Does Checking Your Credit Lower Your Score?
It’s one of those commonly heard myths floating around the credit sphere: don’t check your credit too often, or you’ll drop your score a few points. I’ve even heard it quantified: “Every time you check your score, you lose 2 whole points!”
But is there any truth to these claims, or is checking your credit score a harmless (and even recommended) activity?
Check Your Own Score, and Often
One of the best ways to stay on top of your credit, identify ways to steadily improve your score, and watch for fraudulent activity on your accounts is to check your own credit reports. If you really want to have an impact, you should be checking them as often as possible, too.
Checking your own credit score does not impact your score negatively. In fact, your regular attention and diligence will usually lead to an inevitable increase over time. But no matter what, the takeaway is that you can check your own personal credit as often as you want without losing a single point.
Credit checks can be performed using free or paid services. My personal favorites are Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Experian, and all three are free. Through these services, I can not only view a monthly, updated report of everything that’s on my credit, but I can also get my FICO and/or Vantage Score in the process.
Many credit cards today offer free credit scores, which are accessible through your card’s app, portal, or even printed on your monthly statement. Some of these cards, and even banking institutions, will offer credit alerts, letting you know when your score changes, new accounts are added, or if you get a negative report listed.
Every American consumer is also entitled to their full credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once per year, free of charge. To do so, you simply need to visit annualcreditreport.com – this is the only government-sanctioned website for obtaining these free scores, and it’s the only one I recommend using. Simply Googling “free credit report” is an easy way to find spam and scams.
Lenders May Check (With or Without Telling You)
Another type of credit check that won’t harm you is the soft pull. Many lenders will run your credit occasionally just to see what is being reported, and if there have been any changes since you opened your account.
Credit card companies may perform a soft pull when they are considering raising your credit limit, either because you requested an increase or they deem you creditworthy enough. Often times, you won’t even know this has happened. Some banks and lenders will soft pull your credit in order to qualify you for pre-approved offers, only pulling a hard inquiry when you actually apply for the loan or product.
Soft pulls will not impact your credit score, whether you request them or they’re done without your knowledge. Only a hard inquiry (or pull) has the ability to drop your credit score.
Avoid Hard Pulls When Possible
There is a big difference between a hard pull and a soft pull inquiry, at least as far as your credit is concerned. Because a hard pull means that you are actively seeking a credit-related product or have otherwise given a lender permission to pull your credit, it will show up as an inquiry on your credit report.
A few inquiries a year isn’t damaging. Once you have accumulated 3, 4, 5, or more of them in close proximity, though, you will begin to see small dips in your credit score as a result. This is because lenders don’t like to see borrowers applying for too many credit products over a short period of time; doing so can sometimes signify that you have spending/financial problems, or that you need multiple lines of credit in order to spread our your debt.
There is nothing wrong with accumulating a few hard inquiries here and there; in fact, it’s healthy to get new credit-based products now and then. Just be sure to limit the hard pulls whenever you can, only applying for products you really want and for which you’re likely to be approved.
If you do see a dip in your score due to inquiries, don’t fret. They will fall off your report in only two years, at which point you will see your score jump back up.
Checking your own credit score is not a bad thing, and it won’t have a negative impact. In fact, I recommend doing so monthly, if not weekly, through as many channels as you can. By staying on top of your score often, you will learn the factors that impact it, see the effects of your financial decisions, and you can nip any potential fraud in the bud. And you definitely won’t decrease your score in the process.