In the eyes of lenders, your credit score is your calling card. When you apply for apply for products such as a credit card or mortgage, lenders use your credit report and score to gauge your creditworthiness. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be approved.
Canadians are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of Canada’s two credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. Your credit report details your entire borrowing history: the types of credit accounts or “trade lines” you have open, your limits and how much you owe, your payment history (including number of late payments), and any derogatory marks such as bankruptcy, liens, accounts in collection, or defaults.
However, this free report doesn’t include your credit score. For that, you’ll have to pay — either a one-time fee or a fee for a monthly subscription service. In just a few minutes, you check your free credit score (a one-time snapshot) through Ratehub.ca.
You should check up on your credit score at least once a year or before applying for any type of credit, a job that requires a credit check, or rental housing. You should also review your credit report to check for any errors or fraud that could negatively affect your score.
If you’re working on building or rebuilding credit and want to closely monitor your progress, checking once a month is enough. Your credit score is recalculated whenever new information is entered on your credit report, but certain factors weigh more than others. Some creditors report to the bureaus every month, but it varies.
Most importantly, checking your own credit score won’t hurt it or affect it in any way. Theoretically, you could check it every day if you wanted to — though that would be pointless. Like growing out your bangs, changes to your credit score happen incrementally. Credit bureaus don’t publicly disclose their exact scoring models, so there isn’t a concrete rubric. However, if you’re generally responsible (or irresponsible), your score will reflect that.
For example, new credit accounts for about 10% of how your credit score is calculated, and amount owed makes up about 30%. If you take on a $500,000 mortgage, you can expect your credit score take a hit. However, as you begin to repay that debt by making on-time mortgage payments, you’ll see your credit score begin to improve — at 35%, payment history is the largest component of your credit score.
Realistically, as long as you understand the factors that impact your credit score, your score shouldn’t surprise you — if it’s dramatically lower than you think it should be, check your credit report for inaccuracies. That said, you don’t need to obsess over gaining or losing a couple of points. It’s possible to have two different credit scores from the two bureaus, so what range you fall under is more important than your exact score.
A good credit score can make the difference between being approved for the best credit cards and lowest rates on mortgages and other loans. Knowing and tracking your credit score is a key part of your financial health, so make sure to check it at least once a year so you know where you stand and whether your habits need improvement.