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Ironically, even when a credit card issuer checks your credit history and approves your application, your credit score still drops by a few points. This is because they must conduct a hard credit check/inquiry to get your full credit history. Every hard check results in a small deduction of points from your score. So, after receiving a new credit card, you may check your score and find it’s lower.

A credit card provider will only carry out a hard credit check after you apply for a card (not for preapproval). This means they’ll request a full credit report from at least one — and in most cases all three — of the top credit bureaus, which are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

The number of points a hard inquiry takes off your score

The good news is that each hard check only takes a few points off your score. This means that small drops in your total, especially if you’ve recently applied for credit, are nothing to worry about. They’re also temporary, and if you continue to use and manage your credit responsibly, your score will go up again.

There’s no definitive answer to the question of how many points a hard inquiry may deduct from your credit score. It depends on the frequency of your credit applications. If you apply for several credit cards in a short time, each hard check can drop your score by at least 10 points. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you accept the credit offer or not; the hard check deducts points every time.

How to avoid hard checks on your credit

Initially, ask to go through the issuer’s preapproval process. This only requires a soft check, which won’t bring your score down. Of course, getting preapproval doesn’t guarantee you a credit offer if you do make a full application, but it indicates the probable outcome and allows you to avoid a hard check if it seems likely you won’t be successful.

It also helps to know which common financial activities require hard checks to ensure you only go through the process when you’re really serious. These activities include applications for a:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loan
  • Credit card
  • Student loan
  • Personal loan
  • House or apartment rental

Requesting a credit increase can hurt your score

Asking your credit card provider to increase your credit limit can also take points off your score, even if they agree. Why does requesting a credit increase hurt your score? Again, it’s because of the hard inquiry.

That said, not every lender will run a hard credit check to see if you meet the requirements. “Credit card issuers aren’t always clear about whether the request will result in a hard or soft inquiry, but some share this information online,” says Experian. They also have some good advice: “If you’re unsure and can’t find the information online, call your card issuer and ask whether it will use a soft or hard inquiry. You can also ask if it’s likely that they will approve your request.”

How often does your credit score update?

Lenders and creditors report new information about your activity to the credit bureaus. The bureaus then update your credit report, which usually occurs every 30 to 45 days. They use commercial credit scoring systems like FICO and VantageScore to calculate your credit score. You can use a free online tool to check your score for updates regularly.

You can check your report once a week

Reading your credit report can help you make sense of updates to your score. If you request your report from any of the credit bureaus, it’s treated as a soft check, so no points are deducted. You’re entitled to a copy of your full report once a year from each of the three main agencies; however, according to USA.gov, owing to the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can now get a free credit report every week until further notice.

If your score has gone down because of multiple credit card applications, the solution is to stop applying, at least for now. A string of hard inquiries could signal to lenders that you are taking on too much debt. Experts advise waiting at least three months between applications and even more if your score is low. Hard checks stay on your report for two years, but their effect on your credit score should go away sooner than that.

Factors that can stop your credit score from going up

Building up better credit takes time, especially if you’re starting from a low score. If you’re feeling a little frustrated and asking, “Why is my credit score not going up?”, consider getting a copy of your credit report and check if any of the following issues might be holding you back:

  • Your identity was stolen (spending on your credit card by someone who has stolen your details)
  • You’ve suddenly started spending more (this decreases the amount of credit you have compared to the amount you’re using)
  • You’ve recently closed a card (this can shorten your credit history and reduce your total available credit)
  • You’ve moved houses frequently (some lenders see this as a sign of instability)
  • You’ve paid off a loan and consequently changed your credit mix (loans, credit accounts, etc.)
  • You have a financial relationship (e.g., a mortgage or joint bank account) with someone who doesn’t have good credit
  • You owe money on a credit card you’ve forgotten about

Key takeaways

Knowledge is power when it comes to improving your credit health. If your score is low, you can’t fix it unless you know why.

  • Check your score regularly and request a credit report from the three top bureaus.
  • Make timely payments on the credit cards you already have.
  • Apply only for credit that you actually need to reduce hard inquiries and keep your score as high as possible.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect the current practices of annualcreditreport.com.

Disclaimer: This story was originally published on November 24, 2021, on BetterCreditBlog.org. To find the most relevant information concerning collections or credit card inquiries, please visit: https://money.com/how-to-remove-collections-from-credit-report/ or https://money.com/get-items-removed-from-credit-report/