What Happens When Someone Checks Your Credit?

What happens during a credit check depends on what kind of check is being run—and who’s doing the checking.

There are a lot of myths out there surrounding credit scores, especially when it comes to what happens when you or someone else check them. That’s why we’ve cooked up this little blog post to set the record straight.

We don’t know how much good it will do—the internet is pretty good at sustaining all sorts of “out there” legends—but we figured it doesn’t hurt to try. In that regard, it’s actually a lot like checking your own credit score!

Here’s how credit scores work.

We say “your credit score” as though you only have one. In fact, you have several! The most common type of credit score—and the one you’re almost certainly familiar with—is your FICO score. FICO scores are graded on a scale from 300 to 850 and the higher your score, the better, with a score of 680 serving as a rough border between “good” and “fair” credit.

Like all credit scores, FICO scores are based off the information in your credit report. Or shall we say, credit reports! You have three different credit reports, and each one is compiled by one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

Information can vary between your credit reports, as some businesses don’t report information to all three. As such, your credit score can also vary depending on which credit report was used to create it. In addition to FICO scores, the three credit bureaus also got together a few years ago to create their own credit score: VantageScore.

Your credit reports contain a whole bunch of information regarding how you use credit, including records of what accounts you’ve opened, how much you’ve borrowed, whether you’ve made your payments on-time, any debts that have been sent to collections, and whether you’ve ever filed for bankruptcy.

All that information is then blended together using a super secret formula to create your credit score. With FICO scores, we do know the five main categories of info and how they’re weighted. The categories are payment history (35 percent), amounts owed (30 percent), length of credit history (15 percent), credit mix (10 percent), and recent credit inquiries (10 percent).

There are two types of credit checks: hard and soft.

When you apply for a personal loan, a mortgage, an auto loan, or a student loan, your lender is going to want to look over your credit report. In order to do this, they need to run what’s called a “hard” inquiry on your credit report. This delivers them a full copy of your credit report, and it can only be run with your express permission.

Other times, a business might want to access your credit report for a more general purpose, like renting you an apartment or “pre-approving” you for a credit card offer. In cases like this, a business would run what’s called a “soft” inquiry. Unlike hard inquiries, these soft credit checks can be run without your permission—or even your knowledge.

One of the biggest differences between hard and soft credit checks is how they affect your credit score. Hard inquiries are recorded on your credit report under the “recent credit inquiries” category, and they do affect your score. Depending on your credit, a single hard inquiry can ding your score by five points, and multiple inquiries in a short amount of time can have a larger effect.

Meanwhile, soft credit checks are also recorded on your report, but they will only be visible to you. And they have zero effect on your credit score. For instance, if you have lousy credit and you’re applying for a bad credit loan, that lender might run a soft check on your credit. Even if you end up getting denied for the loan, your score will remain the same.

Soft credit checks also apply when you check your own credit score or request a copy of your credit report—the latter of which you can do for free, by the way. It’s the law: All three credit bureaus must provide you with one free copy of your report annually upon request. To order a free copy of your report, just visit AnnualCreditReport.com.

Why do hard inquiries affect your credit score?

To explain why hard credit inquiries affect your credit score, it helps to think like a lender:

You receive an application for an unsecured personal loan, and you pull up a copy of this applicant’s credit report. You notice that, recently, they’ve been applying for a number of different personal loans and credit cards. What does that say to you?

For many lenders, a large number of recent credit inquiries points to one thing: A borrower who is desperate for more credit, which means that they have probably encountered some additional costs that need covering. And when a person is struggling with added costs—including extra debt—that means that they are somewhat less likely to pay back a new loan.

However, there is one pretty obvious exception to this rule: shopping around! In order to find the best loan possible, it helps to apply for a bunch of different ones. It’s only once your loan application is approved that you’ll see the terms these lenders are actually offering you.

Shopping around for the best loan is smart financial behavior and something to be encouraged. That’s why, when it comes to mortgages, auto loans, and student loans, any inquiries made within the same 45 day period are bundled together on your credit report and are counted as only a single hard inquiry.

The benefits of soft credit check loans.

For people with bad credit, a hard inquiry on an in-person or online loan application might as well be a “No Trespassing” sign. That’s why many of them end up borrowing no credit check loans that don’t perform any hard inquiries—and come with much higher interest rates to compensate.

And while some of these loans can provide a sensible short-term financial solution, there is a big difference between checking a person’s credit score and checking their ability to repay, period. That’s why many bad credit lenders perform a soft credit check, one that won’t affect an applicant’s credit but that still gives them a better idea of what this person can handle financially.

Other no credit check lenders, meanwhile, don’t do anything to check whether or not a potential borrower can repay the loan they’re applying for. Many of these lenders offer short-term payday loans, cash advances, and title loans. And even with such quick turnarounds, many borrowers end up taking out more money than they can handle and getting stuck in a spiral of debt.

Soft credit check loans, on the other hand, often come in the form of longer-term installment loans. If you have bad credit and need a loan, you should look into the benefits of installment loans that perform a soft credit check when you apply.

Some of these lenders, like OppLoans, even report your payment information to the credit bureaus, meaning that on-time payments could help improve your score! To learn more about credit scores—and what you can do to improve your own—check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

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The information contained herein is provided for free and is to be used for educational and informational purposes only. We are not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law and we do not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit. Articles provided in connection with this blog are general in nature, provided for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for individualized professional advice. We make no representation that we will improve or attempt to improve your credit record, history, or rating through the use of the resources provided through the OppLoans blog.