History of Credit Bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion & Innovis

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Did you know that TransUnion started as a parent holding company for a railcar leasing company? Or that Experian is not based in the United States? I started reading about the history of some of the credit bureaus and was fascinated with what I found. For example, did you know Experian was founded in 1980 while Equifax was founded in 1899?

Read on to find out more about the major credit reporting agencies.


Equifax LogoEquifax is the oldest of the three bureaus, having been founded in 1899 as Retail Credit Company. It began as two brothers, Cator and Guy Woolford, keeping a list of customers and their creditworthiness for their local Retail Grocer’s Association. He would sell the book to other merchants in the association and credit reporting was born. They eventually settled on Atlanta, Georgia as their home and founded the Retail Credit Company.

By the 1960’s, when TransUnion was formed, Retail Credit Company was one of the largest credit bureaus with data on millions of Americans and Canadians. After years of criticism of the credit reporting industry in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Congress passed the Fair US Credit Reporting Act to regulate the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information. It is believed that Retail Credit Company changed its name to Equifax to improve its image.

Equifax is based out of Atlanta, Georgia.


Experian LogoExperian began as CCN Systems in 1980, making it the youngest of the three bureaus. It’s only the first one founded outside of the United States, as its birthplace was in Nottingham, England. It acquired a US presence by purchasing TRW Information Services in 1996. TRW Information Services was a subsidiary of TRW, also one known as Thompson Ramo Wooldridge Inc., a conglomerate that included defense, which was acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002.

CCN Systems was established by Experian’s former parent company, GUS, and was to provide internal credit checking services to other parts of GUS, most likely the Home Retail Group. In late 2006, GUS completed the demerger of Experian and Home Retail Group.

Experian is based out of Dublin, Ireland.


TransUnion LogoIn 1968, TransUnion was created as the parent holding company of Union Tank Car Company. Originally they manually collected business intelligence information about consumers. One year later, they acquired the Credit Bureau of Cook County (CBCC), who collected consumer information on about 3.6 million people stored in 400 seven-drawer file cabinets, and a credit reporting agency was born.

As an aside, their story reminded me a lot of American Express, which started as a shipping company in 1850 and slowly morphed into a credit company by 1958. When they began shipping financial instruments for banks, they started to move into money orders and traveler’s checks in 1882, then credit cards by 1958. You go where the business takes you.

TransUnion is based in Chicago, Illinois.


TransUnion LogoDid you know that there is a fourth credit bureau? It’s called Innovis, or CBCInnovis, but it’s believed that very few companies use them. They aren’t even mentioned on, the website set up by the government for free credit reports. Innovis was founded in 1970 as Associated Credit Bureaus (ACB) and, after some renaming, acquired by CBC Companies in 1999. I don’t know much about them but I figured you should at least be aware they exist.

Innovis is based out of Columbus, Ohio.

A little background on the credit reporting agencies useful for those trivia nights!

{ 23 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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23 Responses to “History of Credit Bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion & Innovis”

  1. Moneymonk says:

    Nice article, I enjoyed reading it. I thought credit reports came out in the 80s about the same time credit cards started to explode.

    I learned a lot today

  2. zapeta says:

    I didn’t know there was a fourth bureau or that some of these companies have been around that long. Interesting to know a little about these companies collecting data about us.

  3. Interesting article. I had no idea that there was a 4th bureau!

  4. Interesting information. Had no clue Experian was not based in the US.

  5. daemondust says:

    Nice story. There’s also ChexSystems reporting on your check bouncing habits and LexisNexis keeping records on just about everything in your life. If you’ve ever had a background check run against you, it was probably done through LexisNexis.

  6. Great background on the credit bureaus. I was completely unaware of Innovis. I have heard of other bureaus that are not as popular and generally not used. So I appreciate the information.

  7. Anybody want to venture to highlight the business model of credit bureaus? I’d be fascinated to understand their cost and revenue stream.

  8. eric says:

    I like these trivia posts 😀

  9. Patrick says:

    Interesting article. Never knew how each of the credit bureaus were created. I also have never heard of Innovis.

  10. David says:

    OLDE is a consortium of Experian, Equifax, Transunion, and Innovis that created e-OSCAR (Online Solution for Complete and Accurate Reporting – OSCAR, get it?), an online system designed to process Automated Credit Dispute Verifications (ACDVs) and Automated Universal Data forms (AUDs), the transfer of the Data between the Data Furnishers (DFs) and the Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA/NCRA). As I have recently learned, the system is anything but what the name implies.

  11. SBG says:

    If there is one enity that has done more harm to the American working middle class, It’s these three companies. These companies shpuld be banned and all assets givin to all they have hurt!!!!!!!!11

    • fearlesseagle says:

      They never take into account the person who pays their bills on time every month and then loses their job due to a lay off. Missed payment next thing you know your screwed for life.

    • RBC says:

      I agree that these bureaus have done more harm than good for every person alive today.I bought three cars,had several personal loans,wallet ful of credit cards and never had to go thru a credit bureau first. Todays people can’t do or get anything without this place, and Many are not being treated fairly. At least 75% of the US citizens are turned down for mortgage loans,this is so discusting
      for a country….

  12. Kiimberly Harris says:

    I really think itss terrible how a credit bureau can dictate you lief and that your whol world is based on a credit score. If President Obama really wanted to help the American people he who get rid of creidt bureaus, they don’t work and they keep hard working people from getting the things they needs deserve, there again another prime example of the middle class getting screwed. Credit bureaus don’t care about people only numbers and the credit cards companies, banks etc. do not care about people, someone with the worst credit score can be the best at paying back a bill, however you are punished for mistakes, so but we are human and things happen. Why should hard working people be punished there whole life for a few mistakes. I realy don’t do business who sees me as a credit score and not a person. Shame on our government for treating its people so poorly for mistake. Again creidt scores anoth prime example of the middle class poor.

  13. Cora says:

    It used to be that lenders wanted to know if you owned your own home and had money in the bank. Today, those things don’t earn you a “score”. In fact, it works against you if you don’t have a mortgage and a bunch of revolving credit cards.

  14. LINDA says:

    I Think That all The Hard Working People In The USA Are Being Treated Unjustly. I Have Been Trying To Refinance From An “ARM” Rate To A Fixed Rate Or Get An Equity Line Of Credit On My Home. Each Application Cannot Be Completed in “30” Days. It Is An Impossibility! I Don’t Think That They Really want to loan you the money, So They Drag It Out As Long As Possible So When You Are Turned Down & It Is Over The 30 Day Period. If You Apply Elsewhere You ” Now Have 2″ “Hard Hits” On Your Credit Report, Which Lowers Your Credit Score.

    It Is An Unfair Practice & I Am Sure I Am Not
    The Only Who Has Suffered From Their Unfair Practices!

    Who Is Out There To Protect Us?

    I Have Tried To Contact Experion But They Want $29.99? Just To Be Able To Speak To Someone. Probably To Tell You They Cannot Help! SORRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    They Have No Intention Of Having A “Customer Service Line” To Discuss The Problem You Are
    Trying To Deal With!

    The Entire System SUCKS!!!!!

    Where Are Our Legislators When We Need Them?

  15. linda kelly says:

    This is a great article. I think it should include a brief history of the Mercantile Agency which was the forerunner to Dun and Bradstreet, today’s leading commercial credit reporting agency.

  16. Paty says:

    I still think that the credit reporting agencies hurt more than help. I have a two year old BK which was born out of necessity. I want to buy a second location to my business for a mere $70K but am being turned down regardless because of the BK. I own one business, building and all equipment outright, have only a small mortgage left on our home, and two vehicles (30K total), but no bank will even consider this because of the BK which will hurt me for another 8 years. Where is the trust in humans, the ability to look beyond a number or one event or even the reasons behind them. This is why our nation is suffering. All due to those reporting agencies.

  17. us says:

    seriously…who would say they are excited or bemused by a credit companies’s hostory?…only the fox who is running the hen house would say such a thing.

    Credit reporting has become a illustrious and lucrative business for big communist zionist neo-conservative, and mostly jewish bankers…wake up sheeple…how the hell did we allow such a crinminal cartle, to manage us like cattle- or goyim/gentile as the jews kindly refer us to!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I think they should never have been started in the first place, In the good old days people just needed a handshake and their word. This crap is just to get more info.people .Currently there is no such thing as a Free credit report! I’ve contacted Trasunion twice in the past several weeks, and paid the fee to get My Credit scores and all I get is the run around that they can’t find my file, even though I sent them a copy of my Drivers License, a copy of my Vet’s Card, A copy of a gun permit, and a copy of my Bank statement.My bank Statement was 1 mo. old

  19. Works For a Bureau says:

    There are more than 4. A lot more.

  20. JJ Bowers says:

    Ahh yes, credit bureaus, one of the best government created tracking tools that exists and the ability to screw people with WAY to much power given to them.

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