The answer is yes and no. Lenders and credit card issuers carry out two types of checks on your credit. The first, a soft credit check, doesn’t impact your credit score at all. The second, a hard check, knocks a few points off your score every time. We’re going to walk you through soft and hard credit checks and what they mean for your credit score.
Why Your Credit Score Matters
When deciding whether to give you a loan or a credit card, lenders and credit card issuers look at your score and credit history.
“A credit score is a number that rates your credit risk. It can help creditors determine whether to give you credit, decide the terms they offer, or the interest rate you pay,” says USA.gov. A higher score helps convince lenders that you’ll be able to make repayments in full and on time. They may agree to a bigger loan or larger credit limit as a result. A high score can even “make it easier for you to … rent an apartment, or lower your insurance rate.”
Lenders and creditors are less likely to approve you for a loan or credit if your score is lower. If they do, they might charge you more interest because of the higher risk.
Know The Score: Low, High, or Somewhere Between
Credit scores or ratings are three-digit numbers between 300 and 850. Lenders may calculate these scores themselves based on the credit reports they receive from credit bureaus, or they might use a commercial scoring system such as FICO.
There are many credit bureaus, but the ones you’ve probably heard of are the influential big three: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. These operate nationwide, and lenders, banks, and credit unions report your credit history to them.
Here’s a breakdown of how Equifax rates credit scores:
|670 to 739||740 to 799||800 + 1|
|Acceptable risk – this borrower has a better chance of making their repayments in full and on time. They may get better terms.||Lower risk – this borrower is more likely to make timely, full repayments. The lender will feel more confident about offering them good terms.||Low risk – this borrower is very likely to make repayments with no difficulty and may be approved for large loans and high credit limits with favorable terms.|
LendingTree offers a free service for checking your FICO score, and this guide from Lexington Law helps you understand the various factors that go into calculating it.
How to Monitor and Understand Your Credit Score: The Soft Check
“So what is a soft credit check?” you may be wondering. In short, a soft check or soft inquiry doesn’t require a lender or creditor to get a copy of your FULL credit report. This is why it doesn’t affect your credit score. Soft checks stay on your report for 12 to 24 months, but they aren’t visible to other potential lenders.
If you ask for a copy of your own credit report, this is a soft check. Although your score doesn’t appear on the report, the data it contains will help you understand why you have the score you do. In fact, financial experts encourage checking your credit report regularly: “You should check your credit reports at least once a year to make sure there are no errors that could keep you from getting credit or the best available terms on a loan,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
How Hard Credit Checks Lower Your Credit Score
A hard credit check, also known as a hard inquiry or a hard pull, is what affects your credit score. Each time a lender or creditor requests one from a credit bureau, your score goes down a few points, but usually only for a short time.
Hard checks should never be performed without your knowledge and agreement. They usually happen when you’ve actually applied for credit or a loan. As part of a hard credit inquiry, a lender will look at your full credit report. Hard inquiries are visible on your report to all potential lenders, showing how often you’ve applied for credit. Many lenders will consider you a higher risk if they see lots of recent applications.
Thankfully, if you’re applying for something big, like a mortgage, the credit bureaus often treat any hard checks within a certain period (usually 15 to 45 days) as just one hard inquiry – and your score will only take one hit. This doesn’t apply to credit cards, though. Multiple credit card applications will result in point deductions from your score each time.
Prepare for Hard Checks with Soft Checks
You can use soft credit checks to get some idea of how the hard checks will go. Start by requesting a credit report, then read this guide from Credit Saint to help you understand it. It breaks everything down with easy-to-understand visuals from actual credit reports issued by Experian and TransUnion.
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Other Reasons Your Credit Score Drops
Are you looking at your report and thinking, “Why did my credit score drop for no reason?” Well, it hasn’t. But it may have dropped for a reason that’s not immediately obvious.
If you’re sure you haven’t had any issues like late payments, multiple credit card applications, or high outstanding balances, then there could be a mistake. In this case, you can file a dispute with the bureau. This is why checking your report is key. It’s easy to request a report from any of the three big agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com.