Credit Bureaus
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Credit Bureaus

Credit bureaus that collect and maintain credit information ...

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There are three major, national credit bureaus that collect and maintain credit information on you. They are:

  • Equifax
  • Experian (formerly TRW)
  • TransUnion

The credit bureaus are also known as credit reporting agencies (CRAs). There are other agencies, but most banks, car dealerships, and credit card companies rely on the three major bureaus.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (a law designed to protect consumers), a company has to tell you when they report something negative to the credit bureaus about you. The rules are that it has to be within thirty days, and they can either tell you before or after they report it. The catch is that they don’t have to send you a separate notice. A lot of times, it is simply a sentence within your current credit card bill that you might not even notice. The sentence is vague, and it uses the word “may” a lot – “We may report you…” or “We told a credit bureau about you and it may appear on your credit report.”

The different companies who report to credit bureaus have different policies on reporting. Your mortgage company, for example, may decide not to report late payments. One of your credit card banks might report to a different bureau than your other credit card companies. You might be surprised to find out that you have excellent credit with one bureau, but another bureau has a lot of negative information about you!

In this credit reporting system, there are, of course, problems. With thousands of companies reporting to several different bureaus about millions of people, there are going to be errors. It is not the credit bureaus’ responsibility to verify the information given to them. The information on your credit report is accepted as fact until you dispute it. With the rise of identity theft in the last 10 years, people with perfect credit buying a home were shocked to find out that their credit was ruined because someone stole their identities. At the time, the only way to know what was on your credit report was to pay for a copy of your report.

In 2003, there was an amendment added to the credit reporting law called Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) that allowed everyone to get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three big credit reporting agencies once a year. This law went into effect in 2005, so you now have the ability to get a free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can get one report a year, and you can dispute any errors that appear on your report.

It is your responsibility to know what is on your credit report and to make sure that it is accurate. Don’t wait until you are applying for a line of credit. You should take advantage of the FACTA law and obtain your free credit report from all three agencies every year. Make sure any negative reports are accurate, and immediately dispute any errors. You can call the bureaus or apply for reports online and the reports are easier to read than they were in the past. There’s no reason not to take this step to prevent errors or fraud from ruining your credit!

From: Understanding credit and credit cards (don)
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