Credit bureaus, also called “credit reporting agencies” (CRAs), are companies that collect and maintain consumer credit information. The three major CRAs in the U.S. are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each is a publicly traded, for-profit company. While there are other smaller agencies
, creditors and lenders are most likely to check your credit with one of the major CRAs.
The major CRAs receive credit-related information from the companies and lenders that you do business with. Lenders regularly report whether you’re paying your bills on time, whether you’ve ever defaulted entirely, and how much debt you owe to them. The credit bureaus also pull relevant public records, like tax liens or bankruptcy information, from state and local courts. This information is included in your credit report as well.1
CRAs can sell your information to companies that want to prescreen you for their products and services and to businesses that have a legally valid reason for reviewing it. For example, a company with which you’ve applied for credit would have a valid reason to look at your credit history.2
Employers and landlords typically cannot access your credit report without your written permission.