There are three main “credit bureaus,” otherwise known as credit reporting agencies, that show up on a tri-merge consumer credit report, including:
Equifax – EFX – Beacon®
Experian – XPN – Experian/FICO Risk Model
Transunion – TU – FICO® Risk Score, Classic
Each credit bureau may report separate information, as they work independently, so different reporting may occur within each bureau. This is why it is common for consumers to see three entirely different credit scores when they look at a tri-merge credit report.
And this is the same reason why some banks and lenders rely on the mid-score of the three reporting bureaus. While they may not all report the same information, taking the median score will give potential creditors a good idea as to where you stand. And even if one bureau doesn’t report a collection or a late payment, another bureau may, and it will be considered in your overall credit profile by the creditor.
So if one of the three bureaus reports a mortgage late, and the other two don’t, the creditor can still deny your application for credit if they don’t allow mortgage lates.
If for some reason your credit report only comes up with two scores, the creditor, bank, or lender will take the lower of the two scores.
Credit Bureau Symbols
When you look at your credit report, you will see a symbol from each credit bureau next to each line of credit that is being reported.
You may notice only one or two of the bureaus symbols next to a particular tradeline or collection account, or all three. This will show you which bureau is reporting what.
As mentioned above, the 3 credit bureaus may not report on everything, so you may only need to target one or two of the credit bureaus if you’re looking to remove any discrepancies for a certain account.
So look out for these credit bureau symbols before disputing any information unnecessarily.
Get Free Credit Reports from All 3 Credit Bureaus
Experian runs the well-known FreeCreditScore.com website…
But the best way to check your credit is to order free credit reports from Annualcreditreport.com for each of the three credit bureaus.
You actually get a free credit report without a credit card, though it doesn’t include a credit score. Once you analyze your free credit report(s), you can determine whether you need to pay to use one of the bureau’s services.
These services usually cost nearly $20 a month, after any free trial period. Unfortunately, the bureaus don’t collaborate much, so you’re better off getting the scores elsewhere, ideally where you get all 3 credit scores in one place.
I ordered a “free credit report” from Experian a few years back before I knew anything about credit and was shocked to see a medical collection on my report. The one advantage of their service was it allowed me to dispute the collection from within the program, and it ultimately got removed from my credit history without incident, boosting my score from 660 to 720.
I did end up paying for one month of the credit monitoring service, but it was definitely worth it in hindsight. However, you should order a free credit report first from the official site to determine if you’ll need to use one of these credit monitoring sites to clear anything up.
After all, if everything looks ship shape, there’s no point to waste any money with a monitoring program.
Contacting the 3 Major Credit Bureaus
If you need to contact the credit bureaus to dispute anything that may be showing up on your credit report in error, take note of the information below. I have listed the addresses, phone numbers, and websites of the credit bureaus.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-2104
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Keep in mind that this contact information is also available on any credit report you may have, at the end of the report.
You’d be surprised at the amount of useful tips and advice you can find at the credit bureaus’ websites. Each has an area where you can dispute items appearing on your credit report, along with learning centers that teach you the fundamentals of credit scoring.
These sites can be useful in understanding more about how the individual companies compile your credit scores and what you need to focus on to improve your credit history.
At the same time, the 3 major credit bureaus are self-serving, and spend most of their time trying to sell you identity theft solutions and so-called free credit reports. That said, be wary of these companies just as you would any other company trying to sell you something.
Note: When you visit the credit bureaus’ websites, you may be solicited for things like credit reports and “free credit scores.” Be sure to navigate carefully to avoid signing up for something you’re not actually interested in.
Relying on the credit bureaus’ websites directly is probably the most expensive way to view your scores.