Ready for some good news? If you want to check your credit score, you can do so without worrying about lowering it.
So why is it so common to think that will happen?
It’s easy to see where the confusion stems from, so let’s look at what a credit score is, why checking a credit score isn’t a bad thing, and where credit damage can actually come from.
Credit Scores: A Refresher
First things first: A credit score is a number based on a credit report that helps creditors determine how risky it would be to lend money to a borrower.
The risk level influences if an applicant is given credit, and if so, the terms and interest rate. Having a high credit score can make it much easier to take out a loan and get more favorable interest rates, or be approved to rent an apartment.
The information in a credit report determines a credit score. The following factors influence a credit score:
• Payment history
• Outstanding balances
• Length of credit history
• Applications for new credit accounts
• Types of credit accounts (such as mortgages or credit cards)
Consumers don’t actually have just one credit score; they have multiple ones. Scores are calculated by credit reporting agencies that maintain credit reports. Lenders can use their own internal credit scoring systems as well.
Recommended: What Is Considered a Bad Credit Score?
Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?
There are many misconceptions surrounding credit scores, and one of the biggest ones is that checking one’s credit score will lower it. This is simply, and happily, not true.
Checking your credit score once, or even multiple times, will not damage it. Requesting a copy of a credit report will also not damage a credit score.
In fact, it’s good to keep a close eye on your credit report and score. It can be especially helpful to review a credit report on occasion to make sure there are no errors that may cause the score to drop.
What Can Lower a Credit Score?
Certain credit inquiries made by outside parties like lenders and credit card issuers affect a credit score.
You’ve probably heard of soft and hard “pulls,” or, formally, soft and hard inquiries. Only hard inquiries—a full check of credit history—affect a credit score.
Examples of Soft Inquiries
• You check your own credit report
• An insurer pulls credit for a quote
• A company views a credit report during a background check
• You seek to be prequalified for a personal loan or mortgage
• A credit card or insurance issuer sends a prescreened offer—sometimes called a “preapproved” offer
Examples of Hard Inquiries
You apply for a:
• Auto loan
• Credit card
• Student loan
• Personal loan
Hard inquiries may stay on a credit report for two years, although they usually only affect credit scores for one year.
Multiple hard inquiries in a short time frame could make a customer look higher risk because it could suggest an intention to rack up debt.
Then again, if you’re shopping for an auto loan or mortgage, multiple inquiries are generally counted as one for a period of time—typically 14 to 45 days. The exception generally does not apply to credit card inquiries.
Consumers can see these inquiries on their credit report.
Recommended: What Credit Score is Needed to Buy a House?
When to Check a Credit Report
Consumers should consider checking their credit report at least once a year to make sure there are no errors that are hurting their credit score and that their report is fully up to date. Regular checks can also alert consumers to fraud and identity theft.
It can also be smart to check a credit report before making a big purchase that requires a loan.
Doing so can even be helpful when job searching, as some employers review credit histories when hiring.
Are Free Credit Reports Safe?
Consumers are entitled to a free (and completely safe!) credit report once a year from the three major credit reporting bureaus:
There are a few ways to gain access to these free reports.
Online at AnnualCreditReport.com.
By phone at (877) 322-8228.
By mail. After downloading and completing the Annual Credit Report request form, consumers can mail the completed form to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Note: These free annual credit reports do not include credit scores. They are meant to allow an individual to ensure accuracy and check for identity theft.
To monitor credit throughout the year, it can be a good idea to space out the requests for these free reports, but requesting them all at once is totally fine.
After you’ve received your free credit report for the year from a specific reporting company, you can request another report down the road, but you’ll have to pay for that one.
Additional free reports are available to those who experienced an “adverse action” because of their credit report, are unemployed, and certain other situations.
Recommended: Why Do I Have Different Credit Scores?
Does checking your credit score lower it? Not at all, and in fact, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit landscape. Your own inquiries are different from outside hard pulls.
What’s better than a free credit report? Free monitoring of your credit score, with weekly updates. What’s even better? A place to do that and manage all your assets, liabilities, and financial goals.
That’s SoFi Relay, an app with a wealth of perks.
Here’s another: a complimentary talk with a financial planner, who is required to keep your best interests in mind.
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