When it comes to credit scores, rampant misinformation and myths abound. For example, some people have been led to believe that carrying a balance on a credit card is the best way to improve your score, which isn’t true. Others insist that closing old credit cards you’re not using can provide your credit with a much-needed boost, which is also false.
Still, there’s one myth about credit that won’t seem to go away. Plenty of people think that checking your own credit score or credit report will cause damage to your credit. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to look at your credit score and even what’s on your credit report without doing any harm to your own credit health.
Does checking your credit hurt your score?
First, it’s important to understand the two ways that someone can look at your credit report. The first is when you’ve applied for a mortgage, car loan, credit card or other form of credit, and your lender wants to see your credit report to determine if you’re a good credit risk. This appears on your report as a “hard inquiry” and it does affect your credit score, though only by a handful of points.
However, sometimes you haven’t made an application for credit with anyone, but a credit issuer wants to look at your credit report to consider you for a preapproved or promotional offer. This still appears on your report, but it’s known as a “soft inquiry,” and these soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score at all.
The good news is when you check your own credit score, you’re almost always making a soft inquiry, which means you can check your credit and see where you stand without causing unnecessary damage.
So, if your goal is to take a peek at your credit score without causing any harm, there are quite a few strategies that let you do exactly that. Plenty of credit cards — including ones you may already have — offer a free credit score as a card holder perk. This includes cards from American Express, Chase, Capital One, Citibank and others.
Some credit card programs even provide a free credit score that anyone can sign up for For example, Discover lets you see your FICO score — which is the credit score used by 90% of top lenders — for free without even having to be a card holder.
CreditWise from Capital One is another option. With CreditWise, you can see your VantageScore 3.0, provided by TransUnion, without having a Capital One credit card. You can also sign up for alerts that let you know how your credit score changes over time.
Should you also check your credit report?
Checking your credit score is entirely different than checking your credit report. Your credit score is a numeric representation of your overall credit health, yet your credit report is the place where all the information about your credit accounts, your payments and your overall credit usage is listed.
While your credit report won’t list your credit score, there are still plenty of reasons to keep an eagle eye on the information it includes. Your credit report is the first place where fraudulent accounts opened in your name will show up. This is one of the reasons many experts suggest checking your credit reports on a semiannual basis, as it’s one of the best ways to spot the early signs of identity theft.
Not only that, but your credit report can have mistakes or misinformation that could ultimately hurt your credit score, since the information on your credit report is used to calculate your score. It’s a fairly straightforward process to dispute incorrect information that appears on your credit report, but you’ll only know what’s there if you take the time to look.
Fortunately, when it comes to checking your credit report, you can do so for free and with no harm to your score at annualcreditreport.com. This website, which is the only site authorized by federal law, normally lets you check your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports once a year at no charge. But right now, due to the pandemic, you can check your reports for free as often as once a week through April 2022.
Why should you check your credit score?
Now you know that you can check your credit report and score without damaging the credit you’ve worked hard to build, but why should you care? Does your credit score really matter as much as some people say it does?
It’s easy to believe your credit score is inconsequential, but anyone who’s ever purchased a home, borrowed money for a car or applied for a credit card can tell you otherwise. While your past credit behavior isn’t the only factor that’s considered when you apply for new credit, your credit score alone tells lenders a lot of what they want to know.
If you have a credit score that’s considered “good” — meaning a FICO score of 670 or better — you’re much more likely to be approved for the new credit line you want with fair terms and conditions. But if your credit score is lower than that, you may have to pay more fees and higher interest along the way, or you may not get approved at all.
Interestingly, your credit can even impact your auto insurance rates or your ability to get a job if a potential employer asks to see a modified version of your credit report as a condition of your hire. Good credit can be the key to getting the life you want, but the opposite is also true.
Checking your credit won’t hurt your score, and it’s the best way to know where you stand. It always makes sense to keep your credit score in good shape, so yes, check your credit score now and keep track of how your score changes over time.
Read other stories in our “Myths about credit” series:
Looking for a new credit card? Read CNN Underscored’s guide to the best credit cards of 2021.