The three primary credit bureaus we all know and love here in the United States are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They are also referred to as CRAs, which stands for Consumer Reporting Agencies. Did you know there are actually 4 major credit reporting agencies all American’s should be aware of?
There is a fourth credit bureau called Innovis, but most creditors do not even bother reporting to it. Therefore, only the first three credit bureaus are essential to them for reporting purposes.
If you’d like a copy of your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports you can order what is essentially a live broadcast of your scores here.
Now, let’s explore the history of the 4 major credit bureaus.
The First Credit Bureau Ever
In 1898, Equifax was created by two brothers named Guy Woolford and Cator Woolford. It was the very first credit bureau ever to be established. Since its creation, Equifax has grown into the biggest credit bureau in the world.
Since there had never been a credit bureau before 1898, the idea behind the business was revolutionary. Cator Woolford had run a grocery business up until that point. This business required him to collect sensitive information about his customers to ensure their credit was good.
Cator figured that other businesses would probably want to verify the credit of their customers too. So, he came up with the idea of selling his customers’ credit profiles to other merchants. His original thought was that he’d make enough money doing this side business to cover his grocery business’s expenses. To his surprise, the business of selling consumer information became more profitable than his grocery business.
Cator got in touch with his brother, Guy, who was an attorney. The two of them planned to drive this business to a higher level. They formed the Retail Credit Company in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1898. The company targeted local grocery stores throughout Atlanta as their primary customers.
In the 1900s, Retail Credit Company expanded its target audience to the insurance industry. Over the 20th century, they expanded their services even further to banks, credit card companies, car dealerships, colleges, and other financial institutions.
In the 1960s, Retail Credit Company was already the largest credit bureau in existence. They had about 300 active branches across the United States. The type of information they collected from consumers had expanded as well. In addition to collecting their names, addresses, and employment information, they also collected information about people’s childhoods and marital status.
Retail Credit Company started to put their consumer information onto computers to handle all this new information and their growing list of consumers on file. Not only did this make storing consumer data easier to do, but it also allowed Retail Credit Company to share the information more easily with other companies paying to receive it.
By 1971, Retail Credit Company captured the interest of the federal government. Too many people were complaining their personal information was being sold without their consent. In response, the United States Congress passed legislation called the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It was the very first law passed which regulated how credit bureaus could gather and sell consumer information.
Retail Credit Company had trouble obeying the new law during the first few years after it passed. This forced the government to pass more regulations and restrictions. For instance, credit bureau employees could no longer receive bonus payments for collecting negative information about consumers. It had been done a lot in the past, unfortunately.
By 1979, the Retail Credit Company’s reputation was virtually destroyed. As the company attempted to change its ways and build a better reputation, its leaders thought it would be wise to change its name to Equifax. The name is short for “Equitable Factual Information.”
Under a new brand name, Equifax took off in the 1980s. It was an active competition with Experian and TransUnion as they all purchased smaller credit agencies and consumer files. Equifax was the biggest of the three, as they aligned themselves with at least 65 credit bureaus to grow their database.
In 1999, Equifax started selling credit monitoring services to consumers for the first time. It was around the time when identity theft became more common in society. Credit monitoring services were marketed to consumers as a way for them to check their credit and ensure no one was using their information to take out loans.
Equifax now has more than 401 million credit records of consumers from all over the world. Their headquarters continues to be in Atlanta, but they have operations in 14 different nations.
70 Years After Equifax Was Founded
In 1968, Union Tank Car Company created a holding company by the name of TransUnion. TransUnion was not originally a credit bureau until it acquired the Credit Bureau of Cook County in 1969 one year after its formation. Ever since, TransUnion has been active in the credit industry and 1 of the 4 major credit reporting agencies.
TransUnion did not start as a recognized credit bureau, though. It gradually grew popular over many years by purchasing credit bureaus in major cities across the country. The company believed that a national credit database would better serve creditors and consumers.
Credit companies used to be local companies in major cities. Their consumer records were nothing more than filing cards in a cabinet drawer. But after TransUnion acquired the Credit Bureau of Cook County, they transferred the data on those file cards to their national database.
In 2002, TransUnion bought True Credit. It allowed them to sell credit information directly to consumers for the first time. Ever since then, their business became even more successful. They have more than 249 offices across the United States and other offices in 25 nations in the world.
The Credit Bureau We All Know Too Well
In 1968, a major automotive electronics company named TRW Inc. had purchased another business called Credit Data. Quickly following the acquisition, TRW formed a subsidiary named TRW Information Systems and Services Inc. It would be the original name of their future company, Experian.
TRW Inc. had been around since 1901, under the name Cleveland Cap Screw Company. It manufactured screws and bolts for automobiles and airplanes. As it started manufacturing additional parts and accessories, it became a massive company in the United States.
By the 1960s, the company started selling more than automotive and electronic parts. They were now gathering and selling consumer data too. It was what eventually lead to the formation of TRW Information Systems in 1968. They collected credit information from their own customers as well as information from Credit Data.
Over the next 20 years, TRW Information Systems had millions of consumer data files on record. In 1986, TRW became the first credit agency to sell consumer data to consumers directly. They were way ahead of the other credit agencies in this endeavor.
Unfortunately, TRW experienced a series of setbacks in 1991. Thousands of consumers found that their credit reports had several inaccuracies and incorrect information on them, mostly concerning tax liens that were not real. The cases were resolved over time after several consumers sued TRW. The company settled all the cases without going to a civil trial.
TRW was determined to stay in the credit business and get things managed better. They developed a new database called CRIS (Constituent Relations Information Systems). Without any more errors or issues, TRW was valuable once again. In 1996, private investors paid more than $1 billion to purchase ownership of TRW. After that, the investors purchased the biggest credit agency in the United Kingdom too.
The Credit Bureau You’ve Never Heard Of
In 1970, Associated Credit Bureaus was formed. It went through a series of name changes over the next two decades after various organizations purchased it. It was renamed to Consumers Credit Associates in 1989 and then renamed again to Innovis in 1997. It has kept that name ever since.
Innovis is not considered to be one of the major credit bureaus by your average American. However, it made history as the first credit reporting agency to capture consumer data and store it into databases automatically. Still, compared to the other credit bureaus, Innovis is still a relatively new credit reporting agency. Although Americans will slowly transition into considering Innovis one of the 4 major credit reporting agencies.
After all, Equifax has been collecting consumer information and selling it for over 100 years. Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian all have hundreds of millions of consumer credit files on record. Most lenders and financial companies are not required to report credit information to Innovis.
There you have it folks. A deep dive into the past of the 4 major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, Experian, and Innovis. If you have information you’d like to add, questions you’d like to ask, or relevant topics you’d like to discuss, please leave it in the comment section below. I respond to all my comments.
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