When Do Credit Scores Change?If you’ve been working hard to build up your credit scores, or you’ve recently made a mistake that put a damaging item on your credit reports, then you’re probably wondering when exactly you’ll see your credit scores change. The truth is that the major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — are updating your credit scores all the time, but at the same time, they may not have the most up-to-date details on your credit reports. To figure out when you’ll see your actions pay off on your credit scores, it’s important to understand how lenders report information to the credit bureaus, what kinds of information land on your credit reports and how credit monitoring can help you keep an eye on your scores.

How credit scores change

First, to clear up a misconception regarding how credit scores work, thinking of your credit scores as a running tally of your credit history isn’t quite accurate. Instead, it’s better to imagine credit scores as portraits of your credit from specific moments in time. That’s because credit bureaus calculate your scores on the fly every time they’re requested. If you request your credit score from a credit bureau, the score you see will be calculated using all of the information the credit bureau has at the time, and they get new information from your lenders constantly. The key to understanding when your credit scores change isn’t about knowing when the bureaus update your scores, but about knowing when your lenders report your account information to the credit bureaus.

Lenders generally send reports on your account information to credit bureaus once a month, and usually those reports get sent at the end of your billing cycle. This is true for new lines of credit as well, which typically send reports 30 days after you make your first payment. Reports contain statistics like your account balance, whether you made your last payment on time and whether your account is in good standing. When credit bureaus receive information from a lender, that information gets added to your credit reports and is then factored into any credit scores the bureaus calculate. Knowing when your lender reports your account information to the credit bureaus can give you a sense of when your credit scores will reflect big events in your credit history. You can even use this knowledge to increase your credit scores by, for instance, paying off (or down) your credit account balances before your lenders report to the bureaus to improve your credit utilization ratio.

What you can’t predict

Just knowing when your lenders send your account reports to the credit bureaus doesn’t make when your credit scores change entirely predictable. There are many pieces of your credit reports that are difficult to accurately foresee when they will appear. Items from public records that show up on your credit reports, like court-ordered payments, tax liens and bankruptcy, don’t have a standard time frame for when they appear. Also, you may have information reported to the credit bureaus that you didn’t realize could be reported. Landlords, for instance, don’t normally report the account information of their tenants to credit bureaus, but they can report the accounts of tenants who are late making rent payments if they elect to — so if you fall behind on rent, you could take an unexpected hit to your credit scores.

Additionally, credit scores change based on how old the items on your credit reports become. For example, let’s say you miss a credit card payment by 40 days, and your lender reports that late payment to the credit bureaus. Initially, that late payment is going to hurt your credit scores quite a bit, but if after that you pay your credit card off every month, over time that late payment will have less of an impact on your scores. Typically, negative items fall off your credit reports entirely after seven years, though bankruptcies take 10 years to stop dragging your scores down.

To make matters even more complicated, not every lender reports account information to every credit bureau. Smaller lenders, like credit unions, sometimes only report to one or two of the three bureaus. If account activity you were expecting to show up on your credit reports seems to repeatedly not affect your credit score with a particular bureau, it’s possible your lender doesn’t do business with it.

Keep up with your scores

While you can figure out when your most prominent lenders are going to report to the credit bureaus, there are a lot of factors you can’t predict. It’s this level of unpredictability in your credit scores that makes credit monitoring such a valuable service. Even if you ignore the benefits it grants for detecting fraud and errors on your credit reports, credit monitoring gives you regular access to your credit scores so you can see exactly how your credit is doing and where it can improve. Checking your credit once a month will give most of your lenders enough time to report on your account to the credit bureaus, so you can get a full picture of your credit. If you’re trying to get your credit scores in shape for a particular purchase, some credit monitoring services like Experian IdentityWorks and myFICO can give you daily updates on your reports and scores so you don’t miss anything.

You can’t know when every little change to your credit scores is going to hit, but by learning when your lenders report your account information to the credit bureaus and tracking your scores, you can quickly react to the big shifts. If you’d like to know more about how your credit scores work, read our credit monitoring blog.