You know you should be aware of your credit score, but you may be hesitant to do so if it lowers your score. Discover how checking your score affects it.
When you check your credit score, this is a soft inquiry. A soft inquiry does NOT lower your score. However, a hard inquiry, which is when a lender checks your score, can temporarily lower it.
While knowing that your credit score won't lower when you check it is a good first step, there is more to know about this process. Read on to learn what does affect your credit score and why to check it.
Does Your Credit Score Go Down When You Check It?
The truth is checking your score doesn't always hurt it. Additionally, it is smart to keep a current idea of your score. When you check your score, it won't lower it, assuming you do the right type of check. When a lender or card issuer checks it, however, it can lower your score.
Put simply, when a lender checks your score, it will appear as an inquiry on your report. This means someone pulled your history.
As a refresher, your credit report is your basic track record outlining your ability to handle credit. Your credit score is the number formulated from the data in several combined reporting agencies. It is made up of several factors, such as payment history, age of credit history, and the portion of available credit that you are using.
Why Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?
The short answer is that it doesn't lower your credit score to check it. If someone tells you that it does, then they may be misinformed. Or they may be confusing soft and hard inquiries.
A soft inquiry won't affect your credit score because there isn't an application to a lender. When you take a step forward with a loan and apply, the lender makes what is called a hard inquiry. This does show on your report and can temporarily have a negative impact on your overall score.
This is a very important distinction to understand.
What is often called a soft pull or check is usually done by yourself or an authorized individual such as an employer. Soft checks don't affect your score because you aren't asking for credit. They do not always require your permission either.
They occur when a copy of your report or score is requested. Other soft inquiries are made by landlords or creditors looking to offer you pre-approved cards.
Hard Credit Checks
A hard inquiry or check is when a creditor or lender runs your report after you have taken the initiative and applied for credit.
Hard credit checks do affect your score and can impact it for as long as two years.
How Much Do Hard Pulls Affect Your Score?
The extent to which a hard pull affects your credit score depends on many factors. Most importantly, it depends on the other elements of your credit report. FICO says that a hard inquiry can drop your score by up to 5 points. However, your VantageScore credit score may drop by slightly more.
Keep in mind that these are different scoring models, and you have no control over which one your lender uses. FICO is still the most commonly used, but VantageScore is growing in popularity.
Because of the potential impact on your credit score from a hard inquiry, you want to be smart about applying for credit cards and loans. Simply put, you should try to limit how many you apply to. Take the time to choose a credit card you want, then apply for it instead of applying to a bunch and then choosing one to keep.
When Rate Shopping Doesn't Count as Multiple Hard Pulls
There are some situations where comparing rates will not count as more than one hard inquiry. This is the case for a mortgage or an auto loan, but only if you apply for each loan within 14 days.
Remember that whether this counts as one or several inquiries will also depend on the scoring model.
Does It Hurt to Check Your Credit Score?
As mentioned, it does not hurt to check your credit score. This is assuming that you are checking it yourself, as this will be a soft inquiry.
Soft Inquiries Do Show on the Report
It is worth noting that while a soft inquiry will not hurt your credit score, it does appear on the report. That said, it should not affect your ability to be approved for a loan or credit card.
What Lowers Your Score?
Understanding that checking your score doesn't lower it is important to know. But there are several other factors in addition to hard credit checks that can lower it. This happens if something affects one of the factors that influence your score. Here are the following six factors often considered when calculating your credit score:
This refers to how long you have had open lines of credit available. The older your credit history, the higher your credit score tends to be. Of course, this is dependent on a few other variables.
This is when you have paid payments on time and when you have missed payments. Late payments, especially those that are longer than a certain period, can affect your score negatively. On-time payments that appear on the report can help it.
Credit Utilization Ratio
This refers to the amount you owe versus the amount you are offered. Experts recommend you keep this under 30%.
This refers to the number of reported balances. These are for late and current ones. If you have a lower balance, you have a higher score, assuming your available credit is the same.
This is the amount you have offered. This line affects your credit utilization. When this number is significantly higher than what is being used, your score is better.
Your credit mix also influences your credit score. This refers to when you have different types of credit. Examples include personal loans, credit cards, student loans, mortgage loans, and auto loans.
This is the amount of newly opened accounts you have reported. They often require a hard check for every application. Therefore, the more new accounts you have recently opened, the more likely your score is to drop.
Also Read: The Minimum Credit Score For An EIDL Loan
Why You Should Check Your Credit Score
Now that you understand why checking your credit score won't lower it make sure you understand why you should check it. There are several very good reasons to do so, including the following:
Find Errors or Fraud
One of the main reasons to check your credit score and report is to make sure that nothing is wrong. If you notice an error, you will want to dispute it so that your report remains accurate. Even if the error has a seemingly small impact on your score, that can make a significant difference in the interest rates you receive or whether you are approved for a loan.
Checking your report also gives you the chance to see if anything is amiss but does not seem like an error. For example, an unpaid bill or payment sent to collections will be your first hint that someone stole your identity.
See What Lenders See Before Applying for a Loan
If you plan on applying for a loan in the near future, you should check your credit report. This will give you a better idea of what the lender will see. That, in turn, can help you set more realistic expectations.
For example, maybe your score is worse than you thought. That could stop you from applying for a credit card you would not qualify for. Remember that this is important as applying for a card will involve a hard inquiry, which would needlessly drop your score.
Or maybe the opposite is true. Maybe your score is better than you thought. This may give you the push you need to apply for a better credit card than you were going to.
Further Reading: Credit Score Update: How Often Does It Happen?
Have a Starting Point to Improve It
If you want to improve your credit score, you should start by checking it. After all, you won't know if you boosted your score if you don't know where it started.
What Else to Know About Checking Your Credit Report
It is likely to be free, depending on how you check your credit report. You can easily get a free report from many sources online, including personal finance websites and credit card issuers. Just remember to confirm they will be making a soft inquiry, not a hard one. Of course, you also want to confirm the legitimacy of the website before submitting your personal information.
While you can check your score for free, you may have to pay a small fee if you want a particular version. In this case, you may need to get it directly from a credit bureau.
It is also worth noting that you do not need to buy a program with identity theft protection or credit monitoring to check your score.
How Often to Check Your Credit Report
Ideally, you should check your credit report at least once a year. This lets you check for errors and potential fraud.
You should also check your report a few months before you plan on applying for any new line of credit. This will give you time to correct errors and maybe even improve your score slightly.
When you check your credit score, it will not go down. This only counts as a soft inquiry, so it has no effect. With that in mind, it is smart to check your credit score regularly for errors, so you can find areas for potential improvement.
Additional reading: FICO Score and Credit Score: What's The Difference Between Them?
Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.