How to Check Your Credit Score Without Hurting It

Knowing where you stand is easier than you think

Over the course of your financial life, your credit score will be checked often as banks and lenders evaluate whether or not to lend you money or extend credit. Financial institutions prefer to lend to borrowers with good credit (typically above 670). Finding out your score can be quick and easy, and it won’t hurt your rating.

Key Takeaways

  • Personally checking your credit score won’t affect it.
  • Many credit card issuers offer free credit score-checking services.
  • Limit the number of so-called hard inquiries—when a lender checks your scores—because they may hurt your profile.

Can Checking Your Credit Score Hurt It?

There are two answers:

  • Personally looking up your current rating won’t cause damage. Personal credit score checks are considered a soft inquiry, which is only used for informational purposes. Whether the credit score check is done by you or 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 score being checked as part of a credit application has the potential to shave off a few points—most likely less than five—according to FICO.

Tools to Use to Check Your Credit Score

How do you find your personal credit score? Multiple services and tools are available, so take your pick:

  • 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 (FTC), you can order your report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, calling 1-877-322-8228, or sending an Annual Credit Report Request Form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
  • Sign up for an account on a free credit-scoring website. There are plenty of websites that offer you access to your credit report or credit score. Some may even offer credit monitoring for a fee. For basic credit score checks, these sites often don’t require a paid subscription, though many will 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 give their cardholders the opportunity to check their scores for free, as long as you opt in to the service. Some offer tools that forecast how certain changes to your account, such as late payments or credit limit increases, could 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 an adverse action notice. You can also get one if you’re out of work and intend on looking for a job in 60 days, if you’re receiving welfare, if your report is inaccurate due to fraud or identity theft, or if you have a fraud alert on your file.

The Difference Between Hard and Soft Inquiries

Since checking your own credit score is a soft inquiry that doesn’t ding your rating, it’s important to know what constitutes a hard inquiry and how a hard inquiry affects your score. Hard inquiries, which are also commonly referred to as hard pulls, occur when a financial institution pulls your entire credit report to determine whether you’re a good candidate as a borrower. This kind of action can result in a small reduction in your credit score that affects your rating for a few months, though the existence of a hard pull will hang around for approximately two years.

Examples of Soft Inquiries

The following are examples of what constitutes a soft inquiry. Remember that a soft inquiry only occurs when there isn’t an application for a new line of credit, a loan, or another borrowing arrangement.

  • Checking your own credit. This will result in a soft pull on your account. Since it’s a personal attempt to find your score, it’s not seen as a risky action.
  • A current creditor checks your credit. If you have a credit card or loan, your creditor may want to keep tabs on your credit score. Again, since this is not a new lender peeking into your financial history, it won’t hurt your score.
  • Auto insurers can look at your credit score. Your auto insurance provider may initiate a soft pull on your credit score if they’re looking to set or adjust your premiums. Since the mid-1990s, many insurers have been using credit scores to determine a motorist’s likely level of risk, stemming from a belief that a higher credit score correlates to safer driving.

Examples of Hard Inquiries

Hard inquiries may cause a drop in your credit score. They don’t stick around too long, but you should remain cognizant of how many hard inquiries are being initiated on your behalf. The following are some examples of hard inquiries.

  • Credit card applications require a hard pull. Once you fill out and submit an application for a new credit card, you’re giving that creditor permission to do a deep dive on your financial history.
  • You respond to a preapproved credit card offer in the mail. The offer is likely from a creditor with which you already have a history. Since they can pull a soft inquiry on your credit, they can use that information to determine whether you qualify for their offer. Once you send in the application, they pull an up-to-date version of your credit score to confirm your creditworthiness.
  • You request a credit line increase. In this instance, the credit card provider will pull a new credit report to decide whether or not to grant you that increase.

How often does a credit score change?

Since the score is a living record of a person’s financial history, it can change on a daily basis. Typically, your credit score will be updated as new payments, account balance changes, new credit inquiries, or fluctuations in your outstanding debt take place. Though small changes in your credit score don’t matter much, it’s important to monitor your score for major changes. Unanticipated things like identity theft can damage your score.

Where are credit inquiries reported?

Hard and soft inquiries are reported to the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They keep track of your financial history.

What’s a good credit score?

Credit bureaus have slightly different scales for what makes a good or bad credit score. FICO typically considers a good score to be from 670 to 739, with anything from 580 to 669 considered a fair score. From 740 to 799, those scores are very good, with scores at 800 and above marked as exceptional.

The Bottom Line

Knowing what your credit score is can be a huge help financially, since it gives you some idea of where you stand with current and future lenders. By using the free tools available to you, you can keep track of your credit, be more vigilant against fraud, and see what work needs to be done to ensure that you get a higher score over time. And since simply checking your own score has zero negative impact on your rating, you’re free to get that information whenever you want.

Article Sources
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  1. myFICO. “What Is a FICO® Score?

  2. myFICO. “Credit Checks: What Are Credit Inquiries and How Do They Affect Your FICO® Score?

  3. Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Advice. “Free Credit Reports: How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Reports.”