Equifax vs. Experian vs. Transunion Complete Credit Bureau Guide

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You’re probably at least vaguely familiar with credit monitoring and protection. Maybe you’ve even been a victim of identity theft, or have seen how errors on your credit report can sink your credit score to a subprime level. In today’s world, with the central importance of credit scores, and the ever-present threat of identity theft, working with some sort of credit monitoring and protection service has become an absolute necessity.

There are all kinds of credit monitoring services available, including many from questionable sources. But probably the best providers are the three major credit bureaus themselves. For that reason, in this article we’ve evaluated the credit monitoring and protection services, doing a side-by-side comparison of Equifax vs. Experian vs. TransUnion.

In taking on this project, we thought all three services would be roughly the same. We were wrong. There is a clear winner among the three services (Hint, hint Experian).

But let’s first take a look at some of the basics of the whole credit reporting process.

How the Credit Reporting Industry Works

A credit reporting agency is an institution that maintains a database of information on consumers. While the most commonly understood information relates to credit, they also collect information on addresses, employment, and public records. For example, a credit report may provide a history of various places you have lived and worked, as well as any significant court activity, such as judgments and liens.

There are credit reporting agencies that collect data primarily on consumers. The three largest, best-known, and most commonly accessed are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But there are also agencies that collect information on businesses, such as .

There’s something of a reciprocal arrangement between the credit bureaus and certain industries. This is most obvious with lenders. In order to be able to have access to information on consumers to make loans, lenders report to one or more of the three credit reporting agencies.

The credit reporting agencies then compile all the reported information on each individual consumer’s credit report. Letters can then access those credit reports for a small fee, making it easier for them to determine the credit worthiness of a particular borrower.

While this is most obvious with lenders, including those who provide mortgages, car loans, and credit cards, other institutions that might access your credit report include apartment landlords, employers, government agencies, and insurance companies.

Credit Scores

When credit reports were first developed, they were mostly listings of each individual consumer’s credit activity. Since that information required substantial analysis, and was often subjective, the bureaus began to develop credit scores. These were an attempt to reduce an otherwise complicated credit profile down to a single number.

Credit scores are calculated based on a number of factors. Payment history is the most obvious, but also considered are credit utilization (the amount you owe compared to your total lines of credit), the number of credit lines you have open, the age of your credit, and the number of recent inquiries for new credit. All that information is collected and analyzed according to proprietary algorithms that produce your credit score.

The most popular credit score is the FICO score, which is the one used by most lenders. FICO scores can range between a low of 300 and a high of 850. Poor credit is generally considered below 600, while average or fair credit is between 600 and 700. Good credit is usually anything higher than 700, and excellent credit starts at least at 750.

How high your credit score is will determine whether you’ll be approved for a loan, and what interest rate you’ll pay.

Each of the three major credit bureaus issues its own credit scores. Since the information is a little bit different on each credit report, the specific credit score will be a little bit different from one bureau to the next. That’s true even if each bureau uses the same credit scoring method.

Also understand that not all creditors report to all three bureaus. If a collection shows up on Experian, but not the other two bureaus, you Experian credit score will be lower than your TransUnion and Equifax scores.

Why You Need to Monitor Your Credit and Credit Scores

Given how important credit scores are, you should subscribe to a service that will give you regular access to both your credit report in your credit scores.

There are two primary reasons for doing this:

Knowing your credit score. You should always have a basic idea what your credit score is. And you should always know what it is before you apply for a loan. If you haven’t seen your score in six months, and you apply for a loan, you may be shocked to find your score is only 635, when it was 720 six months earlier.

By knowing your credit score, you can do what’s necessary to keep it at a healthy level. That naturally requires making your payments on time. But it’s also possible your credit score could be dragged down by information reported in error. For example, there may be a collection balance reported that you actually paid. By identifying such activity on a regular basis, you’ll be able to fix it before it becomes a problem.

Protecting against identity theft. This is a growing crime in the modern world. A thief only needs your name and some kind of specific personally identifying information, such as your Social Security number or a bank or credit account number. From there, he or she can apply for credit in your name, or even access your bank accounts.

If you’re monitoring your credit report and credit scores on a regular basis, you’ll become aware of such activity very early in the process. And when it comes to identity theft, the sooner you are aware of it, the easier it is to minimize the damage.

The best way to do both is by subscribing to a credit monitoring service. Probably the best sources are the three major credit bureaus themselves, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That’s what we’ll be describing in the balance of this article. Carefully review the information we are providing for each, and decide which service will work best for you.

Equifax

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded all way back in 1899, Equifax collects and reports information on more than 800 million people, and nearly 90 million businesses around the world. In fact, the company operates in 24 countries globally.

Equifax offers two credit monitoring plans, Equifax Complete Premier and Equifax Complete Family Plan.

The Premier plan offers all the features listed below, and is available at $19.95 per month.

The Family plan has all the features of the Premier plan, but also enables you to add a second adult, as well as credit monitoring for up to four children. The cost of the plan is $29.95 per month.

  • Credit report. Annual credit reports from all three bureaus. Daily Equifax credit report.
  • Credit score. Annual credit scores from all three bureaus. Daily Equifax credit score.
  • Credit monitoring. For your credit scores and credit reports from all three bureaus.
  • Fraud alerts. Lets lenders know you have been a victim of fraud so they’ll take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. You can add or remove a fraud alert at any time, or even pause it while you’re applying for credit (this service is available to all consumers, not just those who participate in a paid plan.)
  • ID theft protection. Up to $1 million identity theft insurance.
  • Internet scanning. Equifax will scan for your Social Security number, as well as of the five bank account numbers, up to six credit or debit card numbers, up to three email addresses, up to 10 medical ID numbers, and up to five passport numbers. Also scans thousands of Internet sites where your personal information is suspected of being bought and sold.
  • Financial alerts. Notifying you of changes or suspicious activity with your bank accounts and credit cards.
  • Lost wallet assistance. Equifax will help you cancel and reissue your cards and IDs.
  • Online disputes. Correct credit report inaccuracies free.

Experian

Experian is a relative newcomer in the credit reporting space, having been founded in 1996. Based in Dublin, Ireland, its US headquarters is in Costa Mesa, California. It collects and provides credit information on 235 million US residents, and a total of more than 1 billion worldwide, with operations in 37 countries.

Experian’s service is $9.99 per month for an individual, $14.99 for one adult and up to 10 children, and $19.99 per month for two adults and up to 10 children, though it’s being offered free for the first 30 days. This represents a trial membership, and you can cancel at any time within without being charged. When you sign up for the service, you’ll get your free Experian credit report.

Experian also offers its premium CreditWorks plan that offers greater protection. The plan is $4.99 for the first month, then $24.99 per month thereafter.

  • Credit report. Experian only, every 30 days on the basic plan. Three bureau reports with CreditWorks.
  • Credit score. Daily, Experian only with basic plan. All three bureaus, monthly with CreditWorks.
  • Credit monitoring. All three bureaus.
  • Fraud alerts. Fraud resolution; lock and unlock your credit.
  • ID theft protection. Identity theft monitoring and up to $1 million ID theft insurance.
  • Internet scanning. Dark Web surveillance (sites where your information is being bought and sold). Social Security number, address change, bank accounts and credit card takeovers, sex offender registry on CreditWorks only.
  • Financial alerts. Based on your Experian credit report.
  • Lost wallet assistance. On CreditWorks plan only.
  • Online disputes. Correct credit report inaccuracies free.

Transunion

Based in Chicago, TransUnion collects and provides credit information on more than 200 million consumers in the US and a billion worldwide. The service was founded in 1968.

They offer the TransUnion Score and Report for $24.95 per month, and provides both monitoring and protection. One downside to this service is that it uses the VantageScore, not the FICO score. VantageScore is a parallel credit score, commonly used by free credit score providers. FICO scores on the other hand, are the ones commonly used by banks. This makes them more “official” than VantageScores.

On the upside, TransUnion provides a substantial amount of tools and analysis to help you fully understand your credit score, as well as how to improve it. This can be particularly valuable to anyone who has a low score, and is looking for a way to increase it without having to pay for a costly credit repair service.

  • Credit report. TransUnion credit report updated every 24 hours. Equifax and Experian reports available at an additional fee ($29.95) for each report pulled.
  • Credit score. Unlimited access to TransUnion score.
  • Credit monitoring. All three bureaus.
  • Fraud alerts. Provides Instant Alerts and 24/7 fraud resolution services. Also offers Credit Lock service to lock and unlock your report as necessary, and applies to both your TransUnion and Equifax reports.
  • ID theft protection. Up to $25,000 in ID theft Insurance.
  • Internet scanning. N/A
  • Financial alerts. N/A
  • Lost wallet assistance. N/A
  • Online disputes. Correct credit report inaccuracies free.

Equifax vs. Experian vs. Transunion Comaprison

To make the comparison of Equifax, Experian and Transunion easier, the table below shows a side-by-side listing of the pricing and main features of each service.

Service / Credit BureauEquifaxExperianTransUnion
Price$19.95 individual; $29.95 family plan$9.99 individual; $19.99 family plan; $24.99 for premium plan$24.95 per person
Credit ReportEquifax report daily; other bureaus annuallyExperian report monthly with basic plan; 3 bureaus with premium plan  TransUnion credit report updated daily. Equifax and Experian reports available at $29.95 for each report pulled
Credit ScoresEquifax report daily; other bureaus annuallyDaily, Experian only with basic plan; 3 bureaus, monthly with premium planUnlimited access to TransUnion score
Credit MonitoringAll three bureausAll three bureausAll three bureaus
Fraud AlertsYesYesYes
ID Theft ProtectionUp to $1 million ID theft insuranceUp to $1 million ID theft insuranceUp to $25,000 ID theft insurance
Internet ScanningSocial Security number + 5  bank account numbers + 6 six credit or debit card numbers + 3 email addresses + 10 medical ID numbers + 5  passport numbersDark Web surveillance on basic plan; Social Security number, address change, bank accounts and credit card takeovers, sex offender registry on premium plan only.N/A
Financial AlertsYes, for bank accounts and credit cardsYes, based on your Experian credit reportN/A
Lost Wallet AssistanceYesOn premium plan onlyN/A
Online credit report error disputesYesYesYes

Which Credit Service Should You Choose – Equifax, Experian or Transunion

Based on our analysis, Experian provides the best service for the money. The actual service level is comparable with Equifax, but the subscription price is $10 per month lower than Equifax. That applied to both individuals and family plans.

TransUnion is bringing up the rear among the three. Not only does it offer fewer services, but it also charges the highest monthly fee.

In truth, you can’t go wrong with any of the three services. Each will provide basic credit monitoring as well as some degree of identity theft protection and other important services. And as important as credit reports and credit scores are today, you can’t afford to be without a good monitoring and protection service.

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