Creditors are not required by law to report anything to credit bureaus, although many businesses choose to report on-time payments, late payments, purchases, loan terms, credit limits and balances owed. Businesses usually also report major events such as account closures or charge-offs.

Governmental organizations that maintain public records don't report to the credit bureaus, but the bureaus usually obtain the records on their own. For this reason, bankruptcy filings and tax liens also typically show up on credit reports.

Creditors such as banks and credit card companies must pay to report information to any of the three major credit-reporting agencies, which are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Because a cost is involved, some creditors choose to use only one service instead of all three. This can adversely affect even a responsible borrower's credit score because not all bureaus receive the same positive information about the consumer's payment history, for example, when an individual pays off a long-term debt such as a mortgage.

Most creditors report to the bureaus on a monthly basis, although different businesses file on different days, which means that an individual's credit report is continually updated. Negative information, such as late or missed payments, remains on an individual's report for seven years, after which the credit bureaus automatically remove the data.

Debtors who find inaccurate information on their credit reports can file a dispute with the credit bureau or with the creditor who provided the incorrect data. Most claims must be investigated within 30 days, and if the claim is substantiated, all three bureaus must remove the negative report.