Q&A: Does a Free Credit Report Affect My Credit Score?
Question: If I check my credit report, will it lower my credit score?
Answer: It's a common misconception that you'll be penalized if you check your own credit report. You do not lose credit score points when you check your own report. This is because checking your own credit is viewed as a "soft inquiry."
Hard Inquiries vs. Soft Inquiries
There are two types of inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. A hard inquiry occurs when, for example, you apply for a credit card or a loan. Applying for a mortgage is another type of hard inquiry. The potential lender will pull your credit report from one of the major credit bureaus and review your history closely. A hard inquiry usually knocks off anywhere from one to five points from your score.
However, for some type of inquiries, such as when you're shopping for a mortgage or car loan, the score "recognizes" what you're doing and the inquiries are treated as one inquiry instead of as separate hard inquiries. But you have to do all of your rate shopping within a 45-day period, according to myFICO.com.
A soft inquiry doesn't impact your score at all. One example, as already mentioned, is when you check your own credit report. Another example of a soft inquiry is when a lender checks your report to determine if you qualify to receive a pre-approved offer for a credit card. But if you actually apply for the card, the lender would do a hard inquiry and examine your credit more closely.
So you can feel free to check your reports regularly without any worries about your score. In fact, checking your report regularly can actually help protect your score.
How to Check Your Credit Reports
You can check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official site (recognized by Federal Law) to get your free annual credit reports. Every 12 months, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You can request all three at one time or spread them out over the year. One reason you want to check your reports is to look for signs of fraud. For example, is there a credit card account listed that you didn't open? You also want to make sure all the information on your report is accurate. Errors on your report have the potential to lower your score. So checking your reports is a way to protect your credit.
Checking Your Credit Score Is Okay, Too
Sometimes, folks get confused about the difference between the credit report and the credit score. These are two different things. Your credit score is not listed in your credit report. You can buy a FICO score on myFICO.com for $19.95. You don't need to spend the money on a FICO score very often. It's a good idea to do this once a year to keep an eye on it.
In the past year, many credit card issuers have started including a free FICO score on statements or online. This is an excellent benefit and a free way to see what your FICO score was at the time. Remember, scores change frequently. But it's still a great way to monitor your score from month to month.
You can also check your free score on LendingTree. And by the way, when LendingTree checks your information at the credit bureau, it's a soft inquiry so you don't need to worry about damaging your credit score at all.