Does checking your credit score lower it?

If you’re worried that pulling your credit will lower your credit scores, don’t be. That’s because checking your own credit is a soft inquiry, and it doesn’t count against you. Actually, it’s a good idea to regularly check your credit reports and credit scores.

If you monitor your credit, you could catch errors on your credit reports that might otherwise lower your credit scores—and be aware of potential fraud or identity theft. And having a good credit score may help to get the job, home, insurance, loan or credit card you want. 

Key takeaways

  • Checking your credit results in a soft inquiry and does not lower your credit score.
  • Monitoring your credit regularly can uncover errors and potential fraud or identity theft.
  • Factors that affect your credit score include payment history, credit history, and how much available credit you’re using.

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Understanding soft vs. hard credit inquiries

When it comes to credit reviews, there are two ways to request information: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Sometimes referred to as hard and soft pulls, the type of inquiry determines whether it affects your credit scores.

Soft inquiries

Soft inquiries can appear on your credit report for up to two years, but they don’t affect your credit scores because they aren’t tied to lending you money.

They typically are done by:

  • Employers to verify your credit 
  • Insurance companies to give you policy quotes
  • Credit monitoring companies to check your activity
  • Companies to promote a loan, insurance, credit card or credit limit increase

Hard inquiries

When a lender looks at your credit history to decide whether to lend you money or approve you for a credit card, that’s considered a hard inquiry or hard pull.

Hard inquiries might temporarily lower your credit scores. They typically affect your credit scores for a year, but they can stay on your credit reports for up to two years.

Hard inquiries are generally done when you apply for: 

  • Credit cards
  • Car loans
  • Mortgages
  • Personal loans or lines of credit

Because applying for a lot of credit in a short amount of time can affect your credit, you might want to consider waiting between credit applications. One exception is when you’re looking for the best interest rate on a mortgage or auto loan and multiple lenders check your credit around the same time. Credit bureaus will usually consider these mortgage or auto loan inquiries as one inquiry if they’re done in a short amount of time—typically 14 to 45 days. But multiple credit card applications will count as individual hard inquiries, even if they’re done on the same day.

Keep in mind, credit inquiries can also be done when you apply for things like a new apartment or utilities. So it’s a good idea to ask whether or not they could affect your credit.

How to check your credit score without hurting it

To check your credit score, there are a few options that might include services through a lender or credit counselors.

CreditWise from Capital One provides your VantageScore® 3.0 credit score and monitors credit reports from TransUnion® and Experian®, two of the three major credit bureaus. It’s free for everyone—whether you have a Capital One card or not—and using it won’t hurt your credit scores.

And if you want to check your credit reports, you can get a free copy from each of the three major credit bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

A phone screen has CreditWise from Capital One open, showing a VantageScore credit score.

Why you have different credit scores

It may help to know that you typically have multiple credit scores. That’s because there are various credit-scoring companies and models. FICO® and VantageScore are two well-known credit-scoring companies. Keep in mind, your credit scores can also fluctuate depending on when they are calculated.

What’s a good credit score?

You may ask: What’s a good credit score? It can depend on the credit-scoring company. For example, FICO and VantageScore have slightly different ranges and categories. 

FICO says its credit score ranges are:

  • Exceptional: 800-850
  • Very good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor: 300-579
A graphic shows credit-scoring company FICO’s credit score ranges and if they’re considered exceptional, very good, good, fair or poor.

VantageScore says its credit score ranges are:

  • Excellent: 781-850
  • Good: 661-780
  • Fair: 601-660
  • Poor: 500-600
  • Very poor: 300-499
A graphic shows credit-scoring company VantageScore’s credit score ranges and if they’re considered excellent, good, fair, poor or very poor.

What affects your credit score?

A hard inquiry is just one of the many things that can affect your credit score. 

Collections, foreclosures and bankruptcies are some of the obvious derogatory marks on your credit reports that can hurt your credit score. 

Knowing how credit-scoring companies calculate your score may help you understand the less obvious reasons, though. Here’s a snapshot of the FICO system:

  • Payment history: 35% of your credit score is based on whether you pay your bills and debts on time. 
  • Credit utilization ratio: 30% is based on the amount of debt you owe. That includes your credit utilization, or the ratio between all of your credit balances and credit limits. If your credit utilization ratio is high, lenders could think you’ve already borrowed more than you can easily repay. Experts recommend keeping your ratio at or below 30%.  
  • Credit history: 15% is based on how long you’ve had credit accounts, how long each has been open and how long it’s been since you used each one. Basically, the longer, the better.
  • New credit: 10% is based on how many accounts you’ve opened in a short amount of time. Lenders may consider it risky if you’ve applied for too much credit too quickly.
  • Credit mix: 10% is based on the different types of credit you have. Lenders favor diversity, so it could be good to have different types of credit, like a mortgage and a credit card, for example. As long as you pay them on time, of course.
A graph shows the FICO credit score factors: payment history, credit utilization ratio, credit history, new credit and credit mix.

How to improve your credit score

Now that you know what affects your credit score, here are some things that can help your credit score:

  • Monitor your credit regularly. That way, you can have an idea of where your credit stands and make sure there aren’t any errors on your credit reports. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get free copies of your credit reports. Or use a tool like CreditWise.
  • Pay your bills on time. Since payment history is a major factor in calculating your credit score, you should always pay your bills on time. Setting up reminders or automatic payments can help.
  • Keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%. One way to help lower your credit utilization ratio is by paying more than the minimum amount due for your credit accounts.
  • Consider a secured credit card. If you’re having trouble getting approved for credit, you might want to think about applying for a secured credit card. A secured credit card typically requires a security deposit, but it can be a way to build or rebuild credit.
  • Only apply for the credit you need. That way, you can limit hard credit inquiries, which can affect your credit score.

Checking your credit without penalty in a nutshell

Reviewing your credit reports and credit scores can be a good way to see where your credit stands—and uncover any errors or signs of potential fraud and identity theft. Remember, a soft inquiry into your own credit history will not lower your credit score. And you may want to consider free credit monitoring services like CreditWise to help keep tabs on your financial health.

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