores, and a lock and alert service. Equifax also offers 12 business services to help customer acquisition, check client’s credit, and minimize risk of non-payment.
- Oldest credit monitoring bureau in the country
- Lots of business services that help small businesses grow
- Affordable pricing for many business products
- Many more business products than consumer products
- No monthly credit report updates
- Only offers Equifax credit score, not all 3 bureaus
- Credit Report: Free
- Credit Score: $15.95 – score is available for 30 days after you purchase it.
- Lock & Alert: Free
Other Things to ConsiderSomething else you should take into account is recent news articles about the different credit reporting agencies. For example, some of the credit bureaus have had problems with data security and thus have exposed people’s information to hackers. Hackers can use this information to take malicious actions and steal people’s identities. Therefore, asking a company about what kind of insurance it offers and what kind of steps it takes to secure your data should be an important consideration for people that are considering retaining the services of one or more of the credit monitoring agencies. Another important thing to consider is the reason that you’re signing up for services with a credit reporting bureau. You should check and see if other companies offer the same services cheaper. You should also carefully decide if you would benefit most from a one-time service or a monthly subscription service and take into account how the monthly subscription service will affect your budget. Because the three credit bureaus are so different and often have dissimilar financial information about you, it is important that you always get your free credit score from each bureau at least once a year. In addition, be sure to request a copy of your free credit report to verify that the information each of the three bureaus has is up-to-date and accurate.
Equifax General QuestionsIn this section, you will find general questions regarding Equifax. Who owns Equifax? Equifax is a company that was originally founded by Guy Woolford in the 1890’s. Today Equifax is currently owned by Mark Begor, who became the CEO of the company in April of 2018. Is Equifax safe? Yes, Equifax is safe. However, keep in mind that due to their latest date breach, more people are hesitant to use Equifax as their main credit reporting agency. Due to this breach, Equifax has made progress in securing their site to prevent future breaches. Who uses Equifax? The people who use Equifax includes:
- Large corporations
- Credit card companies
- Banks and credit unions
- Home and auto lenders
- Regular people who need to have their credit monitored
- Insurance companies
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Citi Double Cash
- Discover It
- HSBC Premier World Mastercard
- Wells Fargo Visa
- Exclusive features in member accounts on Equifax.
- The employment data section within the profile section of Transunion.
Contacting EquifaxIn this section, you will find commonly asked questions regarding how to contact Equifax. How do I talk to someone at Equifax? The best way to talk to someone at Equifax is to:
- Call the toll-free number at 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742).
- Call the 1-800 number at 1-800-493-1058. Upon calling the number, you will have to select the specific option to connect you to a live person right away.
- Online customer chat.
- 1-800-846-5279 which connects to their Equifax’s customer support team.
- 1-888-766-0008 for the fraud alert tea.
- 1-877-784-2528 for member services.
- 1-866-229-7861 for online investigation services.
Equifax BreachIn this frequently asked question section, you will find frequently asked questions pertaining to the Equifax breach. How to check the Equifax breach? In order to check if you were affected by the Equifax breach, you will need to visit the official Equifax Cybersecurity incident website, enroll on the site, click on the getting started page and follow the prompts. What to do about Equifax breach? In order to handle the Equifax breach, you need to:
- Find out if your information was exposed in the breach.
- Use other services to monitor your credit.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit files with other services to protect your information.
- File your taxes early.
- Your social security number.
- Your credit history.
- Phone number and address.
Equifax CreditIn this section, you will find commonly asked questions pertaining to your credit standing and credit history on Equifax. How to freeze credit in Equifax? In order to freeze your credit on Equifax, you will first have to creating an Equifax account and then contact an Equifax representative directly via the toll-free number. You can also place a freeze on your credit by filling out the appropriate form and mailing it back to Equifax. How to dispute errors on Equifax? First you will have to have an up-to-date credit report from Equifax. Then you will need to dispute any errors you find through the Equifax online dispute center located on the official Equifax website. What is a good credit score on Equifax? A good credit score to have on Equifax is anything above 700 and as high as 850. Anything below 700 to 650 is considered fair credit and anything below is considered poor or bad credit. How to remove fraud alert from Equifax? In order to remove a fraud alert from Equifax, you will have to:
- Contact Equifax.
- Allow the alert to expire or actively submit a request to remove the alert.
- Provide the necessary documentation to remove the alert.
Transunion General QuestionsIn this frequently asked question section, you will find general questions pertaining to Transunion credit bureau. What’s the difference between Transunion and Equifax? The difference between Transunion and Equifax is that they go about collecting and reporting credit worthiness differently. They do so by calculating the scores differently and by providing an accurate reflection of this information on a person’s credit history. How often does Transunion update? Transunion keeps credit reports updated every 30 to 45 days. These updates may reflect any change in a credit score, any new inquiries that have been opened on the credit or new credit lines that have been opened. What credit cards use Transunion? Some of the credit cards that use Transunion include:
- The Barclaycard Ring Mastercard
- The Harley Davidson Secured Credit Card
- The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card
- The Well Fargo Platinum Visa Card
- Wells Fargo Dealer Services
- Scott Credit Union
- US Banks
- Union Bank and Trust
- $25-Smartmove without the full credit report included.
- $35-Smartmove which includes a full credit report and an instant national criminal background report.
Contact TransunionIn this section, you will find commonly asked questions regarding how to contact Transunion. How do I contact Transunion? The best way to contact Transunion is to:
- Contact the bureau via the phone number at 1-800-663-9980.
- Write a letter to the mailing address listed on the site.
- Contact a representative via email.
- Cancel the monitoring membership via the membership dashboard.
- Call 1-855-681-3196 and talk to a representative directly to cancel your membership.
Transunion MembershipIn this frequently asked question section, you will find frequently asked questions pertaining to a membership with Transunion. How to cancel Transunion? In order to cancel your membership with Transunion, you will have to opt out of its service via your membership dashboard or you can contact a Transunion customer support representative directly. How do I lift a security freeze with Transunion? In order to life a security freeze on Transunion, you will need to file an official request of to lift the freeze with Transunion. This can be done online, by mail or by calling Transunion directly. How do I change my address with Transunion? To change your address with Transunion, it is recommended that you notify Transunion directly. This can be done by sending in a written request along with proof of your new address by using two forms of proof such as a bill and a copy of your driver’s license with the updated address. How to cancel my Transunion membership online? The only way you can cancel a Transunion membership online is to contact customer support online or to request a cancellation via the membership dashboard upon login to the site.
Transunion CreditIn this section, you will find commonly asked questions pertaining to credit reporting and credit inquiries on Transunion. What is a Transunion credit score? A Transunion credit score is a financial score that is used to describe your credit worthiness to potential credit lenders. This number ranges from below 500 to as high as 850. The higher the score, the higher your credit worthiness. How do I freeze my credit with Transunion? The best way to freeze your credit with Transunion is to contact the automated security freeze system via the phone number 1-888-909-8872. You can also contact a Transunion representative to help freeze your credit. How to dispute on Transunion? To dispute your credit report on Transunion, you should:
- Have a recent copy of your credit report pulled from Transunion.
- Report a dispute process via the link dispute.transunion.com
- Contact a Transunion representative in the dispute center directly.
- Consumer Demographic Information-all about consumer identity.
- Special Messages section-highlights credit file conditions.
- Model Profile-helps consumers to understand their current credit performance.
- Credit Summary-optional and a snapshot of credit history for the consumer.
- Auto Summary-shows relevant auto credit data.
- Public Records section-information from county, state and federal courts.
- Collections-consumer accounts that have been placed with a debt collection firm.
- Trades-covers consumers buying and payment activity.
- Inquiries-list of which companies have viewed a consumer’s credit files in the past 2 years.
- Consumer Statement-explanation of facts affected the credit worthiness of a consumer.
- Check your current credit report to ensure its accuracy.
- Develop a strong financial track record.
- Do not open multiple credit cards.
- Pay off any credit you have on time every month.
- Monitor your progress.
Experian General QuestionsIn this frequently asked question section, you will find frequently asked general questions pertaining to Experian. When does Experian update its credit scores? Experian makes it a habit to update credit scores every month. These updates will reflect:
- Current payment history.
- Any changes in credit worthiness during the past 30 days.
- Any new inquiries listed by creditors or lenders.
- The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card.
- The Discover It Cash Back card.
- The Chase Freedom card.
- The Total Visa Unsecured Credit Card.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- The Citi Premier Card
- The Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card
- The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express
Experian CreditIn this frequently asked question section, you will find commonly asked questions regarding credit information on Experian. How to unfreeze credit on Experian? The best way to unfreeze your credit on Experian is to visit the link Experian.com/freeze or to contact 1-888-EXPERIAN to submit a thaw request. You can also send a request to Experian by mail. How to read Experian credit report? To read your Experian credit report, you must understand the following sections:
- Person Information-used to identify you as the consumer.
- Public Records-financial accounts that have been attributed to legal actions taken against you.
- Accounts-involves revolving credit or installment loans.
- Credit Inquiries-Includes the names of businesses and requested credit information about you.
- Visit Experian.com/dispute.
- Select the “start a new dispute online” prompt.
- Allow 30 to 45 days for the dispute to be completed.
- Keeping your credit balances low.
- Only opening new credit accounts as needed.
- Pay off any existing credit card debt.
- Be sure to check your credit report regularly.
- Pay all of your bills on time.
Experian Contact InformationIn this frequently asked question section, you will find frequently asked questions pertaining to contacting Experian. What is the telephone number for Experian credit bureau? There are several ways to contact Experian credit bureau via telephone. The numbers for contact include:
- Customer Service: 1-888-397-3742
- Credit Services: 1-888-243-6951
- Commercial Credit Services: 1-800-520-1221
- Data Breach Support: 1-866-751-1323
- Technical Support: 1-800-854-7201
- Your full name.
- Your date of birth.
- Your social security number
- Any addresses associated with your credit history in the past two years.
- A copy of identity.
- A copy of a utility bill.
- A list of information on your credit report that is inaccurate.