One of the most common complaints about credit scores isn’t even true — that your employer or potential employer can see your credit score.
“That’s probably the most common myth that that I hear about credit reports and scores,” said Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian.
Generally, anyone who can legally access your credit report can also see your credit score, but employers are the exception. Griffin said employers use credit reports as an identity-verification tool or as a sort of background check for people applying for positions that deal with money. It’s a controversial practice, and if your employer or potential employer requests to see your credit report, make sure you request one yourself so you know what they’re looking at. (Here are some tips for dealing with an employer credit check.)
It’s also important to know that while an employer can get your credit report, they must have your written permission to do so. The need for written consent (in addition to the fact that they can’t get your credit scores) sets employer credit checks apart from other entities that can request your credit report.
Your credit score isn’t the sort of information others’ can easily access — at least, not legally. For example, your spouse or family members aren’t permitted to just look them up, even though they likely have access to the information needed to do so, like your Social Security number, date of birth, etc.
If a family member or spouse has checked your scores without your knowledge or consent, that could be considered fraud, Griffin said. (Though experts do recommend you and your spouse share and discuss that information with each other so you can be transparent about your financial health, and can plan accordingly.)
This issue comes down to knowing who can access your credit reports. There are rules about who can see your credit report and, as a result, your credit score (except employers). Usually, a person or company can request your credit report if you’re applying for credit or if you’re initiating a business transaction, like renting an apartment, setting up utilities or opening an insurance policy. Any loan or credit card offers you might receive are usually a result of a company requesting a summary of your credit information.
Of course, you can also check your own credit report and scores whenever you want. In fact, it’s a good habit to practice, and it’s often free. You can get your free credit scores every 30 days on Credit.com, which will also show you how credit checks affect your scores. You can also pull your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com to see who has been checking your credit — each report lists the creditors and companies who have recently inquired about your credit.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Get the latest tips & advice from our team of 50+ credit & money experts, delivered to you via email each week. Sign up now.
Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi