From a financial point of view, regularly keeping track of your credit score is essential. It gives you a general idea of your financial situation and whether getting a credit card or applying for a loan in the near future would be a good decision.
And while it’s important that you check your credit score every once in a while, you don’t want your actions to damage your credit score. In this guide, we’ll help you understand how to check your credit score without hurting it.
Difference Between Hard Credit Inquiry and Soft Credit Inquiry
Before we show you how to view your credit report, let’s first make sure that we’re on the same page here.
There are two ways to check your credit score: hard credit inquiry and soft credit inquiry, and we’re going to explore each of them in more detail in the following sections:
What Is a Hard Credit Inquiry?
Whenever you apply for a loan or a credit card at a bank or a credit union, a hard credit inquiry will be requested. The lender is obligated by law to check your credit score and assess your creditworthiness before lending you money or issuing you a credit card.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most common hard inquiries:
- Apartment rental applications
- Auto loan applications
- Credit card applications
- Mortgage applications
- Student loan applications
- Personal loan applications
In normal situations, the lender will ask for your permission before making a hard credit inquiry. However, making too many hard credit inquiries in a short time span is highly discouraged.
How Many Hard Credit Inquiries Are Considered OK?
A single hard credit inquiry will only lower your credit score by a few points. However, multiple hard credit inquiries in a short period can be a bad move.
Hard credit inquiries are a signal to the credit bureaus that you’re applying for too many loans and credit cards at the same time or at least consecutively, which may imply irresponsible financial behavior from your side.
Generally, it’s recommended that you don’t apply for more than one or two loans at the same time to prevent your credit score from taking a significant hit. Try to separate each application by a few months to be on the safe side.
Disputing a Hard Credit Inquiry
In some cases, a lending entity might request a hard credit inquiry without taking your permission or at least letting you know beforehand. In that case, you can dispute the inquiry with the credit bureau. You can easily tell if a hard credit inquiry was conducted without your permission by checking your credit report.
Cases When Running Multiple Hard Credit Inquiries Is Fine
Hard credit inquiries almost always impact your credit score, but in some cases, the fear of lowering your credit score might make you miss out on some good car or home deals.
It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a 30-day grace period, within which some types of loan inquiries won’t be recorded. Also, several types of loans, like car loans, are reported as a single hard inquiry, provided that they were conducted in a 14-day time window.
This means that it’s OK to apply for several auto loans if you want to explore your options and choose the best deal. Just make sure that you don’t exceed the 14-day window when doing your comparison shopping.
What Is a Soft Credit Inquiry?
A soft credit inquiry is when your potential employer inquires about your credit history during the hiring process.
Sometimes, a credit card issuer might perform a soft credit check when assessing your application. In that case, the credit card issuer will not inform you about the inquiry; you’ll only find out about it when you check your credit report.
Here’s a list of inquiries that qualify as soft inquiries:
- Checking your credit score yourself
- Prequalified insurance quotes
- Pre-qualified credit card offers
- Employment credit checks
How Many Soft Credit Inquiries Can You Make?
You can make as many soft credit inquiries as you want. They don’t affect your credit score, and there aren’t any legal obstacles to making lots of soft credit inquiries.
However, it’s worth noting that your credit score doesn’t change that frequently, so it wouldn’t make sense for you to check it every couple of weeks. A few times a year would be enough.
Should You Make a Soft or a Hard Credit Inquiry?
As a general rule of thumb, you should opt for soft credit inquiries because, as we’ve mentioned, they don’t impact your credit score in any possible way.
However, when applying for a credit card or a loan from many lending entities, it’ll be mandatory for the lender to make a hard credit inquiry for you. In that case, there isn’t much that you can do about it.
Some lenders may claim that they don’t check your credit score, but we’d recommend that you stay away from these lenders as they could easily be loan sharks. Loan sharks accept all loan applications without assessing the creditworthiness of the candidates, which is illegal.
How to Check Your Credit Score for Free
You can easily check your credit report without impacting your credit score. In that case, the inquiry qualifies as a soft credit inquiry.
According to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), you can directly request a free copy of your credit report from one of the three national credit bureaus once per year.
In some cases, you might be eligible to get an additional free report within the same year, like when you’re receiving benefits, unemployed and are willing to apply for jobs in the following 2 months, or denied credit. You can also get an additional free report if you suspect that you’re a credit fraud victim. Other than that, you’ll need to pay a fee for every extra credit report.
You can get your reports through web-based services like creditkarma.com and annualcreditreport.com. Creditkarma.com lets you view your online credit report anytime you want by simply logging into your account, while annualcreditreport.com will make it available for you once (for every credit bureau).
Here’s how you can use each of these services:
Requesting a Credit Report on Creditkarma.com
Here’s how you can view your credit score on creditkarma.com:
- Create a new account by filling in your personal information
- Once you create your account, you’ll be presented with a dashboard that shows your VantageScore from Equifax and TransUnion
- If you want to view a 4-month snapshot of your score history, you can click on your score, and it’ll take you to the required page
- You can then choose the “credit report” tab to access your free copy; you may also print it
Requesting a Credit Report on Annualcreditreport.com
To get a free copy of your credit report on annualcreditreport.com, follow these steps:
- Enter the required personal information for identity verification
- Pick the credit bureau from which you want to issue your credit report. You can either pick one or all of them. You can get a credit report from TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian
- Confirm your basic information with the credit bureau that you chose
- Check your credit report and save it for future reference. We also recommend that you create a backup on iCloud, Google Drive, or any other cloud storage service
To recap, checking your credit score is totally fine in most cases, and it won’t affect your credit report by any means. We actually encourage you to keep an eye on your credit score; it’s one of the best financial practices that you can do.
Ideally, your credit score should take an upward trend. If you make your credit payments on time and borrow responsibly, your credit score will significantly improve, which qualifies you to apply for excellent loan deals with low interest rates in the future.
On a side note, we recommend that you get your free copy from only one credit bureau at a time and spread them over the year. You don’t really need to get a credit report from all three bureaus at the same time unless you’re going through a major purchase like a new car. In that case, you might want to consider getting all three reports at once to verify their accuracy.
However, as we’ve mentioned, avoid applying for several loans or credit scores in a short period to prevent your credit score from deteriorating.