What is a credit bureau? What is a credit report?

A credit bureau is an organization that collects financial data on individuals and maintains that information in a file called a credit report. The credit report contains your past credit history, such as loan types, account balances, credit limits, payment history, and personally identifiable information like name and address. Credit reports are used to generate credit scores but do not necessarily come with a score.

The three major consumer credit reporting agencies in the United States are Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. In 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) required that each of these bureaus provide each consumer with a copy of their credit report once per twelve months at no cost. In response, the bureaus created the site www.annualcreditreport.com to facilitate consumer requests.

You can either complete the request online and, in most cases, view your report(s) immediately or complete this Annual Credit Report Request Form, print it and send it by mail to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service

P.O. Box 105281

Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

What should I do with my credit reports?

Once you have a report in hand, review every line of information for accuracy. If there is anything you are not 100% positive is correct, and it is potentially harmful, submit a dispute to the bureau that provided the specific report you are review. Keep in mind that each bureau may have different accounts and possibly various errors, so each needs to be reviewed independently.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking these actions:

  • Tell the credit bureau, in writing, what information you cannot confirm to be accurate. You can use the FTC’s sample dispute letter, which outlines what information to include, from presenting the facts to requesting that the error be removed or corrected.
  • Include copies, not originals, of materials that support your position.
  • Include a copy of your credit report with the errors highlighted.
  • Send your letter by certified mail with “return receipt requested” as proof of delivery and keep the green slip you receive back from the Post Office.
    • Equifax. P.O. Box 7404256. Atlanta, GA 30374-0256.
    • Experian. Dispute Department. P.O. Box 9701. Allen, TX 75013.
    • TransUnion. Consumer Solutions. P.O. Box 2000. Chester, PA 19022-2000.
  • Keep copies of everything you send.

Experian Disputes
When you file a credit dispute with Experian, the agency reaches out to the furnisher and gives it 30 days from the date you submitted your request to respond. For Maine residents, the time frame is 21 days. When the agency receives a response, Experian will notify you of the results of the investigation. If it does not get an answer in the allotted time, Experian will correct the disputed information as you requested or delete the contested information. During the investigation process, Experian does not add a comment, note, or any other indication of a dispute on your credit report.

TransUnion Disputes
TransUnion usually finishes an investigation and provides you the results about 30 days from the receipt of your dispute—but the company recommends preparing for up to 45 days. When a customer contacts the agency directly, it does not add an “in dispute” comment to their credit report.

Equifax Disputes
Once your dispute request is submitted, Equifax notifies you of the results within 30 days. On average, Equifax resolves disputes within ten days. Unlike the other two CRAs, Equifax makes an indication of a consumer dispute on your credit report during the investigation. On Equifax reports, the item will be “noted as ‘Consumer Disputes—Reinvestigation in Process” says Meredith Griffanti, senior director of public relations for Equifax, noting in her email, “If the consumer applies for credit during this time, the potential creditor will see this comment.”

What about credit scores?

Credit scores are generated by applying an algorithm to the information in a credit report, or a compilation of multiple credit reports, to produce a numerical representation of an individual’s historical credit behavior. There are several vendors of credit scoring algorithms (e.g., FICO, Vantage, C.E. Analytics), and each has different models for different lending purposes as well as different versions of each of those models. 

Lenders may be using any one of these vendors, models, or versions, so it’s hard to know what score a lender will see when you apply for a loan. There are many places to get a free credit score which will give you a rough idea of what will be seen by a lender, but here are a few we’ve used:


If you want to see something closer to what lenders will see, or want to compare different models and versions of your score, we recommend myfico.com, which is produced by FICO directly.

What next?

If you are below 580, it may be more challenging to find a loan product to work for you, but not necessarily impossible. If you are above 580, you may be eligible for common loan programs. If you are above 720, you likely have access to some of the best loan terms.
If you had difficulties following the steps above and would like to speak to a professional, complete the form below and check the first box below your phone number.
If you want to improve your score before looking for homes and would like a referral to a credit repair professional, complete the form below and check the second box below your phone number.
If you have completed these steps and are satisfied with your current score, or are on a path to a better score, and would like to speak with a REALTOR about viewing properties, complete the form below and check the third box below your phone number.