Your credit score gets updated on a regular basis as card issuers and lenders report your account information to the three major credit bureaus. But it’s hard to know exactly when those changes occur, particularly if you have multiple lenders.
It pays to remember that the three major credit bureaus are reporters who make most of their money selling credit reports to lenders.
Lenders want the most up-to-date information possible for their decision making and loss control processes. In a very competitive business, keeping data fresh and accurate is a top priority for the credit bureaus.
The result is that your credit score is constantly being updated. This is why your score can fluctuate on any given day. This is especially true if you have many accounts. Credit scoring involves applying complex algorithms to data usually contained in your credit reports, so any change to your credit reports can bump your score one way or another.
These bumps are usually small either way (up or down), as long as your own credit behaviors are stable. A change in your circumstances, life or just your credit behavior is often reflected in your score. Let’s look at how the credit bureaus operate and in turn, the credit scorers.
When do card issuers typically report to bureaus?You can pretty much count on card issuers reporting to bureaus monthly, or at least every 45 days or so. Lenders are not required to report on a certain date each month, so it is up to them to make that decision.
It helps to think of your credit card bill. Each credit card has its own due date each month. The due date can be spread throughout just about any day. However, most will be due on or before the 28th, since that is the last day of the shortest month (February). This means your bill is not even due to your lender until whatever that day is, so it must give you until that date to make your payment before it can report to the credit bureaus on your account.
The time of day the creditor sends updates to the credit bureau can also account for changes; an account that is updated later in the day will not show up if the credit report is pulled prior to that time. Payments to creditors are not updated to the bureaus in real time.
It is also important to know that not every lender will report to every credit bureau, nor are they required to do so. Your major creditors will probably report to all three, but smaller ones may report to only one, or they may not report at all.
See related: How to self-report to credit bureaus
When is that reflected in scores?
Every time one of your creditors reports on one of your accounts, that information is available to be calculated into your score. The current crop of scores are calculated based on the data available at the time a score is ordered. So, if a score is not ordered or requested, it is not updated until one is. FICO has a new generation of scores to be released soon that include more than a snapshot and instead use trends to develop a score.
According to an Experian article about zero balances, the “length of time it will take for a zero balance to appear will depend on how close the payment is made to the reporting date. If you make the payment right after information has been updated, it could be 30 days or more before the balance is reported.”
Conversely, if you make the payment just before the reporting date it could be just a short time before the update is made, Experian notes. Keep in mind that the reporting date is not your due date.
The reporting date is not always easy to find out, but you can ask the lender for that information. This can be helpful if you are planning a payoff that you are hoping will increase your score quickly.
See related: Get on the fast track to a good credit score
How often should you check your credit score?
A lot of that depends on how you plan to check. If you are paying for a score, you may not want to do it very often because that could get pricey. However, there are several ways to get your score for free these days.
One of the easiest may be through one of your credit card issuers. More and more of them are offering free credit reports and scores to their customers (and some even offer their service to non-customers for free).
By using these services, you could check you score daily if you wanted to. But I don’t advise it unless you have a specific reason, like achieving a score that will qualify you for a special interest rate. Checking your credit report and score to catch early signs of identity theft also makes sense. But checking them daily just to see if you’ve progressed from 790 to 791 has little value and can become obsessive.
See related: Got a 700-plus credit score? Here’s what to do next
How often is a credit report updated?
Until your credit report is updated your score will not change. Chances are each of your lenders will update your specific report with the credit bureau about every 30 days. Here’s how it works:
- At the end of your billing cycle, your lender sends you your statement detailing how much your spending was for the previous month. Before your grace period ends, you send a payment to the lender (I hope you did).
- The creditor then posts your payment and sets your account up for reporting noting that the payment was made, along with updated balance information for your account.
- Most of us have multiple lenders, so each likely will cause updates to your report multiple different times during the month. They don’t all report at the same time, and they don’t report every day, so while information in your credit report could change throughout the month as your lenders update their account information, it’s hard to know exactly when the changes will populate your report.
- Additionally, your credit report is being updated continuously with other changes, such as old late payments being removed, new accounts you’ve applied for being added, inquiries appearing in response to your applications for new credit, and so on.
In the words of Rod Griffin, senior director for consumer education at Experian, “Your credit report is a continuously evolving document, so it’s important to check it regularly.”
How often should you pull your credit report?
The sources we talked about earlier for a score from a credit card company will sometimes offer a credit report as well. But it is usually only one report. You are entitled to reports from all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – for free annually at AnnualCreditReport.com. (And during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can access each report weekly through April 2021.)
In non-pandemic times, it has been my practice to recommend that all consumers take advantage of this annual service. Even if you are not in the market for new credit, everyone needs to know where they stand with the credit bureaus every year.
My favorite way to do this is to access each one of the three at four- or five-month intervals. For instance, get your Equifax report in March or April, your Experian in June or July and your TransUnion in September or October. Spacing them out quarterly gives you a chance to see what has changed on a regular basis.
If you are planning a large purchase, you might want to access all three reports at once so that you can check them against each other. Very often, something will appear on one report that is not on another. There may be valid reasons for this, but you should also know that with the billions of pieces of information that the bureaus deal with, mistakes are bound to happen. Most often it is up to the consumer to identify and correct these errors.
Fortunately, it is easy if you follow the dispute instructions you get with your report. Looking at all three reports at once is one of the best ways to spot errors and put you on the road to correction.
Remember to keep track of your score!