Missing a payment or using up too much of your available credit can cause your credit score to drop. But so can frequent inquiries on your credit report.
Some credit checks—such as you accessing your own credit report from the right source—won’t affect your score. But several credit checks from other sources, like banks or car loan providers, can cause your score to drop.
Before you begin shopping around for an auto loan or applying for new credit cards, keep reading to learn how credit checks affect your score, and who is able to legally access your reports.
How Do Credit Checks Affect Your Score?
Too many credit checks in too short a time period can affect your score. But how many points will it drop? Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer to that question, as how many points your score drops depends on a variety of factors, like your score and how many inquiries you’ve had in the last year.
There are two types of credit checks; hard and soft inquiries.
Examples of hard inquiries include checks by:
- Credit unions
- Loan providers
Examples of soft inquiries include:
- Checking your own credit score
- Employers checking your report
Only hard inquiries affect your credit score. The number of hard inquiries you’ve had in the past 12 months accounts for 10 percent of your score. These inquiries will remain on your credit report for two years.
Companies and Organizations That Frequently Check Credit Reports and Scores
There are several types of companies that frequently check the credit reports of their clients, customers, and tenants. When you’re aware that these inquiries are likely to occur, you can plan ahead of time for them. For instance, if you know that you plan to purchase a home in the future, you should be working to improve your credit score before applying for a mortgage. And when the time comes to apply, you can expect to see a credit check on your report.
Knowing who can and will check your credit report can also help you to avoid too many checks during a short period of time. For instance, applying for multiple credit cards during a short period means multiple credit checks, which can lower your score.
Here are a few companies that frequently check the credit reports of their clients and customers.
Credit Card Companies
This first type of company is obvious. Before lending a new customer credit, or increasing the credit line of an existing customer, a credit card company will almost always perform a credit check.
One credit check on occasion from a credit card company is unlikely to affect your score. But several in a short period can cause it to drop by several points or more.
Besides checking your credit score before issuing you a credit card, banks will also check your score before approving you for a loan for a car or other big purchases.
In addition, banks may check your score before allowing you to open a new account, even if you’re only applying for a debit card or savings account. Signing up for overdraft protection may also warrant a check, as this is considered a line of credit by banks.
Landlords also frequently use credit reports to determine whether or not a new tenant is trustworthy. Besides checking your score, a landlord will likely be interested in any late payments on your report, as this will help them to determine whether or not you’re likely to pay your rent on time each month.
Student Loan Providers
Much like when applying for an auto loan, your credit score may be used when applying for a student loan. Many young college students have little to no credit history, which can make it difficult to obtain a loan. In many cases, the parents of the student will take out a PLUS loan, and their credit scores will be used during the loan application.
If you apply for a second student loan, and your previous federal loan has gone into default, your credit report will reveal this and may cause a loan provider to deny your application. This is true even if your parents’ credit scores were used for the original loan application, as your name is still on the loan.
Because private student loans are not issued by the federal government, your credit score will be checked when applying for one. This can make it difficult for young students with no credit history to obtain a private loan and may result in high-interest rates.
Companies You Might Not Realize That Can Check Your Credit Report
While the companies listed above are ones that you would expect to check your credit, there are several others that are also able to do so that you might not expect. This can make that check that appears on your report a surprise when it pops up.
You might not expect a car or home insurance company to pull your score. However, insurance companies have access to your credit-based insurance score. Statistically, individuals with poor credit are more likely to file insurance claims. So a low score could make it harder to get an insurance policy or one at a good rate.
Some states prohibit insurance companies from using your credit score to determine your insurance rate.
It may seem odd that a collection agency would check your credit score; after all, they already know what you owe. But they may use your report to obtain your most recent contact information or to determine whether or not you’re likely to be able to pay back your outstanding debt.
Much like collection agencies, some government agencies may pull your credit report in order to obtain your contact information. They may also use your report to determine things like how much child support you can afford to pay or whether or not you qualify for public assistance.
Your current employer or the company you’re applying to work for is not permitted to access your credit score. But they are able to pull a modified credit report, as long as your state allows it.
With written consent, your employer can access a modified version of your report that includes credit-related information that won’t pose a security risk to you. If you are denied the job you are applying for because of that credit report check, by law the company must provide you with a copy of that report and a notice letting you know exactly why you were rejected.
Who Can’t Access Your Credit Report or Score?
Not just anyone can access your credit report. Even some of the companies mentioned above, such as your employer, can only access a modified version of your report.
If an individual does access your credit score illegally, you may be entitled to compensation for damages.
Checking Your Own Credit Report
The only person who should be frequently checking your credit score? You!
Unlike hard inquiries on your credit score, checking your own report will not affect your credit score. Every individual is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major nationwide credit bureaus once every 12 months. These reports do not always include your score but do include information on things that affect your score, like late payments. You can—and should—use these reports to check for any errors and to help you better understand how to work towards improving your score.
Many credit card companies and third-party companies also offer free credit reports and score checks for clients. In most cases, these are also “soft” checks that won’t affect your score. But you should always double-check that these are not hard inquiries before you obtain one.
Improving Your Credit Score
Avoiding too many checks on your credit report during a 12 month period can help you avoid losing unnecessary points. However, even a handful of hard inquiries will only drop your credit score so far.
If your credit score needs some work, there are other areas of your report that you should focus on improving first.
At Credit Innovation Group, we can help. We’ll pair you with a personal credit specialist who can help you to better understand the areas of improvement you should focus on to begin raising your score. From creating and sticking to a budget to looking for errors in your report, our team of experts is here to help you not only improve your score today but also to develop better financial habits for the future. To learn how we can help you improve your credit score, click here to learn more about how our services work.