The three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – supply the reports that card issuers review when considering your application. Typically only one credit report is pulled, but it’s hard to know which one. Here’s a roundup of what bureaus major card issuers use.
When you apply for a credit card, an issuer pulls your credit report to check your creditworthiness.
But which credit reports does the issuer rely on to decide whether to approve your application?
Typically, three major credit bureaus supply the reports that card issuers review when considering your application: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Normally, a card issuer pulls just one report from one bureau, according to credit-reporting expert John Ulzheimer.
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.
See related: Which credit scores do mortgage lenders use?
Which credit bureau? You won’t know unless you’re turned down
Whenever a card issuer requests your report from one of the credit bureaus after you’ve applied for a card, it shows up on the report as a hard inquiry. This inquiry then appears on the credit report from whichever bureau furnished your information.
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.”
This legally required notice includes the name of the credit bureau whose report was instrumental in declining your application.
Welcome to the sometimes murky relationship between card issuers and credit bureaus.
To offer some clarity, we informally surveyed 12 major credit card issuers about which bureaus they use. Some issuers were forthcoming, while others were secretive. Here’s what we learned.
Which credit bureaus do card issuers use to pull your credit?
American Express says it pulls reports from all three credit bureaus.
Bank of America
Bank of America says it uses reports from all three credit bureaus.
“Across our lending products, Barclays utilizes all of the top three credit bureaus,” representative George Caudill says. “We value their proven long-term stability, and the reliability of their data helps us make sound decisions about an applicant’s creditworthiness.”
The company says the identity of the credit bureaus it uses is proprietary information.
“Capital One considers a variety of factors during the credit [decision] process, including reviewing consumers’ credit histories with established credit … reporting agencies,” the company says.
“Chase accesses credit reports from all three credit-reporting agencies for credit [decisions]. However, that does not mean that we will pull all three of an applicant’s credit reports,” company representative Patricia Wexler says.
Citi says it pulls reports from all three credit bureaus.
Discover says it has “working relationships” with the three credit bureaus, but declines to provide details.
The company, which is the issuer of the Apple Card, says it relies on credit reports from TransUnion and “other” credit bureaus but declines to identify whether the other bureaus are Equifax and Experian.
HSBC representative Matt Klein says Equifax is its primary provider of credit reports, and Experian is the backup.
“Synchrony customizes our strategies to take advantage of the strengths of each bureau,” a company representative says. “Therefore, based on the applicant’s profile and the manner in which they apply, we would leverage a specific bureau and combine with our own proprietary data to make the best decision for our partners, the applicant and ourselves.”
U.S. Bank representative Evan Lapiska says the names of the credit bureaus it uses are considered “proprietary” and “confidential.”
The company says Wells Fargo relies on credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
What do credit card users say?
Melinda Opperman, president and chief relationship officer at Credit.org, a nonprofit agency that provides credit counseling and related services, says her organization’s review of online forums and discussion boards indicates American Express, Discover and U.S. Bank rely mostly or solely on Experian, whereas Barclays and Goldman Sachs depend primarily or only on TransUnion.
Here’s how the credit-reporting landscape looks for other card issuers, according to Credit.org:
- Bank of America: Experian or TransUnion
- Capital One: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
- Chase: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
- Citi: Equifax and Experian
- Wells Fargo: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
Opperman warned that this information only represents a quick survey of what users report. So it could differ from what you experience when applying for one of our best credit cards.
Nonetheless, visiting online credit card forums and discussion boards can give you a sense of which credit bureau will help decide the fate of your application.
What do the credit bureaus say?
As you might expect, the three credit bureaus decline to disclose which card issuers purchase their credit reports. Similarly, the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group representing credit bureaus, says it also is unable to shed light on the credit bureaus used by card issuers.
What’s the mystery behind which bureaus are used by card issuers?
Ulzheimer, the credit-reporting expert, 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 a bureau, he says.
Opperman, the Credit.org executive, says a card issuer also might use different bureaus based on which card you’re applying for and which state you live in.
“We’ve seen reports of Chase, for example, pulling from each of the three major credit bureaus depending on the borrower’s home state,” Opperman says.
In some cases, a card issuer might pull a report combining data from more than one bureau, although Opperman says this isn’t a common practice among card issuers.
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.
Keep in mind that a card issuer might show a report from one bureau when providing a free credit score or credit report online, but might rely on a report from a different credit bureau to evaluate your card application, according to Opperman.
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 – most notably their credit score.
However, an applicant has no say in the matter. Therefore, a card issuer could pull your report from Experian, for example, and it shows a credit score of 680, while your Equifax report puts your score at 700 and your TransUnion report puts it at 710.
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 inaccurate information – such as a late payment on a credit card account when you actually had no late payments – that could hinder your ability to get credit.
In light of those variables, Ulzheimer urges consumers to check their credit reports and credit scores before submitting a credit card application so they can fix any issues that crop up and “so they have a better idea of what to expect.”