Specialized organization that supplies information on the creditworthiness and financial strength of business firms. The first such agency, the Mercantile Agency, was founded in New York City in 1841. It provided information to businesses that were expanding nationally and were unable to assess the credit history of prospective customers in distant locations. It changed its name to R. G. Dun & Co. after 1859 and merged with the Bradstreet Co. in 1933 to form Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., the best-known mercantile agency. Mercantile agencies may provide information on all types of business firms or may limit their investigations to firms in a particular line of trade or a particular region. Most agencies provide both general and special reports. General reports, issued periodically on all firms investigated by the agency, assign a rating to the firm's financial statement and creditworthiness. Special reports containing more detailed information are issued to clients of the agency on request. Seealso credit bureau.
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