When you apply for any new line of credit - for example, a new credit card - the creditor requests a copy of credit report from one or more of the credit bureaus. The creditor will evaluate your credit report, a credit score, or other information you provide (such as income or debt information) to determine your credit worthiness, as well as your interest rate. If you're approved, that new card - called a tradeline, will be included in your credit report and updated about every 30 days.
The actual number of points that an inquiry is worth is a closely guarded secret. However, it’s safe to say that only those who are “excessively” shopping for credit will be seriously damaging their scores. The moral of this story is to shop and apply for credit only when you need it and, optimally, only after you have gotten your credit and scores in good order.
Here, you’ll want to investigate addresses you see that are clearly wrong — in another state, for example — or variations of your name you don’t recognize. They could mean your credit information is getting mixed up with that of someone else, or they could be a sign of identity theft, which can drag down your scores and cause financial trouble. (You can learn more about the dangers of identity theft and how it can hurt your credit scores here.)
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.