You retain full control of your consumer credit report. Unless a court orders a copy, no third parties are legally allowed to "hard pull" your credit report -- an action that affects your credit score -- without your permission. However, potential creditors may pull your report at any time, as your loan request amounts to giving creditors your permission to do so. Any third party you grant permission to can also run your credit using your personal information, such as your name, address and Social Security number.
Types of Pulls
Your credit report may be viewed by creditors who are considering offering you a line of credit, such as a card company planning to send you a credit card application through the mail. These pulls are known as "soft pulls," which means they don't affect your credit score. Hard pulls generally lower your credit score by a few points per pull and occur when you authorize a company to check your credit.
Credit card issuers, insurance companies and other lenders use hard pulls to check your credit. However, this type of pull should only occur when you make an application for credit that includes signing off on a credit check. Many applications prominently state that you authorize a credit run when you physically or electronically sign the form, but others place the disclaimer in the fine print. Carefully read any credit documents you receive before signing and submitting them. Your current creditors may also periodically run your report to adjust your credit limit based on your new financial information.
When you fill out a rental application or apply for a job, you may also need to grant your potential landlord or employer permission to run your credit. In these instances, the credit check focuses on your finances as a tool for judging your character. Expect both employers and landlords to zero in on your payment history to determine how responsible you are. If any blemishes are on your report, prepare to explain them after your history is viewed. However, an employer retains the right to deny you employment based on your credit history.
Individuals are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of three main credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and Transunion. To access your free reports, you must visit AnnualCreditReport, the website these agencies created to comply with federal law. While you don't need to grant yourself permission to view your report, you must verify your identity by submitting your Social Security number and answering three questions about items in your credit history, such as the name of your mortgage holder. When you run your credit report, it is classified as a soft pull and does not negatively impact your credit score.
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.