By Eric Tyson, Robert S. Griswold

Because lenders check your credit score, you may want to see the same score that they see. It’s easy to check your FICO score and to find out specific things that you can do to raise it.

Getting your credit score

The websites for many banks, financial services sites, and credit reporting agencies offer FICO scores for a fee, as does Fair Isaac’s myFICO site. Information you receive includes

  • Your current FICO score
  • Your credit report on which your FICO score is based
  • An explanation of your score, the positive and negative factors behind it, and how lenders view your credit risk
  • A FICO score simulator you can use to see how specific actions, such as paying off all your card balances, would affect your score
  • Specific tips on what you can do to improve your FICO score over time

In addition, you can see current information on the average interest rates for home loans for different FICO score ranges.

If you do business with one of the larger banks, you may have free access to your FICO score. Just be aware that you may not be getting the best overall deal on whatever services you’re buying from those banks.

Checking your credit score

It’s always a good idea to stay on your credit report so that you know where you stand when it comes time for that mortgage application. In the past, people have been discouraged from checking their credit reports for fear that it will damage your credit. On this subject, it’s important to understand the distinction between hard inquiries and soft inquiries.

  • Hard inquiries: Hard inquiries involve the pulling of your credit score by financial institutions to make lending decisions. This happens when you apply for mortgages or a loan.
  • Soft inquiries: These occur when non-financial institutions pull your credit for things like a background check, such as when an employer requests a credit report. These soft inquiries also include checking your credit with a service like Credit Karma.

The important difference here is that hard inquiries involve pulling a credit report to procure money. Soft inquiries are usually viewed as simply monitoring your credit.

Managing your score

Improving your score can help you

  • Get better credit offers
  • Lower your interest rates
  • Speed up credit approvals

An important time to check your score is six months or more before applying for a mortgage. This gives you time to make sure your credit report information is right, correct it if it’s not, improve your score if necessary, and ensure your access to the best mortgages available.

If you’ve been turned down for credit, the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act gives you the right to find out why within 30 days. You’re also entitled to a free copy of your credit bureau report within 60 days, which you can request from the credit reporting agencies. If your FICO score was a primary part of the lender’s decision, the lender will use the score reasons to explain why you didn’t qualify for the credit.