What is a credit bureau? What are credit reporting agencies?
Credit reporting agencies are companies that collect data about you, including payment history, public filings, bankruptcy records, tax liens, court judgments and the like. They compile this information and summarize it using a proprietary version of the Fair Isaac (FICO) score - an empirical number ranging from 300 to 900 (theoretically). Generally speaking credit under 620 is considered subprime, with 620-670 considered near prime. However, these are not rigid guidelines - each bank has its own lending criteria. The three main credit reporting agencies are TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Each receives data from various sources, including the lenders themselves, and report balances, payment histories and account statuses.
It is possible that information regarding your credit is not fully reflected on all three bureaus. In fact there are often cases where an account is only reported to one of the three bureaus. Often there is a small variation in the score among the bureaus. Sometimes the variation can exceed 100 points - that can have a major impact on the terms of the car loan or mortgage that you are applying for!
You should run each of the three bureaus at least once a year to check that the information contained therein is correct. If you find a mistake, have it corrected. You have to be persistant! Sometimes its worth engaging the services of a credit repair company - they may charge fees but they do most of the legwork - it depends on your financial position and the number of incorrect accounts.
Have a credit question? Ask the doctor!