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

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 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 [3] 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 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 [4], 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.


In 1968, TransUnion was created as the parent holding company of Union Tank Car Company [5]. 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.


Did you know that there is a fourth credit bureau? It’s called Innovis, or CBCInnovis [6], but it’s believed that very few companies use them. They aren’t even mentioned on AnnualCreditReport.com [7], 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!