At a Glance
Checking your credit score regularly is a responsible financial habit. Your credit score has a significant impact on your ability to get credit applications approved, as well as your interest rate and loan terms. Not only can checking it help you find errors or fraud early, it also gives insight into whether you need to improve your score prior to applying for a type of credit.
However, there are some myths around checking your credit score and how doing so will impact your score. Read on to learn the facts about:
What is a credit score?
A credit score is a number ranging from 300 to 850 that helps determine a person’s creditworthiness. This score is calculated based on your credit history, including:
- Payment history
- Age of credit
- The number and type of debt accounts you have
- Total levels of debt
- Credit applications
- How much available credit you’re using
Lenders use your score to decide whether to offer you credit, as well as determine the interest rate and loan terms or credit limit you receive. The score is calculated using a scoring model, and each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) as well as different lenders have different scoring models. FICO is the most used score.
Overall, the higher your score, the better you look to potential lenders.
Related: What is a Good Credit Score?
How to check your credit score
There are several ways you can check your credit score for free. (In some cases, you must be a customer of a financial institution or create an account.
- Many financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, offer free FICO Score or VantageScore access to their customers. This can be viewed in the institution’s mobile app or via your online profile.
- Many credit card providers have free credit score and monitoring services, including:
- American Express
- Capital One
- Visit a free credit scoring website, typically offering access to your credit report, score, and/or monitoring weekly or monthly.
- Get one free credit report per year from AnnualCreditReport.com
You can also get individual credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies for free. These can be accessed either weekly or annually depending on the bureau.
Note that some sites provide access to your credit score if you sign up for membership. These fees can range but add up over time. Usually, paying for your score isn’t worth the fees because there’s not much difference in the scores they provide. Using a free monitoring tool will likely provide the same information.
Why is it important to check your credit score?
Checking your credit score is important for several reasons. First, checking your score regularly can alert you to potential problems, including:
- Fraud or identity theft
- Bills in collections
Finding these early gives you the opportunity to contact the credit bureaus and dispute or resolve the problem. It may help you avoid too much damage to your credit score, and also avoid problems like having your credit application denied.
Additionally, if you check your score regularly, you can better understand areas you need to improve. This is especially helpful if you’re applying for a loan or other type of credit, as your score is considered when lenders decide to approve your loan application and determine your interest rate.
How often can you check your credit score?
Technically, you can check your credit score as much as you’d like. Experts suggest you check it at least once every few months to stay on top of it, especially if you’re trying to improve your score or considering applying for credit soon.
If you get an account with a free credit monitoring site, you may be able to opt in to email updates on a weekly or monthly basis.
When does checking my credit score lower it?
There are two types of credit inquiries: soft inquiries and hard inquiries.
When you check your own credit score, this is a soft inquiry and has no impact on your score. Soft inquiries are also most often used when getting preapproved for a loan or credit card. If an employer checks your credit score, this will also trigger a soft inquiry.
However, if a lender or credit card company pulls your credit score, this is called a hard inquiry and it will lower your score, typically by between one and five points. If you have multiple hard inquiries in a short period of time, your score may go down by up to 10 points per inquiry. These stay on your credit report for two years but only affect your score for one year.
In some cases, a landlord may also trigger a hard inquiry before approving your rental application.
How to check your credit score without hurting it
The best way to check your credit score without hurting it is by using a free credit monitoring tool, taking advantage of free credit checking or monitoring services offered by your bank or credit card company, or getting your free report from the three credit bureaus.
Keep in mind that there are different kinds of credit scores that are calculated using slightly different models. When monitoring your score, be sure to use the same credit score and version each time. Otherwise, you won’t be accurately comparing.
There are many ways you can check your credit score for free. First, you can check your score with each of the three credit bureaus, or get one free report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. Many banks and credit card companies allow you to check your score and/or access your credit report for free, or you can use a free credit monitoring site.
Hard inquiries can decrease your score by one to five points per inquiry. If you have multiple inquiries over a short period of time, this could decrease your score by up to 10 points per inquiry. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score.
Factors that can lower your credit score include:
- Late or missed payments
- High credit utilization rate
- Low average length of credit history
- Lack of credit mix
- Hard inquiries