Whether or not you are in the process of buying a home—or making another big purchase that will require borrowing from a lender—it is always a good idea to know your credit score. Your credit score can affect many different components of your financial well-being, including the loans you may be able to qualify for and the interest rate that you’ll need to pay.
However, if you’re not careful, checking your credit score can be potentially damaging. When you check your score through a possible lender, such as a bank or a mortgage company, it might be considered a “hard check” and will cause your score to go down a few points.
Though hard checks won't usually damage your score as much as something like a missed payment, you’ll still want to avoid them. Luckily, there are quite a few ways you can check your credit score without necessitating a hard pull.
What is the Difference Between a Soft Credit Check and a Hard Credit Check?
While a “hard check” or a “hard pull” will usually be reflected on your credit report, a “soft pull” or a “soft check” will not.
Hard pulls typically occur when you are applying for financing and creditors will need to learn more about your current credit situation. These creditors, in an effort to determine whether they want to lend to you and how risky you will be as a borrower, will look at your open lines of credit, your payment history, and other important factors.
Once a hard pull has occurred, it will be reflected on a credit score—and will usually bump your score down by a couple of points. Creditors do not want to see that you have applied to 30 different lenders at once and they also do not want to see that your credit situation is likely to change before they issue a loan. Due to the small drop in your credit score that a hard pull can cause, you should only formally apply for credit if you are seriously considering using it.
A soft pull, on the other hand, does not have any impact on your credit score. Soft pulls typically occur when you aren't actually applying for credit. Instead, they occur when you or someone else needs to check your credit score for a different reason. This can include things such as your current lenders simply giving you an update (credit monitoring), you are personally curious about your score, or someone (such as an employer) is conducting a background check.
When Do Companies Usually Do a Hard Credit Check?
As suggested, companies will usually only do a hard pull when you are formally applying for credit. This can include a mortgage application, an auto loan, a credit card, a personal loan, and several other types of borrowing. Certain utility providers, particularly those that are paid by credit, might also conduct a hard inquiry.
A hard pull should only occur with your consent. Lenders are not allowed to do a hard pull whenever they want, such as when they are trying to market a loan or financial product to you. If you suddenly see a “Hard Inquiry” on your credit score from a company you do not recognize, you do have the right to dispute it.
How Can I Check My Credit Without a Hard Pull?
Luckily, there are quite a few ways to check your credit without a hard pull. If you currently have an existing credit account, such as a mortgage or auto loan, your lender can often provide your credit score (or at least an estimate) for you.
There are currently three primary credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—many of the free credit score providers will provide scores for two out of these three. Certain events, such as missed payment, might only be provided to some bureaus, meaning you might want to check your score in multiple different places. Some might also provide a composite estimate, allowing you to get an understanding of your credit score with a single number.
Is My Estimated Credit Score Accurate?
There are many platforms, such as CreditKarma, where people can check their credit scores for free whenever they want. However, it is important to note that these platforms don’t get the scores directly from the credit bureaus—instead, they indirectly tell you what they think your score probably is based on the information that is currently available.
Usually, the scores that CreditKarma and other sources give you will be fairly accurate. However, these scores are often delayed (so they might be missing payments that you’ve made) and the scores might also use inaccurate information. So, using these platforms is certainly a good way to get started but you shouldn’t be surprised when your mortgage lender gives you a credit score that differs from what you’ve seen online.
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