Most likely you've heard of your credit report and credit scores. You may even know that you can get a free copy of your credit report once a year. But, did you know that you have three different credit reports and three different credit scores?
The reason you have three reports and scores is that there are three separate credit bureaus - each reporting your credit history in its own way.
What is a credit bureau?
There are three major credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Experian defines a credit bureau as "an independent organization that compiles information from credit grantors and other (private and public) sources regarding individuals' credit applications and payment behavior."
These credit-reporting agencies have become the gold standard for creditors interested in reviewing someone's credit history and for assessing if an applicant is a credit risk.
Why do credit scores vary from agency to agency?
Credit bureaus are independent agencies. This means that they have their own methods of collecting and rating credit history data.
Although the three bureaus collect the same type of information, they process it differently, which accounts for some of the differences.
Also, not all creditors send information to all three agencies. So a loan or credit card may appear on one version of your credit report, but not on another.
Additionally, computer and human error may cause incorrect information to appear on one report. Because the reports are not linked, the agencies won't spot the error - this responsibility is up to you.
It's important to check your credit scores based on your information from all three bureaus. One report may contain an error or a fraudulent account that the other two do not have.