Does Checking Your Credit Hurt Your Credit Score?

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These days, everyone who cares about their financial health is well aware of the power of their credit score. Lenders and landlords check credit reports to decide if they should grant an applicant credit or a place to live; insurers use credit scores to determine insurance premiums; even employers check job applicants’ credit reports.

But most people mistakenly believe that checking their own credit will hurt their credit score. Pulling a consumer’s credit report will create an inquiry on that report, the thinking goes, and inquiries temporarily lower one’s credit score.

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While it’s true that inquiries, which are created any time a lender or business reviews your credit report, can lower your score, that’s not always the case. It’s important to make a distinction between two different kinds of inquiries: soft inquiries and hard inquiries.

When you apply for credit, the lender will pull your credit report and that will result in a hard inquiry: the type that actually has a negative effect on your credit score.

But if you check your own credit report or score, you create a soft inquiry. That type of inquiry will not hurt your credit score.

How do you best distinguish between soft and hard inquiries? Think of it this way: hard inquiries are initiated by you when you apply for credit (a mortgage or auto loan, a credit or retail store card, a private education loan, etc.)

The lender checks your credit report to determine your creditworthiness and an inquiry is placed on your credit report. That inquiry signifies to other lenders (and the credit score algorithm) that you are pursuing credit. This could indicate that you may need additional credit and are living beyond your means.

The one exception is applying for mortgage and car loans, which generally gives you up to 45 days to shop around, with all inquiries within that period counting as one for credit score calculation purposes. An inquiry from a collection agency for skip tracing purposes is also a hard inquiry.

Hard inquiries will stay on your credit report for 24 months, but will be calculated within your score for only 12 months. You can register at CreditSesame.com to get a FREE credit score and see if you have any hard inquiries that may be impacting your credit score.

Soft inquiries, on the other hand, are initiated by lenders, insurance companies, and even credit card issuers, who are simply monitoring your credit situation or creating a pool of consumers to target with “preapproved” offers. When an employer checks an applicant’s credit report, that also creates a soft inquiry.

Soft inquiries are only visible to the version of your credit report that you see as a consumer. They are not visible to lenders, employers or any other business entity pulling your credit with or without your authorization. More importantly, soft inquiries are not included in your credit score and don’t harm it.

You are not penalized for checking your credit score or monitoring your credit report – on the contrary, checking your credit score monthly will help ensure you stay on top of your credit situation. An unexpected drop in your score, for example, might mean that someone has gotten credit in your name and failed to make payments, or that a lender has made an error on one or more of your credit accounts. Checking your own credit score regularly can also be a great motivating factor for those working on paying down their debts and improving their credit.

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