Credit & Finance

Does checking your credit score lower it?

Written by Dan Rafter for Symantec

If a credit-card provider, mortgage lender or auto lender checks your credit score after you apply for a loan or new credit, your score might take a slight dip.

But here’s the good news: That dip will be small, often only five points or so, according to myFICO, the people behind the widely used FICO® credit score. And if you check your own score, it won’t fall a bit. Your credit score is never penalized when you check it yourself.

If you’re ready to apply for a mortgage, auto or other type of loan, it’s important to know your credit score. Lenders rely on this three-digit number to determine how likely you are to repay your loan on time. A low score means you’ll struggle to qualify for a loan. If you do qualify, your interest rate will be higher. It’s smart, then, to order your credit score — whether you get it through a free site or you pay for a credit score from one of the three national credit bureaus — before you apply for new credit or a loan.

If you know your score, you’ll also know whether you need to take the steps necessary to improve it before applying for new credit or a loan. It’s just a bonus that checking on your own won’t do any damage to this score.

Credit inquiries

It’s a good idea to know the types of credit inquiries.

What are soft pulls?

There are two types of credit inquiries: hard and soft. Soft inquiries — often called soft pulls — happen when you check your own credit score by ordering it from a free service or from one of the three national credit bureaus of Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. A soft inquiry such as this has no effect on your credit score.

Another type of soft inquiry occurs when a lender or credit-card provider checks your score when it is looking to pre-approve you for a loan or credit card. This type of soft inquiry doesn't cause your credit score to fall, either. That's because you haven’t officially applied for a new loan or credit card. Lenders are only checking your credit to determine if it is strong enough for you to qualify for a loan or card should you eventually apply for one.

Which leads to the other type of inquiry that can hurt your credit score, the hard inquiry.

What is a hard inquiry?

A hard inquiry, also known as a hard pull, happens when a lender or credit-card provider checks your credit score after you apply for a loan or new credit card. This type of inquiry could cause your credit score to go down. This is especially true if you apply for several new credit cards at once. Lenders consider you more likely to run up debt and possibly miss payments — meaning that you are now a riskier borrower — if you suddenly apply for a significant amount of new credit.

Fortunately, hard inquiries only happen when you initiate them by applying for a loan or credit card. Lenders or credit-card providers can't perform a hard inquiry on your credit on their own.

How to avoid hard inquiries

Here’s how to avoid hard inquiries and help protect your credit score from taking a hit.

Don’t apply for too many credit cards

The easiest way to avoid hard credit inquiries is to not apply for too many credit cards. Every time you do apply for a credit card, a hard inquiry will show up on your credit report, potentially damaging your credit score.

Think carefully before applying for a new credit card. Do you really need another credit card, or do you instead need to better manage the credit you already have?

If you are rate shopping, do it over a short period of time

Shopping among several different lenders for the best interest rate won’t have too big of an impact on your score. That’s because when you receive several different hard inquiries from the same type of lender — say auto lenders or mortgage lenders — during a short period of time, those inquiries are counted as just one total hard inquiry. That’s because it’s obvious that you are weighing the offers of several different lenders, but for just one loan.

If you are shopping for a mortgage loan, then, make sure to apply with these lenders during a short period of time, within 14 to 45 days, depending on the FICO® scoring model being used. That way, the hard inquiries that these lenders pull won’t each be counted separately.

Take your loan out quickly

If you are shopping for the best interest rate with a mortgage, personal, auto or student loan, take out your loan within 30 days. If you do, your FICO® score will ignore the hard inquiries that lenders made when studying your credit.

How to check your credit scores safely

Ordering or checking your own credit score will never result in a hard inquiry, only a soft one. You won’t have to worry about your credit score dipping when you order it on your own. Here are several ways to view your credit score.

Check with your bank

Banks often provide free credit scores for their customers. This can be a way to view the status of your credit without having to pay for a score. Remember, though, that the score your bank sends might not be the FICO® credit score that mortgage and auto lenders use. The score that banks and other financial institutions send, though, should be similar, and will give you an idea of how strong your credit is.

Check with your credit cards

Credit-card providers also frequently provide credit scores for free to their customers. Again, this might not be the same FICO® score that lenders use when evaluating your credit but should provide a good indicator of whether your credit is strong or weak.
[H3]Pay for your scores

You can also pay for your FICO® score from any of the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Prices vary but should cost about $15.

Types of credit score ratings

Here are two types of credit scores.

FICO® score

Your FICO® score is the credit score that is most commonly used when you’re applying for a new loan or credit. Each of the three credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion has a separate FICO® score on you. These three scores, though, should be similar.

VantageScore

The VantageScore is a newer credit score created jointly by Experian, Equifax ,and TransUnion as an alternative to the FICO® score. This score was introduced in 2006. It is not as widely used by lenders as is the FICO® score.

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