When thinking about credit bureaus in the United States, most people think of the three major ones – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. However, there are many more credit reporting agencies out there.
Read on to find out what they are and why you need to know about them.
Are there really four major credit bureaus?
Yes. Most personal finance experts only cite three major credit bureaus that capture, update, and provide credit scores for US customers. Credit reporting has been around for over a 100 years. Initially, credit agencies consolidated by regions. Equifax covered the South and East; Experian the West, and TransUnion the Central U.S. Today, all three have a national presence.
However, a credit reporting agency includes any company that collects information about where people live and work, how they pay their bills, whether they have been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. There are plenty of companies that do this, particularly on the regional and local level.
Although they’re often clumped together in news stories, the bureaus are for-profit companies that compete with one another. Also, the information collected is similar, but not always the same – so, many places recommend looking at all three.
What is Innovis?
Innovis, the fourth reporting agency, also reports consumer behavior. It stores personal and accounts information such as your payment history and any fraud information.
It may not be as widely known as the other three credit bureaus because Innovis doesn’t provide a credit score. It’s mainly for companies who want to access your information for identity verification or fraud prevention purposes. Some lenders use the information as an extra step to decide on whether to grant you a loan.
However, not all of our credit reports contain the same information. Not all credit reporting agencies, think Innovis and CheckSystems, offer a FICO credit score. Most lenders look at your FICO score when determining eligibility for loans.
Data furnishers, the term used in the business to describe banks, lenders and other creditors, don’t have to report information to the bureaus. Some might not report information at all, and others might only send data to one or two of the bureaus.
As a result, your credit reports may have different information in them, hence the difference in scoring. It’s not anything of concern, but something to be aware of if you’re wondering why you have different credit scores.
What about these other reporting agencies?
While other reporting agencies aren’t as large as the four mentioned above, they can be important to your day-to-day life.
These consumer reporting agencies take your information and create reports that could be used for decision-making purposes. This could include things like renting an apartment, getting a job, and even health insurance.
While some of these are nationwide, others are smaller and considered “specialty” reporting agencies. The latter focuses on things like your business profile, loans that go to collections, and medical insurance information. We include a comprehensive list of credit reporting agencies below, but there are three you should definitely know about: ChexSystems, TeleCheck, and EWS.
What is ChexSystems?
ChexSystems furnishes financial institutions with “account verification services” to alert them of applicants with a prior history of mishandling their bank accounts. ChexSystems is legendary for forcing consumers to jump through hoops in order to get their records corrected. The good news is that ChexSystems is governed by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). So, you have the right to request a copy of your ChexSystems record.
What is TeleCheck?
You probably won’t bump into your TeleCheck record unless you have trouble using or cashing a check, but a handful of banks use the system to verify new applicants for accounts as well. TeleCheck claims to “protect you” by reducing check fraud, but the reality is that the agency works hardest to protect its paying customers – the lending institutions themselves.
In a nutshell, TeleCheck is a check verification company, but it’s also a credit reporting agency. Financial institutions and merchants pay fees to subscribe to the company’s reporting service. For their money, TeleCheck guarantees all of the checks the institutions accept.
What is EWS?
Early Warning Systems (EWS) is the new kid on the block of credit reports. It’s a credit reporting agency that was formed by JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and BB&T Corporation. People who bounce a check and overdraw, then it can be recorded on your EWS report.
Where can I access a list of credit bureaus and reports in the US?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPC) has a list of the major credit reporting agencies, including specialty ones. The table below shows the main credit reporting agencies list in the United States. It also indicates which agencies offer a free report (usually once every 12 months) and freeze your report if you request it.
As for your reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, you can get a free report every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Most reporting companies have to give you a free report every 12 months if you request it. You’re also entitled to get a free report any time if you have been a victim of identity theft and believe you have inaccurate information listed on your credit report.
While you don’t need to worry about every single reporting agency out there, you’ll want to keep an eye on your credit reports. Also, make sure to request relevant reports when necessary.
For example, if you’re looking to move, ask which screening company your new landlord uses so that you can verify the information on the report. Or, if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ll want access to relevant credit reports to investigate it further.
A simple way to monitor your credit
You can continually monitor your credit with one of many credit reporting tools. Most will offer identity theft insurance and provide reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to find out about any fraudulent activity. As for the others, simply set a reminder on your calendar every 12 months to request a report. That way, you have your bases covered.
To make it easy, head over to SuperMoney’s Credit Monitoring Tools review page to compare services and find the right one for you.
Sarah Li Cain is a finance writer based in Jacksonville, Florida. She’s written on topics such as real estate, banking and FinTech and has appeared in publications such as KeyBank, Vistaprint and Quicken Loans.