Does It Hurt Your Credit Score to Check It?

Reader question: “I need to check my credit score to see if I might be able to qualify for a home loan. Hoping to buy a house sometime in 2012. I don’t want to do anything that might harm my credit. My question is, does it hurt your credit score when you check it on your own? And if it does, should I just skip it altogether? Thanks in advance for your help.”

This is a very common question among home buyers, car buyers and mortgage shoppers. And I can understand your hesitancy. You’ve heard it’s important to check your credit before applying for a loan — and it is. But you’re afraid the inquiry will lower your credit score, and possibly to the point that you get denied by the lender.

Allow me to put your mind at rest. It should not hurt your credit score to check it one time. There are many things that can cause your score to move up or down, and we will discuss all of those things a bit later. But checking your credit should not have any impact, one way or the other.

Disclaimer: I cannot predict what will happen to your credit score if you check it. I can only tell you what usually happens in normal scenarios. The information in this article comes from two sources: (1) educational materials distributed by FICO, the credit-scoring company; and (2) my own personal experiences. Based on these two things, we can reasonably assume that it won’t hurt your credit to check your score. We just can’t predict it with 100% certainty. You knew that already. I just had to state it for legal reasons. Now, back to the lesson at hand…

It’s wise to check your score before applying for a mortgage.

Before we go any further, let’s clear up some of the terminology used in this article. There’s a difference between your credit report and your credit score. You can check both of these items, and they are closely related. But they are two different things. It’s important to keep this in mind.

  • Your credit report is an electronic file that contains your borrowing history dating back to your first credit card or loan. How have you borrowed and repaid your debts in the past? This is what shows up in your report. Learn more about them.
  • Your credit score, on the other hand, is a three-digit number derived from the data found in your reports. This number tells lenders how risky you are, as a potential borrower. It’s a risk-based analysis tool used by creditors. A higher score will improve your chances of getting approved for a loan. A lower score will hurt your chances.

This is why it’s so important to check your credit before applying for a mortgage — or any other type of financing, for that matter. If your score is lower than average, you’ll probably need to improve it before you can qualify for a mortgage.

With that clarification out of the way, let’s return to the question at hand.

Checking your own credit shouldn’t hurt it.

It should not hurt your credit score to check it. The key word here is that it shouldn’t hurt your credit. I can’t guarantee what will actually happen when you check your credit score. No one can, not even the creators of the FICO scoring system. But I can tell you what usually happens. In fact, I’ll do you one better and tell you exactly what the folks at FICO have to say about it:

“The only inquiries that count toward your FICO score are the ones that result from your applications for new credit.” -Source: MyFICO.com

In this context, an “applications for new credit” might mean applying for a retail charge card, a personal loan, an auto loan or a mortgage. These inquiries can affect your FICO score. The degree to which they affect your credit (if at all) will vary, based on the number and type of inquiries being made. If you have too many of these inquiries over an extended period of time, it can hurt your credit. For instance, applying for six different cards in a three-month period suggests that you are over-relying on credit. So it will likely hurt your score.

Checking your score just to see where you stand is a different scenario. This is perfectly acceptable behavior. It’s one of the first things I tell people to do when they are preparing to buy a home. When you check your own credit, it is handled a bit differently from the application-based inquiries mentioned above. It should not hurt your FICO score to check it. In fact, you probably won’t see any significant fluctuation at all.

Again, this based on information provided by the creators of the FICO scoring system (as well as my own personal experience). I’m not guaranteeing what will or won’t happen when you check your credit score. I’m only stating what has been previously disclosed by FICO, and what I’ve seen in the past.

Some things that will harm your score.

Does it hurt your credit score to check it? It’s highly unlikely. But there are plenty of things that will damage your score. I’d like to mention some of those things in closing.

  • Late payments — Under the FICO scoring model, your payment history accounts for 35% of your total score. So it weighs more than any other single factor. By extension, a pattern of late payments on your credit accounts can cause serious damage to your FICO score. Late payments can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. A single 30-day late payment could hurt your score by 50 points or more. So do everything you can to pay your bills on time.
  • Foreclosure — Being foreclosed upon by the bank that holds your mortgage could lower your score by 200 points or more. It can also stay on your credit for up to seven years (that’s the time limit for most items). After a foreclosure, it could be years before a person might qualify for another mortgage loan.
  • Bankruptcy — Filing for personal bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or 13) will also do serious damage to your credit score. These filings can legally remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, longer than most derogatory entries. It might be several years before you could buy a home after bankruptcy.
  • Too much debt — When it comes to buying a home, having too much debt can actually hurt you in two ways. It gives you a less favorable debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This could hurt your chances of qualifying for a mortgage loan. It also increases your credit utilization ratio, which can lower your FICO score. This also makes it harder to qualify for a loan.

This article answers the question: Does it hurt my credit score to check it? We have a lot of credit-related information on this website. It’s one of the most popular topics among home buyers, so we have covered it from many different angles on this website. You can learn more about this subject by using the search tool at the top of the page. You might want to check out our consumer’s guide to credit scores as well.