Accessing or “pulling” your credit report allows you to review your credit behavior. You can see what lenders are reporting about you while you monitor your payment history. Checking your credit report should be a regular part of your routine financial behavior, similarly to reviewing your bank statements or creating a budget.
Some consumers are hesitant to check their credit report because they don’t want to impact their credit score. While pulling your credit report does result in an inquiry on your credit report, the good news is that it will not negatively affect your credit score. In fact, checking your credit report may help you get in the habit of monitoring your financial accounts.
Which type of inquiry impacts my credit score?
Any request for your credit history is known as an inquiry, but not all inquiries affect your credit score: hard inquiries do whereas soft inquiries do not.
Soft inquiries include your own requests for your credit history, account monitoring inquiries, and promotional inquiries. Soft inquiries on your credit report are only visible to you, not a potential lender, and will remain visible to you on your credit report for 12 to 24 months, depending on the type. An account monitoring inquiry is triggered when one of your current creditors performs a regular review of your credit report. Promotional inquiries are credit checks made by businesses in order to offer you services, such as a creditor extending you a pre-approved credit offer.
Hard inquiries occur when a potential lender reviews your credit history because you have applied for a loan or a new credit card. These remain on your credit report for 24 months.
(Read more: How Long Does Information Stay on My Credit Report?)
If your credit score is fluctuating, it may be because of your other credit behavior. Keep in mind the following three tips in order to help you build a solid credit history.
1. Don’t request too much credit at once. Too many hard inquiries can affect your credit score, even if your requests for credit are denied.
Opening too many new accounts can also affect your average account age, which is the length of your credit history. The longer your credit history, the more information lenders can see about your credit behavior.
If you are opening a credit card from a financial institution but are also interested in applying for a credit card from your favorite retail store, understand that having two “fresh” accounts appear on your credit report may shorten your average account age and impact your credit score.
2. Avoid making late payments. Payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, the most of all factors considered when calculating your credit score. If you have several different types of credit accounts, such as credit cards and a mortgage, make sure to make the minimum payments on all accounts instead of paying one bill at the expense of your other debts.
If you miss a payment, the length of time past due and the balance amount are factored into your credit score. If a missed or late payment is added to your credit report, it could remain there for up to seven years.
If you have difficulty meeting your credit payments, speak with your lender about repayment options or contact a non-profit agency, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, for help.
3. Avoid high balances on your credit cards. Even if you pay off your balance every month, a high balance could indicate irresponsible credit behavior to lenders because it indicates your credit utilization ratio, the amount of credit you use in relation to the credit that is available to you. For example, if you have a credit line of $1,500 and you only use $500 per month, you have a credit utilization ratio of 33 percent. In other words, you are using 33 percent of your available credit. The optimal credit ratio is approximately 35 percent.
To keep track of your credit behavior, you may want to regularly review your credit report. Monitoring your credit report can show you how your credit history appears to lenders, and it may also help you better protect yourself against identity theft.
Consumers are entitled to receive one free copy of their credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) through AnnualCreditReport.com. By taking advantage of this service, you will be provided with three free opportunities every year to review the information in your credit report and monitor your accounts.