When you apply for a card, the issuer pulls your credit report from Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. Which one it uses can make a big difference.
Almost every time you apply for a credit card, the card issuer does a hard pull on your credit report to check your creditworthiness. The only exception is for soft pull credit cards, which are few and far between.
In any case, the card issuer can pull your credit report with any of the three major credit bureaus — or even all of them. This means that your credit report could come from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion or any combination of these bureaus.
Unless you’ve set up alerts that immediately notify you about changes to your credit report, though, you won’t know — at least right away — which report a card issuer used to decide on your application. This begs the question: Which credit bureaus do each of the major card issuers actually use to check your credit?
Read on to find out how and when you can find out which credit bureau a card issuer used and why it matters.
How do you know which card bureau an issuer uses?
All of the major card issuers claim to use all three credit bureaus when checking an applicant’s credit report. However, they may use individual bureaus more than others, and they typically pull only one credit report when you apply for a card. Credit card issuers also consider this kind of data proprietary information, so they won’t disclose any specific information.
Also note that you find out which bureau a card issuer used after you apply, but only if you’re denied. If a card issuer approves your application, the company isn’t legally obligated to inform you which credit bureau it used. However, if the issuer rejects your application, you’ll find out the identity of the bureau used to make the decision when you receive the issuer’s “adverse action notice.” According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), this notice must also include the reason your credit card application was denied.
This means that, if a credit card issuer pulls your Experian credit report and denies your application due to your payment history, you’ll get a notice that explains it in detail.
What’s the mystery behind which bureaus are used by card issuers?
While it would be nice if credit card issuers would disclose which credit bureaus they use most often ahead of time, credit expert John Ulzheimer says he understands why some card issuers might balk at divulging which credit bureaus they rely on.
“I can see some card issuers being hesitant to disclose which bureau they use for card underwriting because consumers are often coached to apply with a lender that pulls the credit report where their score is the highest. It’s a rudimentary way to game the system, to some extent,” he says.
“This isn’t national security. But they are certainly not required to disclose that information to a potential applicant,” Ulzheimer adds.
A card issuer typically picks one report from one bureau when deciding on a credit card application, he says. Why? Pulling reports from all three credit bureaus for every application would be too costly.
Ulzheimer says a card issuer chooses a bureau based, in part, on what type of agreement it has with that bureau. These contracts almost always include a commitment to buy a certain number of reports from it, he says.
Also note that the information the card issuer requests and receives can vary. When a card issuer buys a credit report, it might pull all of an applicant’s available data or only certain data, such as an applicant’s credit score, according to Ulzheimer. A card issuer instantly receives this data electronically.
Why does this matter to consumers?
If it were up to a credit card applicant to decide, they obviously would want a card issuer to pull a report that contains the most favorable information.
However, an applicant has no say in the matter. Therefore, a card issuer could pull a person’s credit report from Experian that shows a credit score of 680, while both Equifax and TransUnion show scores above 700. Because each credit bureau might contain different information and score a person’s credit accordingly, having different scores with each bureau is actually very common.
As such, the Experian report indicating a credit score of 680 might lead to less desirable terms, such as a higher APR for a credit card.
Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com, says which credit bureau is used also might come into play if you’ve set up a credit freeze with one bureau but not the two others.
Furthermore, he says, one or more credit bureaus might supply different information that could help or hinder your ability to get credit. For example, there might be an error on one or more credit reports. And sometimes credit bureaus report legitimate information differently. It’s possible that some accounts and inquiries might vary from bureau to bureau as well.
Since you never know which credit bureau will be used when you apply for a credit card, your best bet is always staying on top of your credit and your reports. This means checking your credit reports for errors and issues regularly, as well as disputing any incorrect negative information you find.
Fortunately, everyone can check their credit reports for free from all three credit bureaus with the website AnnualCreditReport.com. Doing so can help you see which accounts you have open, the balances you currently owe, your payment history and more.
Taking this step can help you improve your chances at approval any time you apply for a new credit card, yet it can also help you spot the signs of identity theft early on.