Only certain persons and organizations are allowed by law to pull your credit for specific reasons. The rules that govern who can and cannot pull your credit are set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). However, these rules aren’t always followed and you may be surprised to find out that unauthorized creditors or other companies have accessed your personal information. Find out where to see inquiries and know who should or should not have access.

looking at credit report

Where can you see credit inquiries?

If you’re wondering how to find out who has been accessing your credit report, start off with getting a free copy of your credit report. Towards the end, you’ll see an Inquiries section that lists all of the credit checks that have been performed over the last two years.

Most of these should be familiar to you, but there might be some that stand out as red flags. Before you start disputing, read on to learn who exactly has the right to authorize your credit report. Here are some examples of cases in which inquiries are permitted by law.

Banks and Lending Institutions

If you’re seeking any kind of loan, lenders will pull your credit to determine what kind of risk you are and to assess your debt-to-income ratio. A good credit score will help you qualify, as well as give you the best interest rates. If you’re shopping around for loans, multiple inquiries can appear on your credit report. The credit scoring system is supposed to prevent this from negatively affecting your credit score with a “buffer,” but it doesn’t always happen.

Credit Card Companies

Any application to a credit card company will involve having your credit pulled. This includes credit cards associated with particular stores and special offers. Obviously credit card companies are interested in your credit record and need to know if you’re likely to pay debts responsibly. Again, interest rates will be based on risk levels. Although credit companies and lenders will usually ask for your permission before pulling your credit, they are not always legally required to.

Insurers

According to the FCRA, insurance companies may look at your credit information when you apply for insurance and they do not need permission from you. Any time you get a new policy or renew coverage, they can pull your credit report. Just like a loan, insurance policies are underwritten so it’s important for them to get an idea of your creditworthiness.

Prospective Employers

Potential employers can pull credit reports whenever you apply for a job, but they’re required to notify you first. They’ll check your credit for evidence of irresponsibility, and may even use it to profile you in terms of how responsibly they think you will perform your job. Unfortunately, if you refuse, they might not hire you. While this practice used to be geared solely towards people in the financial sector, it is becoming more and more common across the board.

Debt Collectors

Debt collectors will pull your credit to find addresses and try to check up on you. They might try to evaluate your assets to see if they can sue you. The legality of this is different in different states and should always be questioned. Don’t assume that a collection agency automatically has this right.

Potential Landlords

Sometimes your credit score can affect your ability to rent a condo, house, or apartment. Landlords have a right to view your credit as a measure of your ability to pay your rent. You don’t necessarily have to be asked for permission, but often they will let you know. They’ll be looking at your financial responsibility, as well as your public records of evictions.

Utility Companies

Any utility company or service that has continual billing can make an inquiry on your credit. Some of these will be hard inquiries, some not, and they might be worth trying to get removed. This can include inquiries from internet, TV, and cell phone providers; inquiries from property management companies; and inquiries from gas, water, and electric utilities. Again, many of these might be just soft inquiries, but they’re worth investigating.

Pulling Your Own Credit Report

You have the right to pull your own credit for free at least once a year, sometimes more in certain states, and sometimes more if a certain action is taking place. You can also sign up for a service that allows you to pull it every day. Pulling your own credit won’t affect your credit score.

Do inquiries hurt your credit score?

The short answer to this question is yes: inquiries do hurt your credit score. But a single inquiry only has a nominal effect, usually around five points. This isn’t enough impact to your score in a major way, so in many cases, it’s not something to worry about. If you’ve been shopping around for rates for a specific product, like a mortgage or car loan, those inquiries are typically treated as one as long as they happened within a few weeks of each other. But if you’ve been applying for loads of credit cards throughout the year, those small dings can add up.

Maybe you need the access to credit, or maybe you like to play the credit card signup bonus game. The point is, be cognizant of how those actions look on your credit report. Each inquiry hurts your credit score for a year and remains listed there for a full two years. If you apply for ten credit cards a year, that can drop your score around 50 points. That can make a big difference when it comes time to apply for a major loan.

What should you do if you don’t recognize an inquiry?

Unfortunately, in many cases, people can successfully pull your credit when they shouldn’t be authorized to. The checks and balances sometimes fail, so it’s up to you to question inquiries that seem improper and to know what should and shouldn’t be allowed. Most of the time, when your credit is pulled, companies are supposed to get your permission, so it’s worthwhile to note when a credit inquiry happens without this.