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You can check your credit score whenever you want, and there are ways to check several versions of your credit scores for free. Checking your own credit will never hurt your scores. Even if you're able to check your score for free at any time, however, you don't necessarily need to check it every day—especially if you have a credit monitoring service that will notify you of suspicious changes.
How Often Is My Credit Score Updated?
Credit scores are created on demand and are based on credit reports from the three major consumer credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. While it can sometimes feel like you're checking a score that's constantly being updated in the background—that's simply not how it works. A credit report must be requested and created, and then that report is scored.
With this in mind, it may be more helpful to ask yourself what's changed in your credit report since the last time you checked your score?
Many changes can affect your scores, including:
- You applied for a new credit account.
- You opened or closed an account.
- A creditor sent an update to the credit bureaus with your most recent payment and account information.
- A collection agency reported a collection account in your name to the credit bureaus.
If you regularly check your credit scores, you may see that they move up and down quite often. The changes may be due, in part, to one of the above. Additionally, credit scores may use several time-related attributes when determining a score, such as the average age of your accounts or how long it's been since a negative item was added to your credit report. As a result, even the passage of time can lead to changing credit scores—even if everything else stays the same.
How to Check Your Credit Score
You can check many of your credit scores for free online. For example, you can create a free Experian account to see your FICO® Score☉ 8 based on your Experian credit report.
Some banks, credit unions, lenders and credit card issuers also offer free credit scores to current and prospective customers. There are also online financial technology companies that give members free credit scores.
Depending on the provider, you may get either a FICO® Score or VantageScore® credit score, and the score could be based on either your Experian, TransUnion or Equifax credit report.
Additionally, you can purchase credit scores from FICO® and third-party providers. Buying a score doesn't always make sense, because you generally won't know which score type a lender will use to evaluate your application. However, many mortgage lenders use specific FICO® Score models. To help with your preparation, it may make sense to purchase those FICO® Scores or sign up for a program such as Experian CreditWorks℠ Premium that includes them.
Checking your own credit will result in a soft inquiry being added to your credit report. Inquiries are simply records of who has viewed your credit, and soft inquiries have zero impact on your credit score. The other type of inquiry, a hard inquiry, is typically associated with applications for new credit accounts and may cause your credit scores to drop slightly.
What Determines Your Credit Score?
While there are many credit scoring models used to calculate a score, they tend to be impacted by similar factors. So, while an exact score depends on the scoring model and which credit report it's analyzing, your credit scores are likely to trend in the same direction.
Common scoring factors include:
- Your account payment history
- Credit account balances
- Experience with different types of credit
- The age of your credit accounts
- Whether you've recently applied for or opened new accounts
In general, having a long history of making on-time payments and maintaining low balances on your credit cards can help all of your credit scores. Missing a payment, filing for bankruptcy or having an account sent to collections can hurt all your credit scores, although the impact can also diminish over time and eventually the negative information disappears completely.
Sign Up for Free Credit Monitoring
In addition to checking your credit score before applying for a loan or credit card, you may want to monitor your scores for large unexpected drops. These could indicate that you've missed a payment, or that someone has fraudulently applied for credit and opened accounts in your name.
Fortunately, you can get free Experian credit monitoring with real-time alerts. Experian also offers subscriptions to identity theft protection services, which include identity theft insurance and an option to get three-bureau monitoring and alerts.