Does a Credit Check Lower Your Credit Score?

July 3, 2009 No Comments »
Does a Credit Check Lower Your Credit Score?

Consumers often wonder if it’s harmful to have your credit report or credit scores pulled.

So, “does a credit check lower your credit score?”

Well, like all things in the credit score realm, it depends.  Sigh…

There are a number of different reasons to run a credit check, and thus the confusion.

Checking Your Own Credit Will Not Lower Your Credit Score!

Let’s knock out the easy ones first.  If you’re simply checking your own credit via a free credit score website or via the FTC’s free credit report program, your credit score will not be affected in any way.  This means it won’t go up or down.

These consumer credit reports (and scores) allow you to see what’s up with your credit history, but pose no harm to you because you’re not actually seeking new credit, at least not right then and there.

Think about it; why would you be penalized just for checking your own credit report and/or score(s)?  That wouldn’t make any sense. If anything, you should be commended for keeping an attentive eye on your credit history.

Related to that, you have a right to order a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (get a free credit report without a credit card).

When you order one of these free credit reports, it actually breaks up your credit inquiries into two separate buckets.

Inquiries Shared With Others

These inquiries are the ones that you initiated, typically in order to get some kind of credit, such as a credit card, auto loan/lease, mortgage, cell phone, etc.  They appear on your credit report and are visible to other prospective creditors and employers if and when they pull your credit report.

Put simply, they’re visible because they affect your credit in one way or another. And creditors need to see them to make subsequent lending decisions.

Inquiries Shared Only With You

The other section you’ll see is the inquiries that do not hurt your credit, and are visible for you only as a record of activities.

For example, if you sign up for Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, which are free credit score providers, inquiries will show up on your credit report each month but won’t count against you in any way. You may also see credit inquiries from insurance companies if you got a few quotes recently.  Again, these do not affect your credit score because they do not involve credit of any kind.

Any pre-approved offers you qualify will also be soft inquiries, meaning they don’t count against you.  And occasional check-ups from existing creditors also fall into this category, as do background checks from employers.

It should even say explicitly on the credit report that “the following inquiries do not affect your credit score.”  They’re just there to let you know that a company is actively pulling your records.

Other Considerations

Now suppose you already have a credit card open with a company and they want to keep tabs on you. If they do a credit check just to see how things are going in your life, it won’t lower your credit score. Why?  Because you didn’t initiate the request and you’re not actively looking for new credit.  They’re simply checking up on you.

The same is true of companies researching your credit profile and subsequently sending you so-called pre-approved or pre-screened offers; it won’t hurt your credit score.

In all these instances, you did nothing to prompt the credit check, so you won’t be penalized in any way.

Similarly, if you apply for a job and your potential employer orders a credit report, it won’t lower your credit score because no new credit is at stake. They simply want to check out your financial background, so again, it won’t affect your credit score.

These types of inquiries do NOT hurt your credit score:

  • Requests made by YOU for your credit report and/or credit scores
  • Promotional inquiries made by lenders and credit card issuers to send pre-approved offers
  • Credit checks initiated by insurance companies
  • Credit pulls from prospective employers to check your background
  • Existing account reviews (credit card issuers check up on us from time to time)

The only time your credit score could drop as a result of a credit check is when you apply for new credit.

Examples include applying for any type of loan, such as a mortgage, auto loan, auto lease, a new credit card, or an increased credit line with an existing card or loan.

These are the only instances when a credit check will lower your credit score, as new credit or inquiries for new credit pose new risks, regardless of how great of a borrower you’ve proven to be in the past.

In the eyes of creditors, consumers who are actively seeking new credit pose a greater risk of default.

Of course, the stronger your credit profile, the less impact these, dare I say, harmful credit checks will have on your credit score.

As a rule of thumb, the more hard credit inquiries you have in a short period of time, the more your score will drop, so exercise moderation.

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