I received the following question last week from one of my Twitter followers and I think the answer will benefit the Minter community.
“John, I was trying to get a copy of my credit report and wanted to ask your opinion as to which credit bureau is the best of the three?
And, if there is a best credit bureau why are they the best?”
It’s actually a very fair question.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a uniform answer and it really depends from which perspective you ask the question.
Are you asking which credit bureau has the most accurate data? Are you asking with which credit bureau your credit score will be the highest? Are you asking which credit bureau corrects errors the fastest?
Unfortunately you’re not going to get statistics needed to be able to answer the questions about the most accurate data or which credit bureau corrects errors the fastest.
But, we do have some industry wide data provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
According to the FTC between 10 and 21 percent of credit reports contain confirmed errors, but that’s as specific as it’s going to get.
According to the CFPB some 8 million credit report disputes were filed in 2011 but, again, there are no more specifics.
As far as dispute resolution, most credit disputes are completed within a few weeks thanks to automation of the process.
Highest Credit Score
While those answers probably won’t satisfy your hunger for identifying the “best” credit bureau, here’s another way to go about the process.
You can see which credit bureau is going to generate the highest credit score based on your/their credit file.
That’s not hard at all.
Just go to any number of the websites that give away a free credit score and if your score is highest at Experian or TransUnion or Equifax then you’ll have your winner. And don’t worry, running a free credit score check won’t negatively impact your score.
Does It Matter?
Of course using that information to your advantage is easier said than done.
For example, let’s say your highest credit score is being generated off of your Experian credit report and let’s say it’s a 720.
And now we’ll say your other two credit reports score out at 700 and 695.
Clearly your chances of getting a better deal with a lender would be considerably improved if you found one that will pull your Experian credit report.
Here’s the problem…lenders don’t normally publish which credit report they’re going to pull as part of their underwriting of your application.
In fact, most lenders have accounts with all three of the major credit reporting agencies so they could pull any of your three credit reports, depending on where you live.
At best you’ll find out after the fact because one of your credit reports will have a new inquiry identifying the lender that pulled the report.
By then their decision has already been made and you weren’t able to strategically leverage your highest scoring credit report.
You can certainly ask the bank or credit union which credit report they intend to pull if you were submit an application for some form of credit.
And because it’s not national security you may get an answer.
But, most front line service reps and bank tellers have no idea which credit report is used by their employer for certainly loan types in certain geographies.
That decision has already been made by someone you’ll never meet in a state where you’ll never visit.
The Bottom Line
So back to the question of which is the best credit bureau.
Because there is not a generally recognized metric for credit bureau “grading” it’s simply an impossible question to answer…for a consumer.
Now, for a business thinking about buying credit report data there is a process for comparing the credit bureaus.
It’s called a credit file comparison study and it’s normally performed by large lenders that want to be sure they’re buying what they believe to be the best data for their underwriting.
File comparisons are very sophisticated but include some simple elements.
For example, file comparisons often compare the volume and inventory of credit report entries like loans and credit cards.
The comparisons also compare the volume of derogatory information, such as public records and collections.
In many cases the credit files that are the most complete with both positive and negative information are considered “the best credit reports” because they provide lenders with the most information on which to base their decisions.
John Ulzheimer is the Credit Expert at CreditSesame.com, and a credit blogger at SmartCredit.com, Mint.com, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. You can follow John on Twitter here.