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Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?

Last updated Dec 20, 2023

Businesses and financial institutions leverage credit inquiries, also called credit checks or credit pulls, to help them understand an applicant’s financial standing. Maintaining a good credit score can benefit you—whether you’re applying for a new apartment, a personal loan, or anything that requires a credit check. 

Certain factors and events can affect your score, but does simply checking your credit score lower it? Here’s what you need to know about the different types of credit checks and how they can affect your credit score.

a close up of a person on their phone checking their credit score

Understanding Your Credit Score

Your credit score is one factor businesses and institutions use to assess your risk as a borrower. Your three-digit score provides insight into your ability to repay a debt, make consistent payments, and manage your money. 

There are dozens of credit bureaus in the U.S., but the majority of financial institutions and businesses use three major national credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Your credit score can vary slightly based on the credit bureau reporting it, the methodology they use, and when your credit history was last updated. Regardless, 5 main factors go into determining your credit score:

  1. Payment history
  2. Credit utilization
  3. Length of credit history
  4. Mix and number of accounts in use
  5. Hard inquiries and new credit

These factors all play a role in your credit score. Let’s take a closer look at hard inquiries and new credit which encompass credit checks. 

Hard Inquiries vs. Soft Inquiries

There are two types of credit pulls: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. A soft inquiry, also called a soft credit check, occurs when you or someone else checks your credit for any reason other than a new credit application. Soft credit checks don’t affect your credit score and aren’t visible on your credit report. Some examples of events that can generate soft inquiries are:

  • A prospective landlord checks your credit (they can perform a soft or hard inquiry; ask which one they’re using if you’re unsure)
  • You check and monitor your credit score through Upgrade’s Credit Health tools
  • A prospective employer runs a background check 
  • You check your potential personal loan rate through Upgrade

A hard inquiry, also called a hard credit check, occurs when a lender or a financial institution—like a bank or credit card company—checks your credit report specifically because you are applying for new credit. Typically, you must give permission before a business or institution can run a hard inquiry on you. Hard inquiries are reflected in your credit score and are visible on your credit report. Here are some examples of activities that may generate a hard credit inquiry:

  • A prospective landlord checks your credit (they can perform a soft or hard inquiry; ask which one they’re using if you’re unsure)
  • Applying for most credit cards 
  • Submitting a complete application for a mortgage
  • Requesting an increase to your credit limit on an existing credit card

How Hard Inquiries Impact Your Credit Score

FICO reports that one hard credit check can bring your score down by as many as 5 points. FICO also notes that “inquiries can have a greater impact if you have few accounts or a short credit history.” In addition, hard inquiries can stay on your credit report for up to 2 years at each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Multiple hard inquiries within a short window of time can affect your credit score more severely. This can be a red flag to institutions and signal that you may be a risky borrower. 

Additional Factors that Can Lower Your Credit Score

Now that we’ve established that hard inquiries can lower your credit score, let’s dive into the other factors that can also contribute to a decrease in your credit score.

  • Late payments. Your payment history is a heavily weighted factor in your credit score, and every delinquent payment will show up on your credit report. Late payments can harm your score because they show that you have not been able to consistently pay off your debts, indicating that you may not be able to pay them back in the future.
  • Applying for too many lines of credit at once. Each time you attempt to open a new credit card or line of credit, you’re inviting another hard inquiry to your credit report. Try to open multiple credit lines over a short period of time and your credit score may take a big hit.
  • High credit utilization ratio. This measures how much of your overall credit card limit you’re using. Staying below 30% is ideal, so if your credit limit is $10,000, you’d want to use less than $3,000 to maintain a low utilization. Go above that 30% and your credit utilization ratio is considered high, signaling that your finances may be overextended and you might not be able to handle more credit.
  • Closing your oldest accounts. The average age of your credit is one factor that impacts your credit score. If you close credit card accounts that have been open for a long time, you’re shortening your credit history. If your credit utilization is high, closing a credit card account can affect that ratio, so be aware of your individual circumstances.  

Checking and Monitoring Your Credit Score

It’s important to monitor your credit report and review it periodically to protect yourself against identity theft and fraud. You are entitled to request a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from any of the three major credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Get your free credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

In addition, you can check and monitor your credit score for free, without impacting it, with Upgrade’s Credit Health tools. Get access to your VantageScore® 3.0 anytime and receive personalized recommendations tailored to your unique credit history. Our data-driven tool pulls information from your credit report so you can see how different scenarios and actions may impact your score. Learn more about your credit health and take control of your financial future.