How Do Credit Reporting Agencies Work?

by Josh Biggs in Finance on 30th January 2021

Considering that your credit score can have an effect on everything from who will hire you to what home you can afford to finance, understanding exactly how these systems work is a big deal. But while many people might recognize that their credit score is a reflection of their financial background, they might now understand exactly how credit reporting agencies work. If you really want to stay on top of your finances, you deserve better. Here’s what you need to know.

What a Credit Reporting Bureau Does

One of the most important things to understand is that a credit bureau doesn’t decide whether or not you’ll get accepted for a loan, a mortgage, or whatever other situation is causing someone to pull a credit report on you. Instead, the main role of a credit reporting agency is to simply document any information relevant to your financial history. That includes outstanding debts, money in collections, credit card payment history, and more.

There are three major credit reporting bureaus, and each of them has different channels and criteria for documenting information. That means that your credit score provided by Experian might be different from the one presented by TransUnion. Normally these discrepancies will be minor at best, but sometimes major financial records do fall between the cracks. For that reason, we recommend that you get a full report from all three bureaus if you’re pulling a credit check on a potential lender.

As far as accountability to the individual is concerned, each agency is required by federal law to provide you with your credit score once a year free of charge. Credit reports are easier to get than they ever have been, and there are plenty of services that allow you to check your credit reports. Just be sure to be careful. While resources like the CreditAPI offer a reliable and regularly updated report that actually reflects your most recent financial changes, other options often have issues like inconsistent credit reporting. Many are even scams, so it’s careful to do your due diligence before giving away your personal information.

Where Bureaus Get Their Information

While credit reporting bureaus have a lot of data to pull from when it comes to updating a credit report, that doesn’t mean that they have a free license to investigate whatever they want. There are very specific sources that they can get their information from, and understanding those sources can help you understand what actions can put your credit history at risk while also making sure that you know what recourse you have in case a mistake is made.

The majority of information that bureaus gather comes from their network of banks, businesses, and lending institutions. This can generally provide them with a pretty sweeping understanding of everything from your past financial liabilities to your credit usage. While lenders can use this information however they want to approve or reject a loan, most debts fall off of your record in five to seven years.

Bureaus also have a pretty wide purview to look through public records. That includes information on past bankruptcies, tax liens, or foreclosures. All told, bureaus have a huge number of resources to draw from, but they’re usually loath to share with one another. That can work to the benefit of individuals and the disadvantages of lenders since simply drawing information from one credit bureau can often provide an incomplete record.

The most important thing to note here is that it’s in everyone’s best interest to do a comprehensive credit report from all three agencies. It’s the only way to get a comprehensive understanding of your credit or the credit of someone that you’re checking. Using a service like CreditAPI can ensure you get everything you need to know from all the credit reporting agencies.

Categories: Finance