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Credit Fact Check: Setting the Record Straight on Credit Myths

“What does a credit bureau do?” is one of the most common questions I’ve answered throughout the years – both at conferences and cookouts. Admittedly, it can be difficult understanding the different roles of credit bureaus, credit score companies, and lenders.

Amid COVID-19, it’s important for us to define our purpose and help guide you toward the right resources for financial help. As the consumers’ bureau, Experian is committed to examining financial questions and helping consumers, businesses, and lenders navigate this transitional fiscal landscape.

It’s important for you to know your financial options and how to separate fact from fiction, especially during times of crisis. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about credit.

Do credit bureaus make lending decisions?

This is one of the rare instances in credit reporting for which there is a simple answer. No, credit bureaus do not make lending decisions. Lenders – such as banks, mortgage companies, credit unions, and credit card issuers – help consumers borrow money and they make the lending decisions.

The credit bureaus are responsible for working closely with lenders to provide information that helps them make informed and responsible lending decisions. At Experian, we equip lenders with accurate and complete data about consumers’ and small businesses’ credit activity and payment history, which enables lenders to develop a full picture of a borrower’s financial health.

During COVID-19, it is important for there to be open lines of communication between consumers and lenders about upcoming payments and payment plans. Some lenders are offering deferments and other workable accommodations to ensure consumers do not fall behind on their payments. It is important for consumers to contact their lenders to understand what options are available to them.

Do credit bureaus control my credit score (and whether it goes up or down)?

Credit bureaus, like Experian, do not determine your credit score. Credit scores are calculated based on third-party credit-scoring models, like those developed by FICO or VantageScore Solutions. These models use information from your credit reports, including credit activity sourced from credit bureaus, to calculate a credit score. The scoring models are proprietary to the companies that develop them. In the most fundamental terms, the credit bureaus are responsible for compiling the credit reports. The scoring companies create algorithms that calculate the score.

Credit scores reflect the information in your credit report at the moment the credit score is calculated. The scores will change to reflect changes in your credit report. You control how you use credit, so you play an important role in determining whether your scores trend upward or slip downward. If you consistently make good credit decisions, your scores will trend upward over time.

Reviewing your credit report helps you manage your credit and gives you a full picture of what lenders see. Monitoring your credit report is as important as reviewing bills and bank statements, as your credit is an integral part of your overall financial health. Additionally, with an increase in phishing and cyberscams as a result of COVID-19, it’s especially important to stay informed about your credit report, so that you can dispute anything you believe may be inaccurate and ensure that there is no evidence of fraud that could impact your score.

Are lending decisions based solely on my credit score?

No, credit scores are just one factor in lenders’ decision-making process. Lenders consider additional information when making a decision, such as employment status, income and information about a consumer’s assets and liabilities.

In the wake of COVID-19, lenders may start to tighten their credit standards – meaning consumers may need a higher score to receive a loan. Because of this, it is important to be proactive and take action to mitigate any potential negative impact on your credit score. If you’re worried you may miss a payment, contact your lender to discuss your options.

Through April 2021, Experian has partnered with our peer credit bureaus to offer a weekly free credit score at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. This additional measure will allow consumers to access their credit reports frequently and talk to their lenders with the most updated information possible.

How are credit bureaus working with the government during COVID-19?

At Experian, we fully supported the signing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which provides relief to Americans through expanded unemployment coverage and by providing grants and loans to small businesses. The CARES Act also provided important guidance to lenders about how to work with consumers affected by COVID-19. Experian is working with lenders to ensure appropriate accommodations are made to protect consumers.

Additionally, the credit reporting industry has developed reporting standards for lenders to use during emergency periods, such as COVID-19. These reporting standards allow lenders flexibility when reporting accommodations made to consumers who are experiencing hardships due to the pandemic.

For additional questions regarding COVID-19 debt and credit relief options, view Experian’s full list of financial and non-financial institutions’ websites where you can find information on relief measures: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Credit Card and Debt Relief.