own credit reportAfter going through Credit Reports 101 and hearing about the latest data breaches, you’re now wanting to check your credit reports for errors and potentially fraudulent accounts, as it’s no secret that doing so could allow you to avoid getting severely hurt by identity theft. But before you pull your own credit reports, you may want to know if doing so would negatively impact your credit scores. After all, you wouldn’t want your scores to be dinged with a hard inquiry like they are when you apply for a new credit account (something we explain below). As such, in this post, we’re not only detailing how you can check your credit reports, but also explaining whether or not doing so will impact your reports and scores.

What does it mean to check your credit reports?

Before getting into whether or not checking credit reports affects credit scores, it may be helpful to first go over and define what it means for you to check your own credit reports. After all, it’s only natural to wonder what’s accomplished that would make you want to do so in the first place.

When you check your credit reports, you’re taking a look at your credit history, which details your payment history, account information and more. Doing so will ensure your reports are free of errors (they’re more common than you think) or indications of fraudulent activity and identity theft (look for accounts or activity that you don’t recognize). On top of that, your credit reports can help you see where you stand before you apply for a loan or credit card. While you may pay all of your bills on time, there could be an old account that you forgot about. As such, it’s best to check your reports just to make sure everything is as expected.

Regardless of your reason for checking your credit reports, here’s how you can get copies of them:

Utilize AnnualCreditReport.com

One free way to get your hands on your credit reports is to request a copy from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). By federal law, U.S. citizens are entitled to one free copy of each bureau’s report every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com, the only website that is operated by the government to provide free credit reports. Keep in mind, however, that while you can obtain one free credit report from each of these credit bureaus every 12 months, either all at once or one at a time throughout the year, ordering more than that results in additional costs.

Use a credit monitoring service

If you want to check your credit reports more than once throughout the year, you may want to subscribe to a credit monitoring service. That’s because credit monitoring services keep tabs on your credit reports at all times, alerting you when something is added or changed. Our top-rated credit monitoring services not only give you access to all three of your free credit reports, which is a must, but most also come with free trials, which means you won’t have to pay anything to test one of these services out. We should note that when you subscribe to a credit monitoring service, you authorize the service to pull and monitor your credit reports on your behalf.

Would checking your credit reports affect your credit scores?

Now that you know how you can check your credit reports, let’s get to the meat of this post: does checking your credit reports affect your credit scores? It turns out that the answer begins with familiarizing yourself with the two types of inquiries used to request credit reports: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Hard inquiries occur when applications for a credit card or a loan are submitted (meaning you apply for a new line of credit) and your credit reports are pulled to see if you qualify. These inquiries can also be used by your landlord, employer or anyone else who would be running a credit check. On the other hand, pulling your own reports to check your credit health, account monitoring inquiries (e.g., when a creditor performs a regular checkup on your creditworthiness) and promotional inquiries (e,g., when businesses check your credit before presenting you a pre-approved offer) are all classified as soft inquiries.

Although there are two types of inquiries, only hard inquiries show up on your credit reports and thus, affect your credit scores – though one hard inquiry doesn’t usually pack a ton of punch. Hard inquiries are visible to reviewers of your credit reports and can stay on your reports for about 24 months. On the flip side, because submitting a request to access your own credit reports (or having a credit report monitoring service do it on your behalf) for non-credit-granting purposes is classified as a soft inquiry, checking your credit reports doesn’t affect your credit scores. As such, you can feel free to check your credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com or a credit monitoring service as often as you like without worrying about your credit scores taking a hit.

Now that you know that checking your own credit reports does not affect your credit scores, you can learn more about credit monitoring and keeping up with your credit health by checking out our reviews of credit monitoring services and following our credit monitoring blog.