This Is How Often You Should Check Your Credit Score
There have been two points in my adulthood when I monitored my credit like a hawk: When I was preparing to buy my house, and when I was going through a background investigation for a government security clearance.
Keeping my credit score stable, or even bumping it up, was the name of the game as low-interest rates and, potentially, a job were at stake. (I’m not giving away any government secrets! While the background investigation form doesn’t ask specifically for your credit score, it does inquire about situations affecting credit, including accounts in collections).
Admittedly, I was way overzealous, checking credit-monitoring sites almost as often as I was Facebook notifications. But, it got me thinking: How often should I really be checking in on my credit scores?
The short answer, according to credit experts: Every 30 days or so. But, like most things, there are some nuances you should be aware of.
Here’s how to strike the right balance when it comes to keeping tabs on your credit score (and some helpful tips to better inform your credit-checking missions):
What’s a good credit-checking routine?
By law, you’re entitled to view your credit report once a year on annualcreditreport.com—and while you’ll see information from three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) on the report, it doesn’t contain your actual three-digit score. To supplement your free, annual report, you can check your score with credit cards and their associated banks as well as third-party apps and websites. (These are the free, credit-checking sites experts favor).
“A good rule of thumb is to check your credit at least once a month,” says Keri Danielski, consumer finance expert at Intuit Turbo and Mint. “Checking your credit score is important because it indicates your creditworthiness, which can impact how creditors view you when you apply for a loan, and what rates and terms you’re eligible for.”
Also, Danielski points out, one in five Americans has an error on his or her credit report, according to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report. So, it’s a good idea to keep tabs to make sure your score isn’t taking any unwarranted hits. The sooner you notice the mistake, the quicker you can dispute it.
Typically, lenders report to credit bureaus once a month, so there’s really no reason to check your score more than every 30 days, says Maggie Germano, a Washington, D.C.-based financial coach for women.
You should also check your credit report (the one on annualcreditreport.com) a couple of months before making any major financial purchases, like buying a car or a home, says Brittney Mayer, credit strategist at CardRates, a credit card comparison site.
“This allows you to spot any potential red flags before you endure a hard credit check from the lender,” she says.
If you notice, say, an unpaid collection account, you’ll want to get that to “paid” status before shopping for a mortgage, and it’s helpful to be upfront with your lender about the blemish on your credit report.
You should also keep a closer eye on your credit reports if you’ve been the victim of fraud or identity theft to make sure that any accounts that need to be addressed or removed are handled properly, Mayer says.
How much does credit fluctuate in a month?
It’s tempting to frequently check your score every time you get an email from a free credit site with a subject line like “New Score Alert.” We get it!
But your credit score is likely fluctuating some throughout the month, depending partly on when your creditors report to the credit bureaus.
It’s common for scores to go up or down 10 to 30 points within a month, says Kimberly Palmer, credit card expert at NerdWallet, a personal finance site.
“Credit scores are constantly fluctuating in reaction to different events for example,” she says “If you apply for a new credit card, your credit score can take a temporary dip. Similarly, if you close a longstanding credit account, it will also go down temporarily. If you pay off a big chunk of debt so you have a lower debt utilization ratio, then your score will go up.”
If something major happens, such as filing for bankruptcy, your score could fluctuate even more, Palmer says.
Also worth remembering is that each credit bureau is an independent, for-profit company with its own database, says James Garvey, CEO of Self Lender, a start-up that gives consumers credit-building loans.
“Many financial institutions report their data to just one or two credit bureaus, and this is why FICO scores can fluctuate depending on source of the credit history,” he says.
Based on these fluctuations, it’s a good idea to check your score at the same time each month. That way you get an apples-to-apples comparison of how your credit score is performing on a month-to-month basis. Don’t stress about the ups and downs that can occur throughout a 30-day cycle.
One final note about free credit-monitoring sites: “They tend to get their money from advertising credit cards,” says Germano.
Credit cards can help you build credit, but they can also be dangerous if you can’t afford to pay them off in full every month, she points out.
“My advice would be to turn off any email notifications that don’t have to do with your personal credit score,” Germano says. “Try not to be tempted to open a credit card that you don’t need, just because one of these sites is encouraging you to.”
So, how often do you check your credit?