Those who are not landlords can set up a subscriber account with Experian, but the account holder must report 500 individuals per month regardless of company size. Experian also has a member program that enables companies to pull credit reports, charging a $165 one-time setup fee and a $500 security deposit, and requiring a $50 monthly minimum. After one full year of membership (pulling credit reports), this can be converted to a subscriber account with no reporting minimums. Yet the company must be in the business of extending credit to clients.

Trans Union will permit companies (and landlords) that report at least 100 accounts per month to open a member account. It charges its subscribers a $305 setup fee and a $95 annual renewal fee. It also does business with third-party vendors, since many companies simply can’t meet the minimum reporting volume requirement. The middlemen will roll up several smaller company accounts and report to the Big Three for them. InterCept and The Service Bureau are two such vendors, both of which report to Trans Union. (Both InterCept and The Service Bureau are credit reporting agencies as defined by the FCRA.)

Some credit bureaus are also unwilling to set up accounts with companies that are in certain lines of business. These include credit repair and debt consolidation firms, bail bond companies, and even lawyers who aren’t in the sole business of collections.

Since individuals and small businesses usually can’t report delinquent accounts or run inquiries without being a subscriber of a bureau or a member of some sort of association that reports for the bureaus, they’ll often turn to collection agencies and third parties-which have subscriber accounts with bureaus and report diligently.

In addition to third parties reporting account information to the reporting agencies on behalf of clients, other companies known as service bureaus scan public records and contract with the credit bureaus to provide this information on a regular basis. (Some reporting agencies own service bureaus.) This means that when you are being sued, have a judgment against you, have a lien against your property, get arrested or convicted, or file for bankruptcy, it’s likely to appear on your credit report. The problem is these service bureaus are careless and prone to mistakes such as transcribing names, addresses, and SSNs incorrectly.