Following years of breaches and the rise of many great personal finance sites, it seems to be common knowledge that there are three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Few people are aware that there is a fourth bureau: Innovis, which may have significant data on you.
First, A Little History
Technically, a credit bureau isn't a legally defined company. These companies are consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), a term defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Two government agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are responsible for oversight of these companies.
Equifax is a public company founded in 1899 as the Retail Credit Company. Today, Equifax has more than $3 billion in revenue and is headquartered in Atlanta and operations in 24 countries. Equifax experienced a significant data breach in 2017, which led to people paying a lot more attention to bureaus. Equifax is one of the three major bureaus.
Experian was founded in 1996 and is legally based in Dublin, Ireland, with a Costa Mesa, CA headquarters. The company has more than $4B in revenue, making it the biggest of the three. The company was initially called TRW Information Systems and first entered the credit space in 1968 and became Experian in 1996.
TransUnion is a public company founded in 1968 and has its headquarters in Chicago. The company has about $2B in revenues, making it the smallest of the big three. TransUnion has shown an appetite to partner with newer startups and other fintech companies. Many top consumer sites such as Credit Karma get their free credit report data from TransUnion.
For many years, consumers had to pay to get access to their credit report files. In 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act was signed into law and required that Americans receive up to three free credit reports each year. The primary agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) collaborated to set up annualcreditreport.com to provide you access to this data.
Based on this collaboration, the size of these three CRAs, and the advertising of the site, the notion that there are only 3 CRAs developed and persisted.
Innovis started in 1970 in Columbus, Ohio, and is a subsidiary of CBC Companies, which purchased Innovis in 1999. Innovis primarily operates in the B2B sector, working on pre-screened offers, cell phone service providers, and the like and is not used when consumers apply for a credit card (like the other bureaus are).
What's in that Fourth Report
Thanks to FACTA and the numerous free credit reporting sites, it is straightforward to get your credit report and score for the top three bureaus. You can get these once a year via annualcreditreport.com and via sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, as frequently as weekly.
To receive your Innovis report, you will have to submit a request directly to Innovis on their website or via mail. They will mail you the report. After you receive the report, you can also file a security freeze, although it is slower and more complicated than with the major bureaus.
In our limited and anecdotal testing, all of the credit information and accounts one would find on your TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax credit report will also be found on your Innovis report.
What Does This All Mean?
Consumers can't do anything about their banking partners reporting their payment history data to all the bureaus (even one of which consumers aren't aware). Consumers should continue to review their reports at least once a year and ideally subscribe to a free monitoring service. However, with Innovis operating a bit on its own, it's critical that you review that report annually and whenever there is any suspicious data with any other bureau.