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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Credit Check?

We all know that having a clean, accurate and positive credit history is important. Our credit can be the basis of life-impacting decisions by potential lenders, landlords, employers and even car insurance companies.

Unfortunately, there is a persistent myth that checking our credit hurts out credit.

MYTH: Checking our own credit hurts our credit rating.

As with many myths, this one is based on information that is true but incorrectly applied. When we apply for a line of credit (mortgage or car loan, home equity, credit card, etc.), the potential lender will check our credit history for information that helps them determine what kind of credit risk we are. That type of credit check is known as a “hard inquiry” or an “active inquiry” on our credit. I’ve also had credit checks by our Internet provider and a cell phone company end up as hard inquiries on my credit report.

Each such hard inquiry might have a 1% adverse impact on our credit score for up to a year. Understanding this, we should probably keep our loan applications to a minimum. I usually suggest no more than two each year. While hard inquiries remain on our credit report for about two years, they only factor into our credit score (or rating) for 12 months.

TRUTH: All other credit checks (insurance, landlords, employment, etc.), including those we do ourselves, are “soft” or “passive” inquiries.  Again, they remain on our credit report for two years, but they have no impact whatsoever on our rating.

Free Credit Report at AnnualCreditReport.comSo, check away! Take advantage of the free credit report we have a right to every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus, technically known as consumer reporting agencies. Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, we can get all three of our credit reports at once or one or two every so often. And the only website worthy of mention where we can get these free reports is www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Virtually all other “free credit report” sites eventually try to charge us some sort of fee.

We may also call to request our free credit report toll-free at (877) 322-8228 or by mailing our request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta GA 30348-5281.

Note that we should ideally use the form provided through the FTC at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf.

What we do with our credit report once we have it  in hand (or have access to viewing it online) will be the subject of another blog. Suffice to say that accuracy is the key.

Author of Everyday Money for Everyday People, Todd ChristensenTodd Christensen

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