It takes less than 15 minutes. It’s free. And it’s one of the most important things you can do for your financial health.
No, it’s not saving 15% on car insurance. It’s checking your credit.
“But wait,” you say inquisitively. “Won’t that bring down my credit score?”
While nearly a third of Americans believe this is the case, it’s just not true. Checking your own credit has no effect whatsoever on your credit score.
There are two types of credit checks. Applying for a loan or credit card requires a hard check, which usually affects your score by less than five points. But you don’t need to apply for a loan to check your credit.
You can easily check your own credit without going into a bank or applying for a loan. When you do this yourself, it’s considered a “soft” check. Soft checks do not impact your score. You’re welcome to check your own credit as often as you like, and your credit score will not be affected.
How to check your own credit for free
It’s a good idea to regularly check your credit to ensure your reports are error-free. You want to keep an eye out for mistakes or incorrect marks that could affect your ability to get approved for loans in the future.
There are three credit reporting bureaus, and by law each one is required to give you a free credit report every 12 months. Visit annualcreditreport.com to request your free reports from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You’ll get separate reports from each one detailing your full credit history. You can either check all three at once annually and compare them all side-by-side. Or, you can check a different report every four months to keep tabs on your credit throughout the year.
Spoiler: These reports can be a bit cumbersome to decode, but it’s worth going over them with a fine-tooth comb. Each report may vary slightly, but should include all your credit cards and loans, how long your accounts have been open and your payment history for each.
If you find any mysterious accounts or information that seems wrong, immediately contact the bureau to get it corrected. The earlier you catch any errors, the better. Lingering misinformation on any of your reports could make it difficult to get loans or credit cards down the line.
How to check your credit score for free
You’d think your credit reports would include your credit score, but they don’t. Since the credit bureaus don’t make money off providing you a free credit report, they try to get you to pay for your score.
For around $20 a month, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian will be so kind as to grant you access to a credit monitoring tool that includes your credit score. Save your money. It’s completely unnecessary to pay credit bureaus for your score because you can get it elsewhere for free.
Plenty of equally robust tools charge nothing and provide the exact same information and credit score monitoring capabilities. Keep in mind you have different credit scores, so you won’t receive the same one from all.
- Free credit scores are one of the many perks bundled into most credit cards. Citi, Discover, Bank of America and some Chase cards are just a few that provide credit scores updated monthly.
- Financial and budgeting tools like Mint, NerdWallet and CreditKarma provide free scores to users.
- Anyone can sign up for Discover’s Credit Scorecard or Capital One’s CardWise to view their credit score, even if you don’t have one of their cards.
Why would these credit card providers and financial sites provide this awesome benefit for free? Because there’s something incredibly valuable in it for them: easy access to new customers. With your financial profile in hand, they already know which types of cards, loans and products you’ll likely qualify for. Providing free credit scores helps these companies zero in on the ideal customers for their wide range of products.
Bottom line: Checking your own report or score never negatively impacts your credit. You’re welcome to check both for free, and you should so you know where your credit stands. Just remember the companies that offer free access to credit reports and credit scores also want to convert you into a paying customer.