You've probably thought about checking your credit score every now and then. You may be pulling your report occasionally from the credit bureaus or you may have active credit monitoring in place (recommended!). Either way, this question may have crossed your mind; does checking your credit score lower it?
We'll discuss this in detail but first a quick overview of your credit score.
Basically, your credit score shows how well you manage the credit available to you. Some factors that determine your score include how much credit you use, how quickly you pay off that balance, how long you’ve been using credit, and if you have any dings against your record (such as foreclosures and bankruptcies).
These are all things you want to keep in mind as you consider your credit score.
This brings us back to the big question: does checking your credit score lower it? The short answer is, yes and no. A key factor to this is any inquiries made on your credit. Hard inquiries can affect your score while soft inquiries don’t.
Let's go over how these credit inquiries work.
Hard credit inquiries
While it’s a little ironic, applying for a loan or other big purchase and having your credit checked will likely lower your score. These hard inquiries signal that an increase in debt is probably on its way. Hard inquiries typically occur when you apply for credit.
For instance a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, student loans, or personal loans. They also occur with things like renting an apartment depending on the rental process.
These hard inquiries (or hard pulls) will likely stay on your record for about two years. You can minimize their impact by being strategic about when you authorize them. For example, FICO scores may not even be affected by multiple inquiries if they’re made within 30-45 days of acquiring a new loan. This allows you to shop around and have multiple lenders check your score.
Also, mistakes happen, including on your credit score. Your report may show a hard inquiry that occurred without your permission. This could be identity theft, an authorization you simply forgot about, or some other error.
You have the power to dispute it with the credit bureau, or even reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Just remember that you can’t dispute a hard inquiry simply because it lowered your score. You can only flag hard pulls that occurred without your permission.
Soft credit inquiries
The counterpart to the dreaded hard inquiry is a soft inquiry. These “soft pulls” aren’t tied to official credit or loan applications and don’t affect your credit score.
Soft inquiries are more general, rather than being tied to a specific loan application. The most common soft inquiry is when you check your own credit score.
It’s standard practice for credit card companies, lenders, and insurance agencies to use these checks to pre-qualify or pre-approve you for offers. Soft credit checks are also used by employers and landlords during background checks.
That said, some credit bureaus do still record the soft inquiry on your report.
The main difference between a hard and soft inquiry
The main difference between a hard and soft inquiry is whether you’re actually applying for credit or a loan. An actual application means you've given the lender permission to check your credit for that application. If you did, it will likely be tracked as a hard inquiry.
Otherwise, the check is generally reported as a soft inquiry. This includes when you check your own credit.
So, does checking your score lower it?
No, not in most cases. Soft inquiries—like when you want to keep tabs on your own score, or from background checks—should NOT affect your credit score. It’s the hard inquiries that will temporarily lower your score.
These hard pulls are a necessary sacrifice when you’re ready to make a big financial decision, like a loan or new line of credit. Don’t be afraid to ask the person or business you’re working with if their check will be classified as a hard or soft credit inquiry so that you can plan accordingly.
The United States has three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Transunion, and Experian—which aggregate data from many sources into a single report. You should check your credit score for free every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can also check your report before any major loans to make sure you’re in good shape before a hard inquiry comes your way.
Maximizing your credit score
Now that you no longer have to wonder if checking your credit score lowers it, you can stay more informed of your credit status. As you work your way toward that perfect score, remember that you do have some say in how your report looks.
Avoid any credit missteps you’re able to control. Your score may drop with late and missed payments or when you allow your credit debt balances to grow. Closing an old account can also cause a dip in your score, as well as any bad marks on your credit report. Lastly, avoid too many hard credit inquiries whenever you’re able.
While your credit score doesn’t give a full picture of your financial health, it’s a key piece to your overall money puzzle and creating a financial plan.
Having a higher score can mean better terms on new loans, mortgages, and credit cards. These things on their own don’t add much value to your life, but they’re tools you can leverage to reach your goals.