The next time you check your credit score, you can relax. Checking your credit score does not lower it. In fact, keeping tabs on your credit status helps you make smart credit decisions.
Sometimes checking your credit score is lumped together with reviewing your credit report under the umbrella term “checking your credit.” But checking your score and your report are two different actions.
Credit Report vs Credit Score
There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you have had credit-linked accounts that report your payment history, you have a credit report in one or more of the bureaus. Your credit report shows your accounts, balances, payment history, credentials, and any negatives, such as late payments, that you may have.
You can view your free federally authorized credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, you are entitled to a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every 12 months. But temporarily, all three bureaus are offering weekly access to your credit reports.
How to find your credit score
There are a variety of ways to view your credit score. Note that the free score you get can be a FICO score or a VantageScore. Most lenders use a version of the FICO score when you apply for credit, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on your VantageScore if that’s the free score you have access to.
Here’s why it’s important to know what type of score you’re looking at: Even though FICO and VantageScore have the same range of 300-850, they weigh the factors differently. Therefore, you cannot directly compare the two scores. Most free credit score sources highlight the type of score they provide, but sometimes you have to look it up on the provider’s website.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that free sheet music is everywhere. Here is a partial list of sources for a free sheet music:
- Credit card. You probably have access to a free score from one or more issuers. Most major issuers and banks now offer free credit scores at least once a month with your credit card statement. And there are a few issuers that offer free scores to non-cardholders.
- Credit score apps. Tracking your credit score is easy using free credit score apps. Some of these apps offer premium versions, but in most cases the basic free version should meet your needs.
- Websites that offer free credit scores. Many of these sites also provide an unofficial credit report. Even if you’re not looking at a FICO score, you’re getting valuable information about your credit. Many show a rating for different factors that can affect your credit score. For example, you might get an “A” for payment history if you’ve used credit responsibly and paid your bills on time. If your payment history is an issue, you might get a “C” or a “D” in this category.
How do credit inquiries affect your credit score?
Understanding the impact of inquiries on your credit score will help you make more informed credit decisions. There are two types of queries: hard queries and soft queries.
An example of a hard ask, also called a hard ask, is when you apply for a new credit card. The issuer will request your credit report and credit score from one (or more) of the credit bureaus. This type of request can reduce your FICO score by zero to five points.
A soft request, also called a soft request, does not lower your credit score. Examples of informal requests include checking your own credit score or credit report. Informal inquiries have no impact on your credit score. The FICO and VantageScore versions ignore soft inquiries, but both score versions include hard inquiries in credit score calculations.
Thus, if you apply for credit, a firm credit inquiry will be placed on your credit file. How long do credit applications stay on your file? It’s on your credit report for two years, but the FICO score algorithm only includes serious inquiries made within the last 12 months.
There is an exception to how FICO normally handles difficult requests. When it comes to mortgage and loan purchases, the FICO and VantageScore releases give you a break.
Buy fares without hurting your credit score
Now you know that a serious investigation can eventually reduce your credit score by up to five points for each request. However, if you’re shopping for rates, you can relax a bit on how many inquiries you get while comparing interest rates.
The FICO score algorithm allows a 45-day window to evaluate a store for an auto loan, personal loan, or mortgage, but VantageScore only allows a 14-day window. The lender decides which credit score to use, so to be on the safe side, do your rate shopping within two weeks. If you perform a rate search in the window, all inquiries during the rate search period that are related to the same type of loan are combined into a single request.
Keep in mind that all three credit bureaus collect information about your payment history from lenders. Although there is some overlap in data, some lenders may only report to one or two of the bureaus. This is why your credit score from one bureau may not be the same as what you would get from another bureau.
While we’re at it, I want to remind you to review each of your credit reports for errors every four months or so. Errors happen on credit reports, and sometimes this is the type of error that can lower your credit score. So take the time to monitor your reports and make sure the data is accurate. Also look for any accounts listed that you haven’t opened. It can be a sign of fraud and identity theft.
If you think you’ve been the victim of fraud, you need to act quickly to limit the damage. And if you’re about to take out a large loan, like a mortgage or car loan, you should check all three credit reports before applying.