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Here's When You Should Check Your FICO® Scores Based on What You're Applying For

Checking your FICO Scores at the right time before applying for a credit card or loan puts you in the best position for approval and competitive terms.

Certain credit-based applications need more preparation than others. Knowing how soon to check your FICO® Scores in advance of an application puts you in the best position to get approved. Not only that, you can better estimate the terms you'll get approved for. If you're planning to apply for financing this year, here's a quick guide for when to check your FICO Scores based on what you're applying for.

A credit card: anytime before you apply

There's a credit card for almost every FICO® Score range, but knowing your score helps you narrow down your options. If you're considering a particular credit card, checking your FICO Scores before you apply can help you predict the likelihood that you'll qualify. You can shop for credit cards that fit your credit profile and avoid having unnecessary inquiries on your credit report.

Cell phone financing: anytime before you apply

Most cell phone carriers have gotten rid of free phones and two-year contracts, instead allowing customers to finance the full price of a new smartphone over 24-36 months. Your credit influences your ability to enter a finance agreement and any down payment requirements. If you have a low FICO® Score, you may have to pay more upfront for the phone you want, or your financing options may be limited. Check your score before shopping around to avoid surprises in store.

An auto loan: 90 days to six months before you apply

It's possible to get a car loan with a low FICO® Score, but if without a high score, you may not get approved for the most favorable terms. Borrowing with a low score may mean you'll have a higher interest rate and higher monthly payment. Pull your FICO Scores a few months before you start rate shopping so you can estimate what you can afford. If you can wait, it's better to delay your car purchase while you improve your credit rather than accept a high interest rate and higher monthly payment. You can use the FICO Loan Savings Calculator to estimate your interest rate and monthly payment based on your current score and your loan amount.

A mortgage: 6 to 24 months before you apply

Before shopping for a new home or refinancing your current mortgage, give yourself time to have your credit in the best shape possible—not only to improve your chances of qualifying but to get the best terms. Check your FICO® Scores at least six months before applying for a mortgage and more if you've had trouble with credit in the past. Since loan options can be limited for homebuyers with lower FICO Scores, giving yourself time to work on your credit expands your loan options. For homebuyers with excellent credit, maintaining your pre-approval score through close is key to ensuring your financing doesn't fall through.

An apartment: 75 to 90 days before your current lease ends

Landlords often check your credit report or rental-specific credit scores before approving a rental application. Evictions and other serious delinquencies harm your credit can lead to a denied application. Check your FICO® Scores before it's time to put in notice at your current rental, so you'll know whether it's safe to start shopping for an apartment or if it's better to stay put for another 12 months.

Since checking your own FICO Scores is a soft inquiry, your score won't be affected by your own credit checks, no matter how often you check. Enrolling in a monthly plan can help keep you on top of changes to your FICO Scores, allowing you to make informed decisions about the types of credit-based products and services you qualify for.

LaToya Irby

LaToya Irby is a financial writer with over 14 years of experience. She's been quoted and published as a credit expert in several major publications including USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, TheBalance.com, and The Chicago Tribune.