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When you reach adulthood, you start hearing about your credit score more and more. Suddenly, everyone from employers to potential landlords and credit card lenders wants to know what your score is. But do you know what your score is? And will checking it yourself have any effect on your score like it does when lenders check?
The short answer is, no, checking your score shouldn’t affect it at all. And checking it is often free through a variety of companies.
- Checking your credit score and getting your credit report will not hurt your credit score in any way.
- Regularly checking your credit score can actually help your score if you see where you can improve or if you find and dispute any errors.
- When lenders, landlords, or employers pull your credit from the bureaus, this results in a hard check which can hurt your credit score.
Best Way To Check Your Credit Score Without Hurting It
If you've been hesitant to check your credit score for fear of hurting it, fear not. Contrary to popular belief, checking your credit score is what’s known as a “soft inquiry” and has no impact on your score.
You can check your credit score without lowering it (almost) whenever you’d like. With free sources from credit bureaus, online companies, banks, and more, there’s no excuse not to check your score.
A “hard inquiry” only happens when you apply for a loan or credit and a lender pulls your report from the credit bureaus. Landlords and employers also may do a hard pull on your credit, with your permission. Thankfully, credit scoring models typically group together multiple hard inquiries made within a 14- to 45-day period for the same type of credit, such as a mortgage or auto loan, and count them as a single inquiry.
The Credit Bureaus
When it comes to checking your credit, it’s sometimes best to head straight to the source of your scores: the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). Each of the three offers you the chance to check your credit report for free, as well as monitor your credit’s progress.
You can get a full report from each bureau once a year through Annualcreditreport.com. But each company also offers more frequent reports through their sites:
- Equifax: Equifax offers consumers a free credit score and free credit report once a month through its website. Signing up is a breeze and you’ll get helpful insights into how to improve your score.
- Experian: Experian also offers a free credit score and free credit report each month through its website. Experian will show you the factors that affect your score as well as give you the free option to boost your score with your rental and utility histories.
- TransUnion: TransUnion offers credit monitoring and a free credit report and scores weekly through its website. TransUnion also offers helpful information on how to read your report, and out of all three, it has the best UI experience.
Banks and Credit Card Companies
Many online banks, as well as credit card companies, now offer customers a clear view of their credit scores with built-in credit monitoring services in their products. These can help you stay on top of your score for free and without any impact on your score.
Typically, credit monitoring features available through banks and credit card lenders come in the form of partnerships with existing online services, like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Others have their own dedicated credit products.
The following banks, for example, offer this feature:
- Capital One: Through its CreditWise features, Capital One offers its customers the convenience of tracking their credit scores straight from their accounts. Customers can expect their scores to update as often as once a week and to get alerts whenever their credit report changes. CreditWise monitors your VantageScore® 3.0 from TransUnion specifically but offers dual monitoring of both your TransUnion and Experian credit reports.
- Chase: Chase Bank offers a free credit score service to its credit cardholders. The service provides customers with access to their FICO credit score, which is calculated based on their credit report data from Experian. By monitoring their credit score through this service, Chase customers can track changes in their creditworthiness over time and receive alerts if their score changes significantly.
- Discover: With Discover's credit service, customers get access to their FICO credit score from all three major credit reporting agencies. Customers also get personalized insights and tips to help them improve their credit scores over time. There’s also a credit score simulator that shows how different financial decisions could impact your credit score.
In the last decade, a huge number of credit monitoring services have popped up, all claiming to offer consumers the most comprehensive picture of their scores. Here are a few of the most worthwhile credit checking services (in my opinion):
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma is a free credit monitoring service that provides users with access to their credit reports and scores from two of the major credit bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax. Users can track changes to their credit reports, receive alerts for suspicious activity, and get personalized insights to help them improve their credit scores over time.
- Credit Sesame: Credit Sesame is similar to Credit Karma, offering free credit monitoring as well as personalized recommendations to help you improve your credit. Credit Sesame also offers users a variety of tools and resources to help them understand their credit and take control of their finances.
- Mint: Mint is a free personal finance app, originally best known for its budgeting features. Mint also offers users free access to their credit score and credit monitoring alerts to help them stay on top of their credit.
What Impacts Your Credit Score
While checking your credit score doesn't impact it negatively, several factors do affect your score. Your FICO credit score, which is the most commonly used credit score by lenders, is calculated using several categories.
Your Payment History
Your payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score, accounting for 35% of your FICO score. This category looks at whether you make payments on time every month and if you've ever missed or made late payments in the last few years.
Consistently making on-time payments is essential to maintaining a good credit score. Late or missed payments can, especially frequent ones, drop your score substantially and will stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
How Much You Owe
How much you owe, aka, how much debt you’re currently carrying, makes up 30% of your FICO score. This category looks at your credit utilization, which is the percentage of your available credit that you have to your name.
Using too much of your credit can negatively impact your score, even if you're making on-time payments. When you have a lot of debt, lenders may think you’re spreading yourself too thin, upping your risk for default. Lenders prefer to see a credit utilization ratio of less than 30%.
Length of Your Credit History
How long you’ve been using credit accounts for 15% of your FICO score. The length of your accounts and how frequently you use them will be reflected in this category. Traditionally, the longer your credit history, the better, as it shows lenders that you have a track record of managing credit responsibly.
Your Credit Mix
Your credit mix, which is the different types of accounts in your name, accounts for 10% of your score. These accounts can include credit cards, personal loans, student loans, and mortgages. Having a mix of different credit accounts can positively impact your score because it shows lenders that you can manage different types of credit responsibly.
Accounting for another 10% of your score is the number of new credit accounts you've opened recently and the number of recent credit inquiries on your credit report. Opening too many new credit accounts or having too many credit inquiries will drop your score since it looks like you’re desperate for money which can signal you’ve managed money poorly in the past.
Thankfully, credit inquiries only impact your score for a short period of time, typically around two years.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
If you’ve found that your score is stuck in the low range and you want to improve it, there are plenty of relatively simple steps you can take to eventually earn excellent credit status (which qualifies you for the very best loan options). After you know how to check your credit score, it's time to dive into how to make it better:
- Pay your bills on time and in full every month: Late or missed payments can significantly impact your credit score, so avoid missing payments whenever possible.
- Keep your credit utilization low: Ideally, you want to keep your credit utilization below 30% of your available credit limit. High utilization can suggest that you rely too heavily on credit and could be risky for lenders.
- Have a mix of credit accounts: This can include credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Having a healthy mix of accounts can show that you can handle different types of debt responsibly. (That said, never take on debt if you don’t need it).
- Keep older accounts open: Closing an account can decrease the average age of your credit history, which could negatively impact your credit score.
- Avoid opening too many new credit accounts all at once: Multiple hard inquiries on your credit report can lower your score and suggest that you're applying for credit frequently, which may be seen as a red flag by lenders.
- Check your credit report regularly: Mistakes can happen, and incorrect information on your report could hurt your score. How often should you check your credit report? At least once a month and if you find any errors, dispute them with the credit bureau(s).
- Consider a secured credit card or a credit builder loan if you're struggling to qualify for traditional credit: These products are designed to help you build credit responsibly.
- Work with a credit counseling agency if you're struggling with debt: These organizations can help you develop a plan to pay off your debts and manage your finances more effectively in the future.
There is no downside to checking your own credit score. In fact, there’s a significant upside to doing so. You can see how you can improve and keep on top of any potential errors listed on your report. You can get a free credit check through the credit bureaus, online fintech companies, or your credit card portal.