From Which Credit Bureau Should I Order My Credit Report?

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Consumers learning how to manage and monitor their personal credit might at first encounter some confusion about how best to do so. Recommendations to “check your credit report” are common but what exactly does that mean? We have many such reports, and they come from bewilderingly different sources. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) among dozens of smaller ones. We’ll focus on the big three.

Are the credit bureaus all the same?

No, they are not all the same. Each is independent with a slightly different commercial focus. For example, one may focus on reporting business credit data while another monitors foreign creditors. For the purposes of most American consumers, though, the CRAs are somewhat interchangeable. Federal law require all three to work together, particularly on issues of identity theft, as well as the obligation to issue annual credit reports at no cost to the consumer through AnnualCreditReport.com.

When it comes to credit reporting, all three bureau reports have value and none is measurably “better” than another. A positive attribute: they all strive to maintain accurate data. On the darker side: they service so many millions of consumers, personalized customer handling is virtually unattainable.

Each CRA has its own method for gathering and presenting your credit data. Also, while major creditors typically report your accounts to all three CRAs, some creditors report only to one. That explains slight variations in the information on your credit reports. Furthermore, each CRA employs its own method for computing your score. Consequently, scores on any given day are likely to vary.

Credit report differences

The three reports differ in one important way: inquiries. This difference could work in your favor. Here’s how.

Creditors check your credit when you apply to buy something. This is called a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries often cause your score to dip slightly, and too many inquiries will cause some creditors to reject your application. Since many creditors only do business with one of the CRAs, only that credit report will reflect the inquiry.

Here’s a hypothetical. In a given month Joe applies for new credit with T-Mobile, American Express, his local electric utility and IKEA; the following month, he applies for a Barclaycard, nervous because he heard a rumor that they’ll turn him down if his file shows more than three inquiries in the past six months. Lo and behold, when they check his credit, his file shows zero inquiries. Could this happen? Yes, if the first four creditors registered inquiries with Equifax and Experian while Barclaycard checked only his TransUnion file. (While it’s true that the CRAs do not share inquiry data, this example is for illustration purposes only. All of these variables can change depending on the consumer’s location and the creditor’s current business policy.)

Other than that, the main differences between credit reports are cosmetic. Some of the variations might appeal to you from a usability standpoint. An Equifax consumer credit report starts with a handy summary of open and closed accounts, and then groups the accounts accordingly. Experian and TransUnion jump right into account details, listing them in alphabetical order. Experian shows the date when an account is scheduled to be removed from your report. TransUnion reportedly has more complete employment data on its credit reports. Notwithstanding the stylistic differences, all three CRAs present substantially the same legally reportable information.

Which credit report is most important?

Under most circumstances, no credit report is more important than any other. A few exceptions apply.

  1. If a lender pulls only one credit report and it happens to contain errors that affect your creditworthiness, then that credit report becomes very important because it could mean rejection.

To ensure that any credit report pulled by a lender offers the most accurate representation of your credit history, the need to regularly check and monitor all of your credit reports and correct any errors cannot be overstated. (Corrections are not passed along from one CRA to another. If you find a mistake, you must correct it on all three reports.)

  1. If you have a positive history with a creditor who only reports to one agency, and an application for credit pending with a creditor who only does business with one of the other two, the potential new creditor could reject your application in light of the lack of data. The credit report that shows the account in good standing is more important because it could trigger application approval.

If an account does not appear on one of your credit reports, you cannot compel the creditor to share the information with that bureau, nor can you force the other CRAs to include the account. Some alternative CRAs allow consumer submissions (for a fee). Or you might be able to persuade the prospective creditor to simply purchase the credit report that shows more positive history.

Mortgage lenders view data from all three CRAs in a special, merged report. So if you plan to purchase a house, know that all three reports are equally important.

Which credit score is most important?

None of the CRAs can claim to offer the most accurate credit score, assuming credit report errors have all been corrected. Consumers can actually have dozens of different credit scores, and each one is as accurate as any of the others. Variation exists for different reasons (including the fact that each report may contain slightly different data). Credit scores also differ depending on who requests it. An auto lender sees one score while a credit card issuer sees another. Some lenders simply pull all three and use the middle number to determine eligibility. VantageScore, developed by the three major CRAs, purports to deliver more accurate scores than FICO, but FICO is still the credit score used by most major creditors.

The bottom line

It may seem that having just one credit report would simplify things, but in truth, competition is a good thing. The CRAs are forced to work harder to ensure accuracy, provide good service and offer useful tools.

Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to view and download all three of your credit reports once every twelve months. Some consumers like to stagger the reports to once per quarter.

Remember, it never hurts your credit when you request your own file or score.

Posted in Credit Score
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