How Credit Reports Work

How Credit Bureaus Get Information

A credit bureau is a clearinghouse for credit information about consumers. There are more than 1,000 local and regional credit bureaus around the country that gather information about your credit habits directly from your creditors. Typically, these smaller local and regional bureaus are affiliated with one of three large national credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (see below).

For example, let's say you apply for a credit card and provide the card company with all of your personal information, such as your name and address, your previous address (if you haven't lived at your current residence for more than two years), your employer, other credit cards you have, etc. The credit card company then contacts a credit reporting agency (CRA) and reviews your credit report. If the company approves your application for a credit card, then the information you've supplied is forwarded to the CRA. That credit card company also reports your payment history to the CRA, so that becomes part of the report. The CRAs also access information about you from public record information such as court records.

All of the transactions you have that involve credit are reported monthly to CRAs by the merchants or creditors you deal with. Most large creditors report this information to all three national credit bureaus (CRAs). Some smaller lenders or merchants, however, may only report the information to one. For this reason, your report from each CRA may not be the same. You might get a copy of your report from Experian that does not include an account that shows up on your report that is maintained by TransUnion. For this reason, it is wise to review copies of all three reports.

You can find the contact information for all three national credit bureaus in the United States.

  • To order your report, call: 800-685-1111 or write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285/ TDD: 800-255-0056 and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write: P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013 To report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)/ TDD: 800-972-0322 and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • To order your report, call: 800-916-8800 or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022 To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289/ TDD: 877-553-7803 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6790

While the report itself only relays the history of your dealings with creditors, potential creditors can learn a lot from this. Read on to find out how professionals interpret your credit report.