Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?

Your credit scores are important. After all, your scores are the key to getting the most competitive financing and interest rates you can qualify for. So it’s understandable that you might wonder, “Does checking your credit score lower it?”

The answer is yes and no, depending on who is pulling your credit. Find out how credit score inquiries are classified and which types cause a negative impact, so you can keep your scores from taking an unnecessary hit.

Check your own credit often

If you’re wondering whether it’s okay to check your own credit, the answer is “yes”. Checking your own credit will not affect your scores – and it’s important to review your credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus – TransUnion®, Equifax® and Experian® – regularly for a variety of reasons.

First, monitoring your credit scores can alert you to any changes. For example, a sudden drop in your scores can indicate identity theft: Someone applied for credit in your name, used the credit and didn’t make payments.

Or it could be that one of your creditors reported incorrect information to the credit bureaus,  like accounts with an incorrect credit limit or current balance.  Unfortunately, one in five consumers has an error on their credit report that makes them look like more of a credit risk than they are, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Finally, you can check your credit scores periodically if you’re trying to wipe out debt. Seeing your scores go up as you pay off debt can be a powerful motivator to keep working toward your goals of being debt free.

Hard vs. soft inquiries

A number of people and entities have access to your credit history without your explicit written permission, through the permissible purpose section of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These people and entities include creditors, debt collectors, insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, utility companies and landlords.

But if a prospective employer wants to check your credit as a condition of a job offer, you must give written permission.

Credit inquiries are classified as hard or soft, depending on who requests access. Hard inquiries are the ones you need to worry about because they can affect your credit scores.

Here’s more information on credit inquiries:

Examples of hard and soft credit inquiries

To see who has requested access to your credit, look for the section on your credit reports that lists the inquiries.

Here’s a look at some examples of hard inquiries:

  • Collection agency
  • Lenders: when you want to borrow money
  • Creditors: when you apply for credit
  • Cell phone company: when you apply for a contract

Here are some examples of soft inquiries:

  • Pre-approval offers for credit: you aren’t applying for credit
  • Employment credit check
  • Checking your own credit

How inquiries affect your score: VantageScore® vs. FICO®

Although both soft and hard inquiries show up on your credit reports, only hard inquiries have an impact on your credit scores.  Although VantageScore and FICO both ding your credit scores for hard inquiries, other factors, like payment history, are more influential when it comes to credit score calculation.

VantageScore

VantageScore weighs credit behaviors in one of four categories:

  • Extremely influential
  • Highly influential
  • Moderately influential
  • Less Influential

With VantageScore, credit inquiries fall in the less influential category, which means they will have a minor effect on your credit scores that typically shouldn’t last more than a few months.

FICO

One hard inquiry can cause a deduction of fewer than five points off your credit scores within the FICO scoring model. But inquiries can weigh more if you have only a few accounts or a limited credit history.

Effect of Multiple Hard Inquiries

At times, you might apply for credit from multiple sources within a short period, which could potentially lower your credit scores.

Both VantageScore and FICO will count these as one inquiry, however, as long as the inquiries meet their specific credit criteria and are completed within a designated time frame.  VantageScore looks at all types of credit inquiries, including when you apply for credit cards. But FICO only counts auto loans, student loans and home loans in their “de-duplication” process.

The credit scoring models also differ in the time frame they consider relating to multiple inquiries. For example, VantageScore focuses on inquiries within a 14-day span when considering multiple credit inquiries as one, whereas FICO uses a 45-day range.

It’s important to pay close attention to the type of credit you apply for and when you apply for it, especially if you’re rate shopping for the best deal. If your credit scores are borderline, a deduction of a few points can land you in a lower “credit-score tier” and potentially cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars due to higher interest rates.

How long hard inquiries stay on your credit reports

Hard inquiries can stay on your credit reports for just over two years, but their impact to your credit scores weakens over time.

Soft inquiries, which aren’t considered as being related to opening new credit, are only visible to you. The only exception is that insurance companies can sometimes see inquiries from other insurance companies. Soft inquiries have zero impact on your credit scores.

How to minimize the impact of hard credit inquiries

You can’t stop your credit scores from taking at least a minor hit when you apply for new credit, but you can take steps to minimize the impact. Here are some strategies to consider.

Consider Future Credit Shopping You Might Do

If you’re in the market to buy a new home within the next few months, you might want to hold off on opening any new lines of credit until after your mortgage loan has been approved, or at least avoid applying for new credit in the six months before submitting a mortgage loan application. This is especially true if your credit scores are borderline or you have a lot of credit lines open already.

When Rate Shopping, Make Sure to Group Credit Inquiries

It’s common for consumers to compare offers when shopping for a car or home, and credit scoring models recognize that fact. As long as you keep multiple inquiries within a 14-day window for VantageScore credit scoring purposes and within a 45-day window for FICO, they may count as a single inquiry.

Use Soft Inquiries When Possible

In some situations, you might be able to use a soft inquiry in place of a hard one. For example, if you try to rent a car with a debit card, the rental company will likely want to check your credit. Renting with a debit instead of a credit card is a red flag that your credit might not be good.  Ask the rental company if you can pull a copy of your own credit report and submit it rather than having them do a hard credit check.

Work to Improve Your Credit

The better your credit scores are, the less impact hard inquiries will have. If you haven’t already, commit to a habit of consistent, on-time payments and other responsible credit behavior to strengthen your score.

Ask About Alternatives

Sometimes, a credit check might be unnecessary if you can provide other information that proves you’re a good credit risk. For example, if you’re renting a house or apartment, you could ask to pay a few months rent in advance or double your deposit. You could also request to document your income through pay stubs, bank statements and tax returns instead of having your credit checked.

How to dispute hard credit inquiries

If a hard inquiry was legally performed, you’re not going to be able to get it removed from your credit reports. But if your credit was pulled in error or without your required permission, you can dispute the inquiry to have it removed from your file.

Be aware that one situation where your credit might have been pulled without your permission is if someone applied for credit in your name.

To keep yourself informed about inquiries to your credit, you’ll need to check your credit reports on a regular basis. Keep in mind that if you applied with a mortgage or auto broker, it might have shopped various creditors for the best rates. Rate shopping, as a result of credit you applied for, is not the basis for dispute.

If you see any hard inquiries on your reports that don’t involve a credit request you initiated, however, you’ll need to take the next step by contacting the credit bureaus to have the misinformation corrected.

All three credit bureaus –TransUnion, Equifax and Experian – allow you to file a dispute online or by mail. You can find out more information by visiting the credit bureau’s website.

The Bottom Line

Anytime you want to check your credit scores, you don’t have to worry about them taking a hit. It’s only when you apply for credit or a loan that your scores will temporarily decline.

As long as you have good credit, you don’t need to worry about an occasional credit inquiry. If you have borderline credit, however, you’ll need to use some of the strategies mentioned to minimize the impact on your scores.

It’s a good idea to regularly monitor your credit scores and reports for changes and unauthorized activity. Would you like to know about a product that can help you with credit monitoring? Let us know in the comments.

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