It’s smart to check your credit score before applying for a mortgage for your dream home or financing that shiny new car, but does checking your credit score lower it? Will trying to do your due diligence hurt your chance of getting a loan?
Checking your credit score doesn’t affect it, nor does personally checking your credit report. “This widespread credit misconception fools a lot of people, but viewing your own report and score is counted as a soft inquiry and doesn’t change the score one way or another,” said Julie Pukas, head of US bankcard and merchant Services at TD Bank in New Jersey. Your score, however, can take a hit with other types of credit inquiries.
Here’s what you need to know about what does — and doesn’t — lower your credit score.
When you or a company checks your credit report, it’s considered a soft inquiry, which never affects your credit score. Soft inquiries are initiated for these reasons:
- To qualify you for promotional offers
- To ensure your credit history is still good if you’re an account holder
- To screen you during the hiring process
Lenders initiate hard inquiries when they’re considering granting a loan or opening an account for you. Here are some examples when hard inquiries apply:
- Mortgage or auto loan application
- Credit line increase request
- Credit card application
Your credit score isn’t lowered for each individual home or auto loan query if you’re shopping around for the best terms, according to the TransUnion website. Instead, these types of inquiries are lumped together by the credit scoring formula if they’re all made within a short time frame — typically 45 days.
How Inquiries Affect Your Credit Score
FICO is the most commonly used credit score. Both soft and hard credit inquiries stay on your credit reports for two years, but soft inquiries are harmless and hard inquiries only impact your FICO credit score for the first year.
FICO considers these factors to determine how hard inquiries affect your credit score:
- Number of recent inquiries
- Age and number of recent accounts
- Time since recent account openings and type of account
- How much time has passed since hard inquiries
Hard inquiries can cause your credit score to drop up to five points for each instance. You can lessen the impact on your credit score by only opening new accounts when you need them, keeping balances low and making on-time payments. You can also check your credit report regularly, and dispute any errors that might lower your score.
How to Check Your Credit Score
You can learn how to check your credit score information fairly easily. It’s different from checking your credit report, although the score is based on the report’s contents. By federal law, you can get a free copy of your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports once every 12 months, but there’s no such law regarding credit scores.
You do have several ways to get credit score information, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
- See if any of your lenders provide it: They might print it on your monthly statements or provide it for free on their websites.
- Visit a nonprofit credit counselor: The counselor can get your credit score and review it with you.
- Use an online service: Many websites couple free credit scores with credit-related service trials, which you’ll have to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.
- Purchase your credit score: FICO sells consumers their credit scores via its MyFICO website, and other websites also sell credit scores.
In addition to the FICO score, each credit bureau calculates its own score — which is primarily for consumer education, not what lenders use — and VantageScore calculates one in a joint venture with the three bureaus. FICO scores are used by 90 percent of top lenders, according to the MyFICO website. So when you check credit score information, you might want to opt for the FICO score.