The most important credit bureau or score is the one your lender will pull to evaluate an application for a mortgage, auto loan, credit card, or apartment rental.

Nothing else really matters. An unused file or score carries no weight for a borrower.

Identifying the most commonly used reporting agency or scoring system for each market narrows down the probabilities.

Follow this outline to discover the report and score that your next lender might use.

Table Of Contents

Important Credit Reporting and Scoring Companies

The most important credit reporting and scoring companies have become household names. While the industry is much bigger than meets the eye, most lenders concentrate their purchases with the five biggest organizations.

These organizations fall into two categories:

  1. Credit bureaus who assemble and communicate consumer reporting information
  2. Scoring (rating) agencies who develop predictive algorithms based on consumer report data

Reporting Bureaus

The most important and frequently used credit reporting bureaus are the three biggest. Many other agencies provide similar services in local geographies and narrow vertical markets. However, the big-three bureaus dominate the market overall and matter most to the largest number of consumers.

  1. Experian PLC posted revenue of $4.34 billion for their fiscal year ending March of 2017[1]
  2. Equifax posted revenues of $3.14 billion for their fiscal year ending December of 2016[2]
  3. Transunion reported revenue of $436 million for their fiscal year ending December of 2016[3]

As you can see, Experian and Equifax are much larger than TransUnion. However, both Experian and Equifax figures include income from related businesses in the United States and overseas. The big three agencies split the U.S. credit reporting market by approximately 1/3 each.

Credit reports are their primary product. However, each of the three main credit bureaus also calculates unique versions of the FICO and Vantage credit scores, along with a myriad of other rating systems as well – based on the information in their files.

Scoring Agencies

The most important and frequently used credit scoring agencies are the two biggest: Fair Isaac, and Vantage. Once again, many other organizations develop and market rating systems for narrow vertical markets.

Both of the big-two rating agencies develop, test, and market credit scores that rely on information housed by the consumer reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

  1. Fair Isaac Corporation develops, tests, and markets the FICO credit risk score along with a variety of other related services.[4] The FICO score is most widely used by lenders to make underwriting decisions on applications for new borrowing contracts.
  2. VantageScore Solutions, LLC is a joint venture between Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.[5] The Vantage credit score is most widely used for educational purposes. Consumers frequently receive a Vantage score when they want to learn where they stand and how to improve their rating.

Automotive Lender and Finance Company Usage

Determining the credit bureau and score that holds the most weight among automobile lenders and leasing companies introduces another set of wrinkles. Now we have to sort through the business practices of car dealerships, auto finance outfits, manufacturers, and brands.

The automotive lending industry frequently uses a specialized credit score.

Auto Reporting

The local car dealer or the nationwide auto finance company frequently determines which credit report they will pull. The manufacturer or brand of car has no impact on the answer. The same holds true whether you are leasing or buying the car.

Most car dealers and finance companies allocate inquiries from a credit bureau preference file.

  1. Geography is often the first criteria. Sometimes one agency will have more information from smaller local sources.
  2. Price is the second factor. The dealer or lender will use the report with the lowest unit cost if the perceived quality is even between the three.

Eight automotive finance providers support many car brands. The lender ultimately decides which report to pull. The manufacturer or brand rarely matter in the answer.

Finance CompanyAuto Brand
Chrysler CapitalChrysler
Ford Motor CreditFord
General Motors Acceptance CorporationChevrolet
Honda Financial ServicesAcura
Hyundai Motor AcceptanceHyundai
Mercedes Benz Financial ServicesMercedes Benz
Nissan Motor Acceptance CorporationNissan
Toyota Financial ServicesToyota
Volkswagen Financial ServicesVolkswagen

Auto Scores

The local car dealer or the nationwide auto finance company look at the credit score provided by the agency matching the geo-based bureau preference file. The rating number could be one of the several varieties.

  1. FICO or Vantage generic score: they predict the likelihood of future delinquency on any obligation. Consumers typically view this version.
  2. Automotive industry overlay scores offered by FICO or Vantage: they predict the propensity for delinquency on secured car loans. Again, this offers greater precision.

Home Loan Lender Usage

The most commonly used credit bureau and score for mortgages surprise people when buying a house. The home loan marketplace works differently because of the much larger principal amounts, and intervention from several governing authorities.

  • Federal Government Agencies
    • Federal Housing Authority (FHA)
    • Veterans Administration (VA)
    • Farmers Home Administration (FMHA)
    • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE)
    • Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)
    • Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac)

Mortgage lenders must comply with guidelines issued by the applicable governing body regarding which report(s) and score(s) to utilize. Expect several wrinkles in the answer.

Mortgage Reports

Mortgage lenders often utilize up to five different credit bureaus in a single home loan transaction. The governing entities often require two types of reports.

  1. Three Repository Merged Report (TRMCR) combines data from the three main agencies. A fourth bureau merges the data together into a single file.
  2. Residential Mortgage Credit Report (RMCR) requires a fifth independent entity to investigate disputed items and verify income and employment.

In others words, home lenders typically use all three of the main credit reporting agencies plus two other independent bureaus. However, they pick just a single score.

Mortgage Scores

The credit score most commonly used by mortgage lenders is also surprising. Home lenders navigate two rating system wrinkles that muddy the waters.

  1. Mortgage overlay scores are different from their generic cousins. They predict future delinquency on secured home loans rather than any obligation. This results in greater precision. Both FICO and Vantage offer these mortgage-specific equations.
  2. The lender picks the middle score. The bureau providing the middle score is the report home lenders ultimately utilize. They throw out the highest and lowest result.

Credit Card Company and Bank Usage

As before, the credit bureau and score that matters most for bank loans and credit card applications are the ones that lenders will use. Most of the major bank and credit card brands have large-scale operations, which add yet another unique twist to our two-part answer.

The reporting agency choice follows a familiar pattern, while the scoring system selection veers off in a new direction.

Credit Card Reports

Prominent banks such as American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, Capital One, Discover, Key Bank, PNC, Sun Trust, and Wells Fargo issue personal loans and credit cards under their own brand name.

Since most are national in scope, they pull consumer reports from all three credit bureaus. They determine which report they will use based on the geographic and price-based preference schedule noted earlier.

Credit Card Scores

The credit rating system used most frequently by banks and credit card companies is where the issue gets murky. Many larger banks have their own analytics departments that develop custom or bespoke equations optimized to their unique products and markets.

Banks often choose between multiple scoring options based on data from the one bureau report.

  1. Generic FICO or Vantage scores
  2. Credit card adjusted overlay ratings from FICO or Vantage
  3. In-house custom rating systems optimized for each bank

Home and Apartment Rental Usage

The most used credit bureau and score for apartment rentals have yet another set of unique twists. Landlords often deal with a set of circumstances that is very different from traditional lenders.

  1. Renters often have very thin or non-existent traditional consumer reports
  2. Empty apartment units represent lost income for property owners
  3. Landlords can evict tenants for non-payment
  4. Local laws make it difficult to remove people from their apartment homes

Rental Reports

The number of credit reporting agencies commonly utilized for apartment rentals is more expansive. Many renters have no traditional credit history, but they could be trustworthy tenants. Pulling a traditional consumer report offers less value for this population.

Many alternative credit bureaus focus on collecting non-traditional data to help property managers make more educated apartment rental decisions.

  1. CoreLogic combines traditional consumer report information with data from previous tenant histories and criminal public record files.[6]
  2. Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC) collects utility, cable, rent, mobile phone, and other everyday bills help consumers establish a positive payment history.[7]

The big three credit bureaus also provide specialized offerings for multi-family tenant screenings.

  1. Experian claims they are the first and only consumer-reporting agency incorporating rental history data[8]
  2. Equifax verifies consumer identity, creditworthiness, criminal history, rental history, and employment background[9]
  3. TransUnion offers credit, criminal, and eviction histories for small property managers[10]

Rental Scores

The most frequently used credit scoring system for apartment rentals is hard to pinpoint. The multi-family rental market is very fragmented. There a few large nationwide property managers and many more mom and pop apartment building sprinkled across the country. In addition, owners must factor in expensive repairs when evicted tenants trash the apartment.

As of the publication date, the big three consumer reporting agencies promote general-purpose Vantage scores for tenant screening. The ratings do not include criminal and eviction histories. In addition, FICO does not seem to offer an apartment rental specialized overlay score.

On the other hand, the smaller agencies have seized the opportunity and offer scores that incorporate the supplemental information, and account for repair losses. For example, The CoreLogic Registry ScorePlus ranks leases by the loss they are likely to cause to an apartment community for:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Lease termination
  • Property damage

Retail and Department Store Usage

Once again, the credit bureau and score that counts the most for retailers and department stores depends on what the lender chooses. In this case, private label issuers manage the lending operation, which allows the stores to focus on selling jewelry, clothing, cell phones, furniture, home repair items, etc.

Retailer Reports

Most retail operations and brands outsource their lending function to a 3rd party who specializes in this area. The retailer’s name is on the charge card, but another organization is lending the money and deciding which credit bureau to use.

In the United States, there are eight large private label card issuers: Alliance Data Systems, GE Capital Retail Bank, Citi Retail Services, Capital One, TD Bank, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase. Most utilize a geography and price-based bureau preference file as we noted earlier.

Below are some of the major retailers. You can identify the ultimate lender by reading the terms and conditions for their retail cards. Be aware, these relationships change all the time.

Retail BrandUltimate Issuing Lender
AppleBarklays Bank
AmazonGE Capital Retail Bank
Best BuyCiti Retail Services
Bill me LaterComenity Capital Bank
BloomingdalesSee Macys
Home DepotCiti Retail Services
I MagninSee Macys
JC PennyGE Capital Retail Bank
JaredSterling Jewelers
Kay JewelersSterling Jewelers
LowesGE Capital Retail Bank
Macy’sIn House
NordstromsIn House
TargetTD Bank
WalmartGE Capital Retail Bank

Retailer Scores

The credit score that counts the most for these retailers and department stores is somewhat easier to isolate. The generic FICO and Vantage rating systems work very well for these accounts. They predict future delinquency on any account, which is most likely to be a retail or department store charge card.

A consumer encountering financial hardship is most likely to fall delinquent on an unsecured retail account first. The negative consequence is that they must stop shopping with that brand.

The consequences are more severe when falling behind on a mortgage, apartment, or automobile. The person could lose transportation and a place to live.

Footnoted Sources:

[1] Equifax Revenue Report

[2] Experian Revenue Report

[3] TransUnion Revenue Report

[4] Fair Isaac Scoring Systems

[5] Vantage Scoring Systems

[6] CoreLogic Tennant Screening

[7] Payment Reporting Builds Credit

[8] Experian Rental History

[9] Equifax Tennant Screening

[10] TransUnion Tennant Background Checks