Will rate shopping hurt my credit score?

Young couple looking at blueprints and a computer to find the best rate for a mortgageImage: Young couple looking at blueprints and a computer to find the best rate for a mortgage
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The best part about credit scores seems obvious. When it comes to interest rates, down payments and credit card terms, your good credit score can potentially save you money. What more do you need to know?

There are moments when this connection is less obvious though. When you’re shopping for the best deal on a mortgage or auto loan, the rules determining your credit score can seem like a hindrance. Many worry that shopping around for the best rates, a habit that is seemingly crucial to getting good terms, will adversely affect their credit scores. If a prime benefit of having a good credit score is potential savings, but shopping around for the best deal on a mortgage will hurt your credit score, then what’s the point?

Read on to dig in.

So will rate shopping hurt my credit score?

Yes and no. You probably know that each time you apply for a new line of credit you’re normally hit with a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries can negatively affect your score, so moving from lender to lender and piling up a bunch of these in a small period of time is probably not a great idea.

Still, depending on what type of credit you’re shopping around for and what model you’re getting your score from, the extent of the damage can vary. If you’re looking for an auto loan or mortgage specifically, some credit score models will allow for some level of shopping around by essentially viewing multiple inquiries within a certain time period as just one. Bureaus usually identify the fact that you’re comparison shopping by noticing the types of credit lines you’re applying for and the size of your requested loan, so it may be best to stay consistent. The time period over which you can rate shop under these models without feeling the effect of multiple inquiries can vary and is often from around 14 days to up to 45.

Beware that a single inquiry could still have a somewhat negative effect on your credit. Also keep in in mind that this rate shopping adjustment is only adopted by some credit score models and usually only applies to auto loans and mortgages. So if you’re applying for a dozen credit cards over a month or two, you’re likely to still incur a bunch of hard inquiries.

What else can I do?

It’s great that many models will recognize when you’re shopping around, but there is a lot of variation between models so it’s good to have a backup plan.

Before having a bunch of institutions run your credit, do some research on your own. Consult the lender’s website to learn about the terms commonly offered to those with similar credit profiles. This way you can narrow down your choices before you start applying and your credit is run.

Another tip that could keep your credit score from dropping is to only apply for one type of credit account at a time. For example, if you’re in need of a mortgage, you may want to wait until later to get yourself a new car and the accompanying auto loan. Attempting to secure too much credit at one time may give lenders the impression that you’re desperate for cash or unprepared to handle your debts responsibly.

More generally, it’s best to go into the process with your credit health in great shape. Knowing that a few hard credit inquiries might dip your score a bit, prepare yourself by otherwise checking that your credit report is spick-and-span and ready for a little bit of a stress test. Monitor your credit and dispute any inaccuracies beforehand to help get you in the best position to get a great deal.

Bottom line

Too much hunting around for the best terms on a new line of credit could be harmful to your credit score. However, if you go about the process responsibly, you can achieve the benefits of comparison shopping without causing undue damage to your credit profile. All you have to do is be cautious and shop wisely.