Should I care which credit bureau the lender uses when I apply for credit??

“John, I’ve read articles where you use the term “strategic shopping” to describe choosing lenders that use the credit report where you have the highest FICO or VantageScore credit score. Can you elaborate and does that really work?”

Oh it definitely works. You don’t have the same numeric score across the three credit reporting agencies.  In 22 years in this business I’ve never seen someone with three identical scores at each credit bureau. It just doesn’t happen.

Lenders review credit reports along with other information to determine whether to grant you credit.  Because credit reports aren’t free, they usually review only one report from one of the three credit credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.  The exception is mortgage lenders which will order reports and credit scores from all three bureaus.  They use the middle numeric score to determine which interest rate you qualify for or even if you are granted credit but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Most of the same data suppliers contribute information to the three credit bureaus (credit card issuers, retailers, financial institutions, mortgage lenders, auto lenders, oil companies, collection agencies, student lenders, and companies that collect public records – such as tax liens, bankruptcies and judgments).  The data can vary based upon the companies that report to each, when the data is reported, and when it is updated.  Some local or regional lenders may not report to all three. One bureau may have negative information, such as a public record that another may not have.

Because you don’t know which credit bureau the lender uses, it is important for you to review your credit report at each for errors and for the highest score. This is critical if you are applying for a loan or credit card or any other form of credit,. You don’t want any surprises, which can delay the loan approval or depending upon the information, disqualify you from the loan.

You can request your free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.  If you find an error, you need to dispute it and request that it be corrected. The credit bureau has 30 days to research your dispute and get back to you. If the errors contain negative information and you don’t dispute them, you may not qualify for credit or you may have to pay a higher interest rate.

If one bureau has negative information the others don’t have, you will have a lower score at that bureau than the others. Another could have positive information another does not have.  Basically, your credit report should have the same information, but the only way to be sure is to review your credit report.  You can order it for free or you can also get a free copy when you are turned down for credit – but that is really too late.

Once you’ve identified your strongest credit report it’s time to put that knowledge to work. Start asking prospective lenders what report they pull based on where you live. You’ll find that it’s all over the board and you should have a decent list of “A” tier mainstream lenders that will pull your strongest credit report (and score) when you eventually apply. This takes some of the guesswork out of the process. Good luck!!

JRU on 60 Mins SetCredit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and CreditSesame.com, founder of www.creditexpertwitness.com, and a Contributor for 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.  You can follow John on Twitter here

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