Consumer Reporting Agencies

Consumer reporting agencies, (sometimes abbreviated CRAs and also known as credit bureaus) collect credit information about individuals and sell this information to third parties upon request. In the United States, the three main consumer reporting agencies are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Each of these companies maintains an ongoing file called a credit report. Your credit report contains:

  • Identifying information, including your Social Security number, mailing address, and other names you have used to borrow money
  • Information about each of your loans and lines of credit, including what company owns the loan, the origination date, how much you owe on it, what your monthly payment is, and whether you have paid on time each month you have had that loan
  • Financial information in the public record, including records on bankruptcy, foreclosure, tax liens, and court judgments.

How to get your credit report

When you apply for a loan, the lender will usually purchase a copy of your credit report from at least one of the credit bureaus. This information helps the lender decide whether to issue you a new loan and what interest rate to charge. Insurance companies, employers, and landlords often use your credit report to make decisions as well.

United States law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) every year. To get your free credit report, go to or call or call (877) 322-8228. While other websites and services may advertise free reports, you often have to sign up for a service to get them. Protect yourself from scams by only using to get your credit report.

Information presented in the Northwest Financial Wellness Center is provided for educational purposes only and is not related to actual Northwest products or services. Northwest makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. Northwest recommends you consult a professional for any specific guidance you are seeking.