Budgeting basics

How to check your credit score without hurting it

March 22, 2023
·
5
 min read
·
Last updated:
Jan 12
A man sitting on his bed and smiling at his phone.

The gist: Your credit score is not impacted when you check it. Credit reporting bureaus do not want to discourage people from checking their credit. However, when a lender checks your score it will impact your number. 

The three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are each required to provide you one free annual credit report. This is a great way to keep tabs on your creditworthiness. It’s also a good way to regularly check that the information provided by credit bureaus is accurate and up to date. 

You can also check your credit score anytime, but be aware that some companies do charge for this. Credit reporting agencies themselves are not obligated to provide your score for free any more than once per year and many offer paid subscription services for frequent checks. If you want to check your score frequently without being charged, there are many ways to do this, a few of which are discussed below.

Often, people are worried that checking their score will make it drop. It won’t. This common misunderstanding is probably due to the fact that some credit checks do impact your score. However, the kind of credit checks that can lower your score are not the ones that come from you. The kind of credit checks that will usually lower your score are the ones that come from lenders.

This is why credit checks are classified as either a “soft pull” or a “hard pull.” Soft pulls usually come from you. Hard pulls come from lenders.  

What is a credit score? 

A credit score is a number that represents your creditworthiness. The number tells lenders how likely you are to repay debt. The number is calculated using information from your credit report which includes payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit used.

Credit scores generally range from 300 to 850. The better your credit report, the higher the number. Lenders like credit card companies, mortgage providers, and loan officers all look at your credit score when deciding if they will offer financing. 

A higher number not only improves the chance of an approval, it also means that you’re more likely to get a lower interest rate which drives down the cost of borrowing.

How can I check my credit score for free?

Although Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are each required to provide one free credit report to you per year, they are not required to provide a free credit score

This means that you might need to pay to see your credit score. A one-time credit score check will cost about $20. 

Be sure to research any place that you go to for your score. Some providers use credit score services to lure you into expensive, long-term memberships. Fortunately, many credit card companies and financial institutions now provide credit scores for free even though they are not obligated to. 

The easiest way to get your free annual credit report is through the government-mandated site AnnualCreditReport.com which is jointly operated by the three credit reporting agencies. 

In 2020, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion decided to make free credit reports available weekly in response to the financial disruption of COVID-19. They have extended this program through the end of 2023. This means that until the end of this year you can get one free credit report from each of the three agencies every week.

Remember that a credit report is a detailed list of your credit history including identifying information, credit inquiries, credit accounts, and public records. A score is a single number summarizing your credit history. Lenders just look at your credit score, not your credit report.

Does checking my credit score make it go down?

No. 

When you check your score or credit history it will not go down. Checking your own score is called a “soft inquiry.” This kind of inquiry does not impact your credit history or score in any way and it’s not visible to potential lenders.

On the other hand, your score will be affected when a lender checks your credit history. This is called a “hard inquiry.” This kind of inquiry usually drops your score by around five points according to FICO, the company that calculates the most commonly used credit score. While five points isn't usually considered very much, it can add up to a big drop if you apply for several credit cards in a short period of time. 

However, this is not the case when making a major purchase like a house. People need to shop around for the lowest rate. Therefore, they need to let several lenders perform a hard pull. Typically, this kind of activity is treated as one inquiry when it happens within a window of about 14 to 45 days.

How often can I check my credit score?

You can check your credit score as often as you want, but again, remember, you may need to pay for it unless you have an account with a credit card company or financial institution that offers this information for free.

General advice is that you should check your credit report and credit score at least once a year. It’s wise to get one report from each agency per year because it’s free and it allows you to see if there are any differences or discrepancies on the reports.

Is a credit score different to a credit report?

Yes. The two are different.

Think of a credit score as your grade and a credit report as your test.

The credit score is the final number grade you’ve received based on your performance on a test. 

Your credit history, like a test, includes all the details of your performance including where you performed well and where you didn’t. Your credit history is usually several pages long and includes four categories: 

  1. Identifying information
  2. Credit accounts
  3. Credit inquiries
  4. Public records

Credit reports are helpful because they show the detailed activity that determined your score. This is where you go to see if the information is up to date. 

What is a soft credit check?

A soft check is any credit inquiry that you make on yourself. Your score will not change as a result of this kind of credit check. You can pull your credit score or your credit report without affecting either.

What is a hard credit check?

A hard check is a credit inquiry that comes from anyone other than you. This kind of check does impact your score. Fortunately, a hard pull will reduce your score by about five points, which is not usually considered very much. 

Multiple hard pulls within a 14 to 45 day period for a major purchase like a home will usually be considered one pull.

---

Sources:

*Prices fluctuate based on season and day of the week.

In this article:

Share article

You may also like

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor, MBA is a financial writer with work appearing in Business Insider, Nasdaq, Yahoo Finance, The Motley Fool, and Investopedia. He covers personal finance, and investing to help readers make informed decisions. He is the founder of Financial Content Management, which offers financial writing for sites focused on both retail investors or institutional investors. He lives outside Philadelphia.