Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?
Not all credit inquiries leave your score untouched
No, checking your credit score does not lower your score. In fact, it’s essential to regularly check your score so you can track how different credit activities impact the number.
However, if a lender checks your credit score, that action may temporarily lower your score. Here’s why.
Types of Credit Checks Explained: Soft vs. Hard Inquiries
There are two types of credit checks: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. The chart below summarizes the differences, and we’ll then go into a more in-depth explanation of each one.
|Soft vs. Hard Inquiries|
|Events that Require Soft Inquiries||Events That Require Hard Inquiries|
|Checking your own credit score||Credit card applications|
|Auto insurance quotes||Auto loan applications|
|Mailed pre-approved credit card offers||Student loan applications|
|Employment verification, such as a background check||Mortgage applications|
|Personal loan applications|
|Apartment or house rental applications|
|Opening a new cell phone or utility service account|
Soft Credit Inquiries
As the name might imply, soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score. Checking your score is an example of a soft inquiry, and so are employer background checks and pre-approval or promotional marketing offers, like those credit card advertisements in your mailbox. These types of credit checks don’t show up on your credit report and don’t require your permission.
Hard Credit Inquiries
Each time you apply for credit, the lender pulls your credit report and/or your credit score to determine your creditworthiness, interest, and terms. That action, called a hard inquiry, will be noted on your credit report for up to two years, indicating to the credit bureaus and other lenders that you’ve actively applied for new credit.
These inquiries may lower your credit score.
If you’re not sure how a potential lender or company will check your credit, and you’re concerned about the credit score impact, just ask, “Will this be a hard or soft inquiry?” before applying.
Why Do Hard Inquiries Hurt Your Credit Score?
Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report, including credit inquiries and the age of your credit account. For FICO scores, new credit inquiry information contributes to 10% of your credit score. A small percentage, perhaps, but it can impact your score.
According to FICO, one hard inquiry will only knock about five points off your credit score for 12 months. The VantageScore credit scoring model also factors in hard inquiries when calculating your credit score, but the negative impact doesn’t last as long.
Many hard inquiries on your account over a short period may have a greater impact on your credit score. Why? Because it suggests to lenders that you may be short on cash or about to rack up debt. In their eyes, you’re a higher-risk customer.
If you are shopping around for a big loan (like for a car, school tuition, or a home), don’t worry about getting dinged for multiple inquiries. The FICO score model recognizes this behavior, and as long as you shop around within 14-45 days, numerous hard inquiries for loans only count as one inquiry.
Most hard inquiries only affect credit scores during the first 12 months, and impact lessens as the initial inquiry date recedes. However, if you’re new to credit, one hard inquiry may appear to do more damage; fewer positive credit history elements can counteract it.
Why Is it Important to Check My Credit Score?
Now that you know that you can check your credit score without negatively impacting your score, it’s time to make it a habit. A lower score may indicate errors or fraud on your credit report. The sooner you catch something, the faster you can address it.
Keeping tabs on your credit score can be motivational, too. People who checked their score 12 or more times a year were almost twice as likely to report an improved score, compared to those who only checked it once, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Discover. After all, to improve your credit score, you need to know your current number and track your progress.
How to Check Your Credit Score
It’s really easy to check your credit score these days, thanks to smartphones and banking apps. Here’s how to regularly check your credit score:
1. Get It Free From Your Bank, Credit Card Issuer, or Experian
If you have a major credit card, odds are the card issuer already gives you free access to your credit score in their app, on your monthly statement, and/or through a credit education tool. Experian also offers FICO scores to those who sign up for a free Experian account.
The following card issuers offer free credit scores to eligible customers, as of publication date:
- American Express (VantageScore)
- Bank of America (FICO score)
- Barclaycard U.S. (FICO score)
- Capital One (VantageScore)
- Chase (VantageScore)
- Citi (FICO)
- Discover (FICO)
- U.S. Bank (VantageScore)
- Wells Fargo (FICO)
2. Buy It
You can also get your credit scores from each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—and directly from myFICO. However, offerings vary, and in some cases, you have to purchase more than just a credit score:
- Equifax: $15.95 for 30 days of access to the Equifax credit score and report
- TransUnion: $24.95/month for unlimited TransUnion VantageScore and report updates, report alerts, locking tools for TransUnion and Equifax reports, and educational tools
- Experian: $39.99 for a one-time report from all three credit bureaus, along with scores from all three bureaus. The value here is in getting all three scores, plus a tool.
- myFICO: Prices start at $15.95 for your score from one credit bureau, and go up from there.
Keep in mind that you’re already entitled by law to a free copy of your credit report from each bureau annually at AnnualCreditReport.com, though the requirement doesn’t extend to credit scores.
3. Sign Up for a Credit Monitoring Service
There are several credit monitoring services online that you can get your score from, too. However, the companies offering credit scores this way may require enrollment or payment. You’re more likely to see your VantageScore or an equivalent scoring model this way, which is still useful information, but it’s not the FICO score used in 90 percent of lending decisions.
We recommend using this method only if you are interested in the other credit-monitoring services. First, take advantage of what your card or bank accounts offer, and the credit bureau-sponsored tools showing your FICO score.
Regardless of the method you choose, regularly checking your credit score and learning what’s on your credit report will benefit your financial health in the long run. And remember, you can check your credit score as often as you like and doing so won’t lower it.
Consumer Finance Protection Bureau: Key Dimensions and Processes in the U.S. Credit Reporting System