Does Checking My Credit Score Lower It?
Checking your credit won’t typically impact your credit scores, so long as you’re the one doing the checking. But if someone else accesses your credit report, it could hurt your score mildly, depending on what kind of credit inquiry they make.
And in some cases, a record of that credit check could remain on your credit reports, creating a slight drag on your ability to get debt for up to two years.
So does checking a credit score lower it? Yes, sometimes.
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When does checking my credit score lower it?
A credit score is a risk score, often ranging from 300 to 850, that creditors use to assess how likely you are to repay your debts. It can determine not only your eligibility for credit opportunities — such as mortgages, personal loans and credit cards — but also the amount of interest you’ll pay.
Your credit score is generated based on the information on your credit report, such as your payment history, bankruptcy filings, new credit accounts and how much of your credit you use.
But a credit score can also suffer from “hard credit inquiries.” These are a type of credit check that a lender might perform.
We’ll get to the details of hard checks in a moment, but you should know up front that the two most widely used scoring models — FICO and VantageScore — both consider hard inquiries when calculating your score.
Fortunately, a hard credit inquiry can cause your credit score to go down by just five points or less, and it may only stay on your credit report for up to two years.
However, this is still less than ideal when compared to a soft credit inquiry — which won’t impact your credit score, and which many lenders offer as a way to see if you prequalify for a financial product.
Credit score vs. credit report
The terms ‘credit score’ and ‘credit report’ sometimes get used interchangeably. However, there are important differences between the two to keep in mind.
- Credit report: This is a list of your credit activity such as payment history, credit checks and new credit accounts. You can get yours from the three credit bureaus.
- Credit score: The events on your credit report are used to calculate your credit score, which is reported by FICO and VantageScore.
How do they differ? Soft inquiry vs. hard inquiry
In the world of credit, a credit check is often referred to as an “inquiry.”
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which dictates when someone can check your credit and how long items can stay on your credit report, doesn’t distinguish between different types of inquiries.
However, the three consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — have policies to remove credit inquiries from your credit reports, usually within two years.
Credit checks can be split into two groups: hard and soft inquiries.
What is a hard inquiry?
Hard inquiries are records of when a lender or creditor checks your credit before making a lending decision. As noted above, having hard inquiries on a credit report could hurt your credit score.
Whether it’s a new application or a request for a credit limit increase, many of the situations that can lead to a hard inquiry are the result of a creditor responding to an action you took.
A hard inquiry could be added to your credit report when:
- You apply for a new loan, a line of credit or a credit card, and a business pulls your credit report.
- You apply for a business credit card, which may also lead to an inquiry on your personal credit reports.
- You request a credit line increase on one of your accounts.
- You rent a vehicle and pay by debit card.
The good news is, however, that like other negative marks on your credit, a hard inquiry will eventually drop off your credit report.
What is a soft inquiry?
A soft inquiry generally occurs when the check isn’t part of a credit-making decision. A soft credit inquiry won’t impact your credit scores.
Although soft inquiries could occur after you take an action, some also take place without your knowledge. Soft inquiries can happen if:
- You check your own credit score.
- An employer checks your credit.
- A company or government checks your credit before granting you a professional license.
- An insurance company checks your credit.
- A business you already have an account with checks your credit.
- A lender offers you a rate quote or a prequalification.
Soft inquiries only show up on copies of your credit reports that you request. If someone else checks your credit with either a hard or soft pull, the credit bureau will send them a credit report that only lists hard inquiries from the last two years.
When should I check my credit score?
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit score. It’s especially important, though, to check your credit score before applying for any form of credit. This can give you insight as to whether you meet creditors’ qualifications and what kind of interest rates you might be offered.
Beyond that, it’s also a good idea to check your credit report at least once a year. This way, you can watch out for any errors or fraudulent activity that may show up on your report and may be negatively impacting your credit score. (See our guide to checking credit for free to find out how to do this.)
If you find errors on your credit report, be sure to dispute the activity with the credit bureau(s) reporting it.
How to dispute hard inquiries
If there’s an incorrect, outdated or unverifiable item on your credit report, you may be able to file a dispute with the credit bureau or the company that sent the information to the bureau and get it removed.
Disputing items that are hurting your credit scores could be one way to quickly increase your scores.
Here are a few instances of when it may be a good idea for you to file a credit dispute:
If the hard inquiry is from over 24 months ago, it may no longer be timely and possibly can be removed from your credit reports.
If a creditor checked your credit without your permission to do so, it may have violated the FCRA and the hard inquiry could be removed.
If someone else applied for credit in your name, you can dispute the fraudulent hard inquiry, as you didn’t authorize the credit check. (Also, look for any associated account to dispute, and contact the creditor to let it know that you’ve been the victim of fraud.)
You can file a dispute with each of the credit bureaus online, by mail or over the phone. The dispute process with data furnishers can vary depending on the organization.
Keep in mind that a negative item will only be removed from your credit report if you file the dispute and the credit bureau or data furnisher finds that the item was indeed incorrect or outdated or the organization can’t verify the item.
Here are a few cases when you might not be able to successfully dispute a hard credit inquiry:
Declined credit applications: Since an inquiry is a record of when someone checked your account, not when you opened a new account, a hard inquiry from a declined application isn’t an error, and you may not be able to successfully dispute it.
Multiple hard inquiries for one credit application: You may also find multiple hard inquiries for an auto loan or mortgage on your reports if you recently applied with a dealership or broker. It’s not uncommon for them to submit multiple applications on your behalf, in an attempt to find a loan with the lowest interest rate and best terms. These may be valid, but you might not need to worry too much about them if they occur at around the same time.
Parent company inquiries: In some cases, you may see a hard inquiry from a financial organization you don’t recognize, but that might not be an error either. The company where you apply for credit might have a parent company, or a different associated company, that funds the account and checks applicants’ credit separately.
How can I check my credit score?
Regularly checking in on your credit score is a good habit to maintain, especially if you’re planning to apply for a loan or credit card. There are several avenues you can go through to keep tabs on your credit score:
- Use a free service: Some platforms, such as LendingTree, offer free access to view your credit score. Checking it won’t impact your score, and these types of services may also show you what is affecting your credit and how you can improve it.
- Check with credit bureaus or providers: All three credit reporting bureaus, as well as FICO and VantageScore (which produce the scores themselves), allow users to check their credit scores. With this route, you may have to pay for a plan that offers identity theft protection, credit reports and theft insurance.
- Check with your financial institution: Some financial institutions such as banks and credit unions offer credit monitoring services. For example, if you have a bank account with Wells Fargo, the bank offers access to your FICO Score.
If, on the other hand, you want to check your credit report (which determines your credit score but doesn’t usually include that score in it), you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com. This site can pull reports from all three of the credit bureaus for free.
Frequently asked questions
If you apply for a new credit card, the application will usually lead to a hard inquiry when the credit card issuer checks your credit. A hard inquiry could hurt your score and remain on your report, even if the card issuer denies your application.
If you’re about to apply for a new loan or important credit account, you may want to do everything you can to increase your credit score beforehand. In those situations, you may want to avoid applying for other types of credit to minimize the number of new hard inquiries on your reports. This could help you get approved for a good rate and terms.
However, credit inquiries account for a very small portion of your credit score, and they usually won’t make or break your overall creditworthiness if you already have a good or excellent credit score.
To learn more about improving your credit score, check out our guide on the subject.
Yes — checking your credit score is free, just as checking your credit report is also free. However, some providers may charge you for credit monitoring services.
The impact on your credit score for a hard credit inquiry is small in the grand scheme of things. After a hard credit inquiry, your credit score may only drop by five points or less.
The impact of some hard inquiries may be negated depending on when and why they occurred and the credit-scoring model being used.
Some credit-scoring models will ignore certain inquiries due to deduplication, or deduping. With FICO credit scores, multiple inquiries for auto loans, student loans and mortgages are considered a single inquiry for credit-scoring purposes if the inquiries happened within a 45-day window (or a 14-day window with some older FICO scoring models).
VantageScore does something similar with its credit scores, although it counts all inquiries within a 14-day window as a single inquiry.
FICO’s scoring models also won’t consider auto, student or mortgage loan inquiries that occurred within the last 30 days. The 30-day buffer can make it easier to shop for a loan without worrying about hurting your credit.