History of the Big Three Credit Agencies – Education
Equifax is the oldest of the three big credit reporting agencies. The company was founded in 1899 as the Retail Credit Company in Atlanta, Georgia. By the 1960s, the Retail Credit Company had files on millions of Americans and Canadians and was one of the largest credit reporting agencies. Although their business has always included credit reporting, their largest business through the 1970s was accumulating data for insurance companies to assess risk. Their sweeping records of individuals’ financial and personal lives was the catalyst for the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970. In 1975, RCC changed its name to Equifax. The company has 7,000 employees in 14 countries and maintains files on over 400 million people worldwide.
TransUnion began its life as part of the railcar leasing company Union Tank Car Company. They began offering credit reporting services after acquiring Credit Bureau of Cook County in 1969. CBCC, at the time, maintained 3.6 million card files which were stored in 400 seven-drawer file cabinets. They became the first company to automate and computerize their data, leading to quicker access to consumers’ credit information.
Over the last decade, the company has found itself the focus of controversy for failing to remove erroneous data from their credit files. In two separate cases, plaintiffs were awarded significant settlements. The company has been owned by Advent International and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners since February of 2013.
Experian was formed when British retail company GUS plc bought credit reporting agency TRW Information Services from Bain Capitol in 1996. Over the next decade, they expanded into countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.
While that era involved mostly business to business, they started offering credit monitoring to individual consumers in 2002 via their newly acquired ConsumerInfo.com site. They have since expanded to offer marketing, data gathering and consumer services throughout the world. They have been criticized for charging for credit reports on their site FreeCreditReport.com, as consumers are guaranteed free credit reports at the government mandated AnnualCreditReport.com. They also paid a large settlement to the FTC in 2010 for failing to adequately disclose the $79 fee associated with the credit monitoring services offered on ConsumerInfo.com.
While there are other credit reporting bureaus, these three are the ones that will have the greatest impact on your home purchase goals. What’s most notable is the controversies that each has faced at some point in each of their histories. By knowing the past of each bureau and educating yourself about your rights as a consumer, you can gain confidence in your abilities to strengthen your financial health. Arm yourself with information to empower yourself as you repair your credit and work toward your life and financial goals.