How Do Credit Reporting Agencies Work?

Credit reporting agencies, also known as credit bureaus, collect information about where you work, how you pay your bills, whether or not you have been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. All of this information is combined together in a credit report. Your credit report is sold to creditors, employers, insurers, and other companies. They use these reports to make decisions about extending credit, jobs, and insurance policies to you. 

You are entitled every year to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) through This website is the only one that is government authorized to provide you with free copies of your credit report.

You can also contact the credit agencies directly if you have questions about your credit score.

Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800

Negative Information
If you find negative information in a credit report you might wonder where it came from. Credit bureaus take information from public records such as tax liens, judgments, bankruptcies that provide insight into your financial status and obligations. In general, a credit agency can report the negative information for seven years. For example, a lawsuit or a judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Bankruptcies can be kept on your report for up to 10 years, and unpaid tax liens for 15 years.

Fixing Errors
Anyone who denies you credit, housing, insurance, or a job because of a credit report must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency that provided the report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to request a free report within 60 days if a company denies you credit based on the report.