Monitoring your credit is one of the most important things you can do to protect your financial health. Understandably, you may be wondering whether doing so will hurt your credit score.
Checking your own credit score, which is considered a soft inquiry, won’t lower your score. However, if a lender checks your credit, which will usually result in a hard inquiry, your score may drop a few points. Read on to learn more about the different types of credit checks and how they can (and can’t) affect your credit score.
Table of Contents
Do credit checks lower my credit score?
Not every credit check will lower your credit score. Whether it will affect your score or not depends on why your score is being checked and who’s doing the checking.
There are two types of credit checks:
- Soft inquiries: These are credit checks that are unrelated to you applying for credit. For instance, if you check your own credit score, or if a creditor does so without getting your approval because they’re considering preapproving you for a credit card, it’ll be a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score.
- Hard inquiries: On the other hand, when you actively apply for credit or loans, your lender will run a different type of credit check on you called a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries usually knock a few points off your credit score.
Soft inquiries vs. hard inquiries: breakdown
The graphic below shows the differences between soft inquiries and hard inquiries in more detail.
How much does checking my credit hurt my score?
If you check your own credit, it’ll result in a soft inquiry, so it won’t hurt your score at all. What’s more, even if someone else checks your credit with a hard inquiry, it will usually only cause minimal and temporary damage to your credit score.
Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for up to 2 years, but they’ll only affect your credit score for a few months.
The exact impact of a hard inquiry depends on several factors, most notably the length of your credit history. It may affect your credit score more if you have a short credit history or only a few credit accounts. 2 3
Should you avoid checking your credit to protect your score?
Again, checking your own credit doesn’t hurt your score at all, so you can check it as many times as you want. In fact, making sure that you’re checking your credit score often enough is important for maintaining and improving your credit health.
Given that hard inquiries have a low impact on your score, you shouldn’t worry too much about them either—getting one or two of them on your credit report won’t hurt you very much.
However, you should avoid getting too many hard inquiries within a short period of time (6 to 12 months), as this signifies to lenders that you may be a high-risk borrower. FICO claims that, statistically, those with six or more inquiries on their credit reports are eight times more likely to declare bankruptcy than those without any inquiries in their credit reports at all. 2
Should I check my own credit score?
Yes, you should check your credit score regularly. At the very least, you should check it once a year to ensure that your personal information and account information are correct and you haven’t fallen victim to identity theft.
You should also check your credit status a few months before you apply for a new line of credit, like a mortgage, auto loan, or credit card. Doing so will help you determine if you need to fix your credit before submitting a credit application.
If you’ve been managing your credit responsibly and notice a sudden and significant drop in your credit score, you should immediately check your credit report and dispute any inaccurate items that you find.
How to check your credit score without lowering it
Your credit score won’t suffer at all if you’re only checking it yourself, no matter how you do it.
There are several websites you can use to check your credit score (often for free):
- AnnualCreditReport: Through AnnualCreditReport.com, you can access a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Although the credit bureaus distinguish between credit scores vs. credit reports, some of your credit reports may display a free credit score.
- Other free websites: The three credit bureaus offer credit checking services on their own websites. For example, Experian lets you check your score for free.
- Your lender’s website: If you have a credit card, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to check your score on your lender’s online portal. For example, many credit card issuers offer free FICO scores each month.
- FICO’s official site: There are more than a dozen versions of FICO’s credit scoring model. If you want to keep track of your score in all of them, consider signing up for FICO’s paid credit monitoring service (available on their website, myFICO).
Bear in mind that, because there’s more than one credit scoring model out there, you may receive different credit scores from different sites. To monitor your credit score more accurately, you should stick with the same site and scoring model each time you check.
How to improve your credit score after checking it
Regularly checking your credit score is helpful if you’re trying to build or rebuild your credit history. It can help you stay on top of your finances and keep you motivated when you see your credit improving.
Here are four more tips to help you improve your credit score:
1. Catch up on overdue payments
You should prioritize catching up on late payments or bills, as your payment history is the most important factor determining your credit score.
If you have a number of bills that you’re behind on, target the ones with higher interest rates first to minimize the amount of interest you have to pay overall.
2. Pay off your current credit accounts on time and in full each month
If you miss payments, you’ll probably get hit with late fees (on top of the interest that will accrue on your active balance), making it a nightmare for you to pay down your debts. If you can’t afford to pay your credit card balance in full each month, be sure to at least make the minimum payments on time.
3. Keep the balances on your credit cards as low as possible
Try to keep your credit utilization rate (the amount of your credit that you’re using) below 30%. In general, the lower your rate, the better your score will be. If you have high balances, work on paying them down as quickly as you can.
4. Have a diverse credit portfolio
That being said, you should only apply for new credit when you need it, instead of for the sole purpose of boosting your credit mix. As you know, every credit account you apply for will incur a hard inquiry on your credit report, and while you don’t need to worry about one or two inquiries, having significantly more can be a cause for concern.