When you’re making a big financial decision, understanding what affects your credit score and how often credit scores are updated is key. Whether you’re looking to buy a car or consolidate credit card debt, a higher credit score can help you qualify for a loan with more favorable rates and terms. If the inner workings of the credit scoring system seem mysterious, you aren’t alone in thinking this. Let’s pull back the curtain and clarify what you should know about credit score updates to help you stay informed and financially savvy.
It’s easier than ever to track your credit score, which can make it feel like it’s constantly being updated and needing to be checked. But that isn’t actually the case.
To answer the root question of how long it takes for a credit score to update, it can be helpful to first explore when and how a credit score is created.
Credit scoring models (there are many) are like computer programs that analyze the information in a consumer credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to generate a score. Credit scores aren’t created on their own—they’re an optional add-on that someone can request along with a credit report.
If you’re checking your own credit scores, you might get different results depending on which tools you’re using, even if you check your scores at the exact same time.
Sometimes, this could be because one tracking tool offers credit score updates daily, while the other updates less frequently. But often, the differences stem from the fact that they’re different scores or they’re based on different credit reports.
For example, one tool might give you a VantageScore 3.0 credit score while another shows your FICO Score 8. Both scoring models range from 300 to 850, but they don’t use identical calculations, which could mean two different scores.
It’s also common for there to be differences in your credit reports. As a result, the same scoring model might lead to three different credit scores, one each for your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports.
Much of the information in your credit reports comes from creditors, such as lenders and credit card issuers. These companies often send an update to the credit bureaus every 30 to 45 days.
If you closely track your credit scores, you may notice fluctuations throughout the month. This is common as your credit report information may change at any time. There are also time-related scoring factors, such as the age of your accounts or how long it’s been since a late payment was reported.
Most consumer credit scores only look at the information from one of your credit reports. Each model may have different weighting or consider slightly different data points. But you don’t necessarily have to overthink every scoring factor.
Many FICO and VantageScore credit scores have the same goal—predicting whether someone will be 90 days late on a payment in the next 24 months. As a result, they tend to move in the same direction as your credit reports are updated.
There are some important factors to know that can affect many of your credit scores.
Whether you’ve paid your bills on time or missed payments in the past, it’s all part of your history. On-time payments are best, as late payments can hurt your credit scores and stay on your credit reports for up to seven years.
Filing for bankruptcy can hurt your credit score, and the public record may stay on your credit reports for seven (for completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies) or 10 years (for Chapter 7 bankruptcies).
Unpaid bills that get sent or sold to a collection agency may be reported to the credit bureaus and hurt your credit scores.
The portion of the credit limits you’re using with revolving credit accounts, such as credit cards and lines of credit. A lower credit utilization rate is better for credit scores.
Having experience with revolving and installment credit accounts can be better for your credit scores than only using one type of account.
A higher average age of accounts and old accounts in your credit reports can also be good for credit scores. A new credit card or new loan might lower your average age of accounts. Paid off and closed accounts could still be considered in age-related factors.
When you apply for a new credit account, a record of the credit check—called a hard inquiry or pull—is added to your credit report. Credit inquiries aren’t a major factor, but they may hurt your credit scores a little.
Getting a good credit score can take time, and maintaining it could be difficult. But there are some general guidelines that will put you well on the way to getting an excellent score.
Your payment history is one of the most important scoring factors, and having a long history of making your payments on time can go a long way toward getting a good credit score.
Technically, a payment has to be at least 30 days past due before the late payment can be reported to the credit bureaus. If you missed a payment, try to bring your account current right away. If you’re having trouble affording your payments, try reaching out to your creditors right away.
Large credit card balances can lead to a high credit utilization rate that hurts your credit scores. It can be difficult to pay off credit cards that have high interest rates. But focusing on paying down credit card debt could help you save money and improve your credit scores.
Because credit card balances generally get reported to the credit bureaus before your payments are due, you could have a high utilization rate even if you pay off your card in full each month. If you’re paying off your cards anyway, making early payments (before the end of each statement period) could lead to a lower utilization rate.
Credit applications can lead to hard inquiries that may hurt your credit scores. But credit scoring companies also recognize that shopping for a good rate on a loan isn’t necessarily risky behavior. After all, you may apply for several mortgages to see which lender offers you the best rate, but only wind up taking out one loan.
With some scoring models, hard inquiries from auto, mortgage, and student loans that occur within a 14-day period only count as one inquiry for scoring purposes. Some scoring models may “deduplicate” inquiries from other types of accounts or a longer period.
Closely review your credit reports for errors that may be hurting your credit score. Some errors could be mistakes—such as a late payment that you had paid on time. Others may be an indicator of identity theft or fraud, such as an account that you didn’t apply for or open.
If you notice an error, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau, which must investigate your claim unless they deem it frivolous or irrelevant. When you suspect fraud, you can also reach out to the creditor to close the account.
You can get a free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies from annualcreditreport.com at least once every 12 months. However, these credit reports don’t come with a credit score.
If you want to check your credit score, there are free options from lenders, banks, credit card companies, and online apps. Paid credit monitoring programs also exist, and they may come with additional features, like credit score simulators or identity protection monitoring.
You don’t necessarily need to check your credit scores every day, or even every month. But a tracking service that sends you alerts of suspicious or important credit score changes could be helpful.
That being said, if you plan on shopping for a loan, you may want to check your scores a few months ahead of when you apply to give yourself time to try and improve your score (if needed).
Lenders generally report to the credit bureaus every 30 to 45 days. The specific timing can vary, which can lead to new information being added to your credit reports throughout the month.
Check with your lender to find out. Many large lenders report to all three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. But some may only report to one or two bureaus, or to none at all.
Credit scores can be generated each time a new credit report is requested. Once the new zero balance is reported to the credit bureaus and your credit report is updated, credit scores based on the new report will reflect that you paid off the debt.
Many credit score tracking programs request new credit reports and scores on a regular basis. But check with the program for specifics, because it may be every day, week, month, or quarter depending on the program.