Credit Agencies, also known as Consumer Reporting Agenciies, are companies that collect credit related information about consumers and provide this information to interested parties. In most cases, it’s done with the consent of the consumer or the consumer can opt-out of it. In the US, credit agencies are regulated by Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) passed in 1970, Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), passed into law in 2003, Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) passed as amendment to Truth in Lending Act in 1968 and Regulation B. These laws are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Equifax

Equifax (based in Atlanta, GA) is the oldest of the major three consumer reporting agencies. It collects information about more than 400 millions of consumers worldwide. It was originally founded as Retail Credit Company in 1899. However due to the fact that it collected all kinds of personal information about consumers and that it was alleged to reward its employees for gathering negative information, its public image became very poor by 1970s. In 1975 the name was changed to Equifax as part of the campaign to clear company’s image. Equifax was fined twice by the Federal Trace Commission for violating Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Experian

Experian is a multi-national consumer reporting agency with headquarters in Dublin, Ireland. It was founded in 1980 as CCN systems. In 1996 it acquired its US part of operations that was formerly known as TRW Information Services. In 2006 it was demerged from GUS plc and independently listed on the London Stock Exchange. TRW Information Services used to be a part of TRW Incorporated that had been founded in 1901. Experian seems to be the most tech savvy of the big 3 credit reporting agencies, and it continuously strengthens its position by acquisitions of Internet and technology related companies such as CheetahMail and Hitwise.

TransUnion

TransUnion is the third largest credit reporting agency in the US. Its headquarters are in Chicago, IL. TransUnion was founded in 1968  by Union Tank Car Company by acquisition of Credit Bureau Of Cook County. In the following years TransUnion acquired more local credit bureaus and signed service agreements with others. It currently has more than 250 offices in 25 countries. In 2005 TransUnion was demerged from The Marmon Group and since then it has operated as independent privately held company.

Innovis

Innovis is the the fourth largest credit reporting agency in the US. It is much smaller than the “big three” as currently its services are used by very few companies, Verizon being one of them. It was founded as ACB Services by Associated Credit Bureaus in 1970. In 1989 it was purchased and renamed Consumers Credit Associates. Then in 1997, it was purchased once again and renamed Innovis. In 1999 it was acquired by CBC Companies and since then it has also been known as CBCInnovis.

PRBC

PRBC is the fifth credit reporting agency in the US. Its headquarters are located in Annapolis, Maryland. PRBC was origianally established in 2002 as “Pay Rent, Build Credit, Inc”. While PRBC offers same traditional credit reporting services as the “big three”, it also has some unique and interesting features. It allows consumers to “opt-in” into their program of building a positive credit history that is based on timely payment of recurring bills such as rent, phone, utilities, etc. rather than debt-related payments. Since PRBC was founded, it was recognized by Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as a reliable source of information about consumers with little or no traditional credit history. In 2007 Fair Isaac entered into a partnership with PRBC by integrating PRBC credit report and Bill Payment Score (BPS) into FICO Expansion Score.

Consumers with little or bad credit histories (bancrupcy, default, etc.) should consider using PRBC as one of the tools to rebuild their credit history as such consumers will need every bit of positive information they can provide to secure that much needed loan.

If you want to get your free credit report right away you can visit government owned site annualcreditreport.com. Alternatively you can use annualcreditreport.gov or freecreditreport.gov or freescreditscore.gov websites which will redirect you to http://www.ftc.gov/freereports and will give you the same information. The reports on these sites are absolutely free and provided to you by FCRA or Fair Credit Reporting Act.