Your credit score sets the stage for your financial life. It determines which credit products you can qualify for and what terms you get from lenders upon approval. As such, it’s a good idea to know where you stand when it comes to credit.
The three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- keep track of your credit score, but their services aren’t your only option for checking your progress. You’ll want to choose services strategically to avoid consequences when you check your credit.
What is a credit check?
A credit check allows you or lenders to see your credit scores. There are two types of credit checks: a soft inquiry and a hard inquiry.
A soft inquiry (or pull) is the primary form of credit check used when you request to view your credit reports and scores. It won’t affect your credit score. A soft pull is also used by credit card issuers to match you with preapproval offers.
A hard check will affect your credit score. A hard inquiry occurs when you apply for a new credit product, like a credit card, personal loan or mortgage. Your score will usually fall by a few points temporarily, as it likely means you’re about to take on more debt, which factors into how your credit scores are generated.
It’s also important to note that there are two main scoring models used to generate your credit scores -- FICO and VantageScore. Thereare a few differences between the two scoring models, but they are mostly generated from the same criteria, including payment history, age of credit accounts, debt level, number of credit accounts and other factors.
What are credit reports?
Credit reports are a record of your credit history, payment history and other financial information collected by the three major credit bureaus and used to generate your credit scores. They’re compiled using information from lenders and essentially track your financial life. Credit reports offer more detailed information breakdowns than your credit score alone.
How to check your credit report for free
Federal law guarantees that you can check your credit reports for free every 12 months. You can head over to annualcreditreport.com to view your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus once per year. However, as a response to COVID-19, you’re able to view your credit reports once per week through 2022.
You can also check your Equifax credit report six times annually after making myEquifax account, plus check your credit score monthly. All free of charge. Experian will also provide you with a free credit report and credit score check after making an Experian account.
TransUnion on the other hand provides the annual credit report as dictated by federal law, but only offers paid credit monitoring.
But you might not have to go directly to the source to check your credit report for free. Capital One offers its CreditWise tool where you can see your TransUnion credit report as well as a weekly VantageScore credit score. You don’t even need to be a Capital One cardholder to access CreditWise.
Other credit card issuers like American Express and Discover also offer free credit score monitoring for cardholders. No matter which route you take, checking your credit report and credit scores will only result in a soft pull, which won’t impact your scores.
Why should I check my credit report?
Checking your credit reports annually is a good idea to ensure no inaccuracies impact your credit. If you do find an inaccuracy, you can file a dispute with the credit bureaus or your lender.
Knowing your credit score can also help you decide which credit products you should apply for. Essentially, the better your credit, the better the terms you’ll get. That means lower interest rates and monthly payments.
Here’s how lenders evaluate your credit score based on the two major scoring models:
Credit score ranges
|Poor (300 to 579)||Very Poor (300 to 499)|
|Fair (580 to 669)||Poor (500 to 600)|
|Good (670 to 739)||Fair (601 to 660)|
|Very Good (740 to 799)||Good (661 to 780)|
|Exceptional (800 to 850)||Excellent (781 to 850)|
The higher your credit score, the more responsible as a borrower you appear -- meaning you’re more likely to get approved for better financial products.
The bottom line
There are a few ways to get a free credit check, and none of them will result in a lower credit score. You’re able to check your credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus once per year, free of charge. You can also access your credit report and score directly from the credit bureaus, or from certain credit card issuers.
If you need to improve your credit, there are credit cards specifically designed for establishing a positive credit history, as well as other credit products like credit builder loans. You could also become an authorized user on the credit card account of a family member that has good credit to improve your own. But the easiest way to improve your credit score is simply by paying on time for all of your credit cards and loans. Payment history contributes the most to either scoring model.
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