A credit score can move up or down based on a number of factors. For instance, a late payment or sharp increase in a credit card balance could cause the score to decline. Reducing debt balances or correcting incorrect data could cause an increase. Many consumers also wonder how a simple credit check, whether by a creditor or themselves, might affect their credit score.
Understanding a Credit Score
A credit score is like a grade in school, only instead of grading you on your performance in a class, it is based on how you manage your finances. The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) uses five pieces of information to determine the score. It is based on the payment history, debts due, age of accounts, new credit accounts and the various types of credit accounts (such as installment loans or credit cards) in use.
When you apply for new credit and the bank pulls up your credit history that is called a hard credit check. A hard credit inquiry can negatively affect a credit score — especially if you have a series of these hard inquiries in a short period of time. Having many hard checks shows that you’ve been applying for many different new credit accounts at once, which is a red flag to potential creditors.
From time to time existing creditors may pull your credit report to see how you’re managing your overall financial affairs. They use this information to make decisions about the ongoing status of your account. This type of inquiry is called a soft check. While this type of check does show on the credit report for your information, it does not affect the credit score.
Pulling Your Own Credit
One other common credit check occurs when you decide to check your own credit report. You can check your credit report for free each year, when a bank denies credit or at any other time by purchasing it from one of the credit bureaus. When you do so, this is also considered a soft check and does not affect your credit score.