When you look to sign up with a mobile provider, they’ll check your credit before letting you sign up.
Expect the four major U.S. mobile carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon -- to perform this check.
It is to your advantage to know what credit report they'd pull. There are three different credit bureaus that store your credit history: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
We did some research to find out which credit bureaus are used by each carrier.
Here’s the deal:
Officially, all of the mobile carriers may pull from any or all of the three credit bureaus.
But, our research shows that they play favorites:
Credit Reports Pulled by U.S. Mobile Carriers
|Carrier||Preferred credit bureau|
|Sprint||Equifax and Experian|
If you want to know more about how your credit can impact whether you can get mobile phone service, this article will discuss everything you need to know.
Where We Got the Data
In order to provide the most accurate information possible, we employed three methods of data gathering over 6 hours.
First, we scoured through credit and finance forums online to see what people were reporting when it came to which credit bureau was used by their provider when they signed up for mobile phone service.
We also called the customer service agents at each of the four major U.S. mobile carriers.
We also called physical stores in New York City to see if different agents provided different answers (they didn't).
Finally, we spoke to relatives and family members to gather more anecdotal evidence.
Once we put all of our data together, we were able to come to reasonable solid conclusions about which credit bureau each provider favors.
Why Care About Which Credit Report is Pulled?
So, why should you care about which credit report is pulled?
You should care because the quality of your credit can affect whether you’re eligible for a phone plan.
Though each bureau uses the same source data to generate your credit report, there may be small differences between them.
One bureau might have records of applications for credit that the others don’t, which could impact your score.
By knowing which credit bureau will be used when you try to sign up for service, you can make sure that report is spotless when you do apply.
That will maximize your chances of being eligible for a phone plan.
You might be wondering:
What is a Hard Pull?
The reason that one credit bureau might have records of credit applications that others don’t is that each time you apply for a loan, the lender will check your credit report.
It does this by contacting a credit bureau and making a “hard pull” on your report. The credit bureau that the lender works with will send a copy of your report to the lender.
The bureau will also make note of the hard pull on your credit file.
Each hard pull on your report will reduce your credit score by a few points. Records of hard pulls are kept for two years.
If a lender makes a hard pull on your credit with one credit bureau, but not the others, it’s possible that your scores will differ based on which bureau you ask.
That’s because the bureaus don’t inform each other of hard pulls.
It is also possible for a company to make a “soft pull” on your credit. This lets them check your credit report without impacting your score.
Do Mobile Carriers Make Hard or Soft Pulls?
Mobile carriers may make hard or soft pulls when you try to sign up for service.
It’s hard to anticipate which type of pull will occur, but it’s best to assume that it will be a hard pull.
The majority of the credit checks run by mobile carriers are hard pulls because they are checking your ability to pay a new bill each month.
How Does Credit Affect Eligibility for Phone Service?
People typically think of their credit scores as impacting their ability to get loans.
Hearing that it can also impact their ability to get something like phone service might be a surprise. Still, it makes sense if you think about.
With a loan, a lender is providing you with money up front. You promise to pay it back over time.
With phone service, the provider gives you phone service up front. You promise to pay for the service each month. In a way, the agreement for a loan and the agreement for paying a monthly phone bill is similar.
If you have bad credit, a phone provider might think you won’t pay your monthly bill. That makes them less willing to offer service.
Do These Carriers Offer Options for People with Poor Credit?
If you have bad credit, you can still get a mobile phone plan. You’ll just have to find an alternative to the traditional monthly plans.
Sign-up for a prepaid plan
These plans require that you pay your phone bill upfront rather than getting billed on a monthly basis. They don’t require a credit check at all.
Place a security deposit
In this case, you offer to give the provider a lump sum of cash to hold on to in exchange for providing service. If you pay your monthly bills and prove your trustworthiness, the provider will return the deposit. Otherwise, they’ll take the deposit to recoup the loss.
Use a co-signer
Find a co-signer who is willing to be on the hook for your bills in the event that you fail to pay them. If you show that you can make timely payments, you’ll eventually be able to remove the co-signer from your account.
Why Care About Your Credit Score?
So, why should you care about your credit if you can get phone service without a good score?
The main reason to be concerned about your credit is that it has a major impact on every aspect of your financial life.
It affects which loans you qualify for and how much interest you pay. Plus, as we’ve discussed, it can affect your ability to sign up for services that bill you monthly.
Having good credit makes many parts of your financial life easier, so taking care of your credit score is important.
How to Improve Your Credit
If you want to improve your credit, the best way to do it is to spend months and years paying your bills on time.
Building a long history of on-time payments is the best way to get your credit score into the seven or eight-hundreds. Even one missed payment can be a major setback in building your credit.
If you don’t have months or years before the time you’ll need to have a good score, there are some short-term fixes you can try.
It’s more common than you might think to find errors on your credit report.
There are three different credit bureaus that track your credit, so it’s easy for one to make a mistake. Request a copy of your credit report from each bureau.
Take a long, close look at the report to find any inaccurate information.
If you see something incorrect, like a missed payment you didn’t miss or an unpaid account that isn’t yours, work to get it removed.
Each credit bureau has a different process for disputing errors and getting them removed from your report.
Once you’ve made sure that your credit report is accurate, look for any delinquent accounts. These will include old bills that you never paid and any loans that you’re late on paying.
The best way to get these removed from your report is to talk to the owner of the debt. Negotiate with them to pay the balance off or set up a payment plan. Ask them to remove the delinquent accounts from your report in exchange.
Pay down balances
The more you owe, the worse your credit score will be. It’s easy to understand why. The more money you’ve borrowed, the higher your monthly payments will be.
The higher your monthly payments, the harder it is for you to pay them and the more likely you are to default on your loans.
Paying down your existing loan balances can help improve your credit score.
Increase credit limits
Another way to increase your score is to ask for credit limit increases on the credit cards you have.
Your credit score looks at the ratio of your total credit debt to your total credit limit. This is called your credit utilization.
The lower this ratio, the better off you are, since it makes it look like you’re not dependent on debt to make ends meet.
The bottom line:
Just be careful that your credit limit increase request won’t require a hard pull on your credit. The impact of a hard pull will most likely offset any benefit you get from increasing your credit limit.
You can ask your lender whether they’ll make a hard or soft pull. If they plan to make a hard pull, you can cancel the request.