Can My Credit Report Be Pulled Without My Consent?

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  • An inquiry on your credit report could result in minor credit score damage.
  • If a lender wants to pull your credit, it needs you to agree first.

The quick answer? That's a firm no.

Your credit report is a summary of your financial and borrowing history. It lists your outstanding loans and open credit accounts, and it gives lenders a sense of how risky or trustworthy you are as a borrower. If you're applying for a loan, whether it's a mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan, the lender you work with may need to check your credit report before agreeing to loan you money.

But lenders can't just access your credit report without your permission. And it's important that you understand your rights.

A credit report inquiry could have consequences

When a lender pulls your credit report in conjunction with a loan application, it counts as a hard inquiry. A single hard inquiry won't do much damage to your credit score -- but it could result in a five- to 10-point drop.

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Meanwhile, multiple hard inquiries in short order could have more of a negative impact on your credit score. And that's why it's important to limit those hard inquiries.

Now, the good news is that lenders can't just access your credit report without your consent. The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that only businesses with a legitimate reason to check your credit report can do so, and generally, you have to consent in writing to having your credit report pulled. This holds true even if you're in the process of applying for a loan -- you'll still need to expressly grant your lender permission to do a check on your credit.

In some cases, a business or entity may be able to pull your credit report without asking you, and without you agreeing to it, such as to see if you're pre-approved for a specific financial offer. But in that scenario, you'll be looking at a soft inquiry on your credit report, not a hard one. A soft inquiry won't impact your credit score, so there's less to worry about there. (Incidentally, when you check your own credit report, that counts as a soft inquiry, too.)

How to know if your credit report was checked

You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the major reporting bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. On your credit report, there's an area where you can look up recent credit checks, so you'll be able to see exactly who's been looking at that information.

If you notice a hard pull on your credit report that you didn't authorize, don't just chalk it up to bad luck. Instead, dig deeper.

Perhaps the listed inquiry is actually an error, so your first step should be to contact the credit bureau in question and state that the inquiry wasn't authorized and you'd like it deleted from your record. That way, the bureau can investigate and, ideally, remedy the situation. Although a single hard inquiry won't cause a lot of credit score damage, you shouldn't have one on your credit report if you didn't agree to it.

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