Have you received a different credit score from a credit monitoring website than you did when applying for a car loan or mortgage? This isn’t just surprising for you: it’s a likely result. Canadians can use several free credit report sites to monitor their credit; they can also pay for credit monitoring and access to their scores. These scores aren’t the same as the ones used by banks, mortgage lenders, and credit card companies.
What are the different credit monitoring companies providing scores to Canadians?
There are several free credit monitoring services offering their own credit scores to help consumers monitor their credit use, including Credit Karma, Mogo, and Borrowell. These services can be useful to determine if your credit information is accurate. Lenders don’t use these scores to determine your credit-worthiness, so they are meaningless when it’s time to apply for a credit card or mortgage.
Most credit decisions in Canada are made based on the FICO score, which is created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, a U.S.-based company that sells its information and scores to two credit monitoring companies, Equifax and TransUnion. Their scores, which differ from the FICO score and use different criteria, can also be used to make credit decisions.
Over 90% of Canadian companies that use credit scores to determine loan and credit-worthiness use the FICO credit score.
What is the difference between a “soft” and a “hard” credit check?
Checking your credit using an online credit monitoring site is a “soft” credit check. You may also pre-apply for a credit card or loan online with a “soft” credit check. These credit checks won’t impact your credit score.
A “hard” credit check is a formal request for your credit information from FICO (or TransUnion or Equifax’s separate systems). If you’re in need of a new credit card, are shopping for a home, or buying a car, it’s considered a “hard” credit check.
You should try to limit credit inquiries to the ones you really need. Multiple “hard” credit inquiries can drop your score because credit companies watch for consumers who look like they’re going to take on a lot of debt, or who may be short on money.
Tips to Manage Your Credit Score
In Canada, lenders aren’t required to share the details of your FICO credit score with you. They can offer general information and make broad recommendations. You’ll get the greatest benefit from making sure the information on your credit report is accurate.
Here’s are some practical ways you can improve your credit score:
- Review your credit report regularly: Leverage online services for easy, immediate access to your credit score.
- Correct errors on your credit profile: File a claim with the credit bureau to have them investigate or correct the errors as soon as possible.
- Apply for credit only when you need it: Applying for multiple forms of credit in a short amount of time may impact your credit score. However, if you’re mortgage rate shopping, you have a grace period of 30 to 45 days.
- Keep balances low: Try to keep your balances below 30% of your limit across all credit cards. Credit utilization accounts for about one third of your FICO score.
- Pay off non-mortgage debt on time: Pay off your credit cards with the highest interest first, and never miss a payment. Payment history makes up the highest scoring portion of your FICO score.
- Consider the impact of closing accounts: Closing a credit card account can shorten your credit history and increase your credit utilization. You may also lose precious points for this.
When you need a credit card or a mortgage, you can apply with confidence knowing your credit history and score.