During your financial life, your credit score will often be checked as banks and lenders assess whether or not to lend you money or extend credit. Financial institutions prefer to lend to borrowers with good credit (usually above 670). Knowing your score can be quick, easy, and won’t hurt your grade.
Key points to remember
- Personally checking your credit score will not affect it.
- Many credit card issuers offer free credit score check services.
- Limit the number of so-called difficult requests – when a lender checks your scores – as they can damage your profile.
Can checking your credit score hurt it?
There are two answers. Looking personally for your current rating will not cause damage. Personal credit score checks are considered a soft inquiry, which is used for informational purposes only. Whether the verification of your credit score is done by you or by a potential lender, your credit score will be safe as long as the inquiry has nothing to do with a new or existing credit application. Your verified score on a credit application has the potential to drop a few points, probably less than five, according to FICO.
Tools to use to check your credit score
How do you find your personal credit score? Several services and tools are available, so make your choice:
- Order a free annual credit report. By law, you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can order your report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, calling 1-877-322-8228, or submitting an Annual Credit Report Request Form to: Credit Report Request Service annual, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Open an account on a free credit reporting website. There are many websites that allow you to access your credit report or credit score. Some may even offer credit monitoring for a fee. For basic credit checks, these sites often don’t require a paid subscription, although many charge for more advanced features.
- Your credit card provider may already offer credit checks. You may already be able to check your credit score for free through your credit card provider. Many financial institutions offer their cardholders the ability to check their scores for free, as long as you sign up for the service. Some offer tools that predict how certain changes to your account, such as late payments or credit limit increases, might affect your score.
- You are legally entitled to a free credit report. According to the FTC, you can get a free credit report within 60 days of receiving a notice of adverse action. You can also get one if you are unemployed and intend to look for work in 60 days, if you are receiving welfare benefits, if your report is inaccurate due to fraud or theft ID, or if you have a fraud alert on file.
The difference between hard and soft queries
Since checking your own credit rating is a soft inquiry that does not affect your rating, it is important to know what constitutes a serious inquiry and how it affects your rating. Hard asks, also known as difficult asks, occur when a financial institution pulls your entire credit file to determine if you are a good candidate as a borrower. This type of action can lead to a slight reduction in your credit score which affects your rating for a few months, although the strong pressure persists for about two years.
Examples of flexible queries
The following are examples of what constitutes a flexible survey. Remember that an informal request only takes place when there is no request for a new line of credit, loan or other borrowing arrangement.
- Checking your own credit. This will result in a smooth pull on your account. Since this is a personal attempt to find your score, it is not considered a risky action.
- A current creditor checks your credit. If you have a credit card or loan, your creditor may want to monitor your credit score. Again, since this isn’t a new lender peeking into your financial history, it won’t hurt your score.
- Auto insurers can look at your credit score. Your car insurance provider may initiate a slight drop in your credit score if they seek to fix or adjust your premiums. Since the mid-1990s, many insurers have used credit scores to determine a motorist’s likely level of risk, based on the belief that a higher credit score correlates with safer driving.
Examples of difficult requests
Difficult requests can cause your credit score to drop. Although they may not stay too long, you should remain aware of the number of difficult requests that are thrown on your behalf. Here are some examples of difficult surveys.
- Credit card applications require a firm pull. Once you complete and submit an application for a new credit card, you authorize this creditor to thoroughly analyze your financial history.
- You respond to a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail. The offer probably from a creditor with whom you already have a history. Because they can shoot a soft inquiry on your credit, they can use this information to determine if you qualify to their offering. Once you have sent the request, they extract an updated version of your credit score to confirm solvency.
- You request a line of credit increase. In this case, the credit card provider will establish a new credit report to decide whether or not to grant you this increase.
How often does a credit score change?
Since the score is a living record of a person’s financial history, it can change daily. Generally, your credit score will be updated as new payments, account balance changes, new credit applications, or fluctuations in your outstanding debt occur. Although small changes in your credit score may not matter much, it is important to monitor your score for major changes. Unforeseen things like identity theft can hurt your score.
Where are credit applications reported?
Serious, non-contractual inquiries are reported to the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They keep track of your financial history.
What is a good credit score?
Credit bureaus have slightly different scales for determining what makes a good or bad credit score. FICO generally considers a good score to be between 670 and 739, with anything between 580 and 669 being considered a “fair” score. From 740 to 799, these scores are “very good”, with scores above 800 marked as “outstanding”.
Knowing your credit score can be a big financial help, as it gives you an idea of where you stand with current and future lenders. Using the free tools available to you, you can track your credit, be more vigilant against fraud, and see what work needs to be done to ensure you score higher over time. And since simply checking your own score has no negative impact on your rating, you’re free to get this information whenever you want.