The US credit reporting system can be confusing at times: there are multiple credit bureaus, a variety of credit scores, and a bunch of rules and regulations regarding the permitted use of this information.
It can sometimes drive a person crazy trying to figure it all out!
Questions I am frequently asked are: why are there three credit bureaus and three FICO® Scores? Do I need to stay on top of just one or all three? Does my lender pull all three or just one? Which one?
In the U.S. there are three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) that collect, update, store and sell our credit histories. The credit bureaus compete against each other to have the most robust, current and accurate credit information on the US population, with the hope that lenders will purchase credit reports from their agency when evaluating request for credit.
Much of the information housed on consumers across the three credit bureaus is similar in order to simplify the consistency of data being reported. However, there are oftentimes differences in terms of what information is being captured and how each of the credit bureaus store, merge and display the data. For example, bureau “A” may have more recent credit inquires on your credit report compared with the other two if the lenders you do business with tend to pull reports from that particular bureau.
The result is that your credit profile can look different across the three credit bureaus and those differences in data can drive differences in your credit scores across the three bureaus as well. That’s because the FICO Score for each bureau is based solely on the information contained at that bureau.
Each lender decides on which credit bureau they will access when evaluating a request for credit. Their preference is based on a variety of factors that can include perception on the quality of the credit bureau’s data, attention to customer service, costs, operational stability, etc. The lender may pull all three credit reports and FICO Scores for larger credit requests (such as a mortgage loan) while only accessing one of the three for a smaller extension of credit decisioning such as for a credit card application. The challenge: the consumer rarely knows ahead of time which credit bureau(s) the lender will access.
That’s why many industry experts recommend consumers periodically access all three credit reports and FICO Scores to ensure information is being reported accurately. Experts also recommend to engage in the dispute resolution process if data errors are discovered, and to be as prepared as possible before seeking new credit.
FICO’s new offering, FICO® Score 3-Report View, allows you to see your three FICO scores and the underlying Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports on which they were generated in a side-by-side and easy to understand format. With this solution, you can quickly identify how the data is similar (or different) across the three credit bureaus, what factors are most significantly impacting your FICO Scores, and if any information is inaccurate and needs investigated.
Armed with this information, you gain valuable insight into where you stand and can be better prepared when applying for new credit in the near future regardless of which credit bureau and FICO Score the lender is accessing to help them in their credit evaluation.
Tom Quinn is the Vice President of Business Development for myFICO® , and has over 20 years of experience working with consumers, regulators and lenders and regarding credit related questions and initiatives.