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Credit Scores and Reports

Hard inquiries vs. soft inquiries: What they are, how they affect your credit

Hard inquiries may affect your credit, but soft inquiries won’t. Here are the main differences between both pulls and how to use them to your advantage

Summary

What are the main differences between hard and soft credit pulls? Do they always affect your credit? Does checking your own credit report affect your credit? We have you covered.

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Your three-digit credit score will fall when a lender checks your credit reports or credit score, right? And if several lenders all check your credit during the same two-week period, the negative impact on your credit score will be even worse, right?

Not necessarily. Sometimes your score doesn’t budge after lenders check your credit. And there are times when several lenders pull your credit during the same few days and the dip in your score is barely noticeable.

Why? It’s all because of the difference between hard credit inquiries or pulls and soft credit pulls.

A credit pull or credit inquiry is when you or someone else checks your credit report and your credit score. But there’s a difference between a soft pull and a hard pull. Here’s what you need to know.

See related: FICO’s 5 factors: The components of a credit score

Soft credit check vs. hard credit check

  • A soft pull occurs when you check your own credit. It also counts as a soft inquiry when credit card companies or lenders check your credit on their own to determine if you qualify for a loan or credit card offer.
  • A hard pull occurs when you specifically apply for a new loan or credit card. When you do this, lenders, banks and other creditors will check your credit to make sure lending to you isn’t too much of a risk. When they check your credit, it qualifies as a hard pull.

Lenders – and you – will usually see similar information, whether it’s a hard or soft pull, on your credit reports and credit score. What’s different, though, is how a soft pull and a hard pull affect your three-digit credit score: A hard pull can cause your credit score to drop, at least slightly. A soft pull won’t.

“The primary sign of a soft credit inquiry is that it does not adversely affect your credit score,” said Jessica Chase, manager of the sales and marketing department at Fountain Valley, California-based Premier Title Loans. “But a hard inquiry will.”

That’s important because your credit score plays such an important role in determining whether you qualify for a loan or credit card and what interest rate you pay for these loans or cards. The lower your credit score, the more likely lenders are to reject your loan or credit applications. A low credit score also typically translates to a higher interest rate on your loans and credit cards.

See related: Educational credit scores are not the same as FICO scores

When soft pulls happen

Soft inquiries come in two types: Either you’ll request to see your own credit reports or credit scores on your own or an outside firm will, Chase said.

Maybe you receive a credit card offer in the mail. The company behind that offer probably first made a soft pull of your credit to make sure that your credit history is strong enough for you to qualify for that card offer they are making, Chase said. This type of inquiry – one that you did not initiate – will not cause your credit score to budge.

Anytime you order your credit report or your credit score from one of the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, your credit won’t suffer, either. That inquiry qualifies as a soft pull.

You’re entitled to order one free copy of each of your three credit reports each year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t skip doing this because you’re worried about your credit score. Checking these reports won’t hurt it.

Katie Bossler, quality assurance specialist in the Detroit office of GreenPath Financial Wellness, said too many consumers let fears of a credit score drop keep them from checking their credit reports.

“There is a lot of confusion about this subject,” Bossler said. “It is so important to look at your credit reports. If people aren’t doing it because they think it will hurt their score, that is not good.”

Consumers who check their reports on a regular basis are more likely to find, say, a missed car payment on their report that they know they paid on time. If consumers find these mistakes and correct them, they can give their credit scores a solid boost.

Bossler recommend that consumers check one of their free credit reports every four months. This might mean pulling your TransUnion report in January, Equifax report in April and Experian version in August, before starting over again next year.

See related: Credit report sample: How to read, understand a credit report

When hard pulls happen

Hard credit pulls are different. These happen when credit card providers, lenders or other financial services companies check your credit reports and credit score after you’ve applied for a new credit card, mortgage, auto loan, student loan or personal loan.

A hard pull will put a bit of hurt on your credit score, though the drop is a small one. New credit, a category that includes hard credit pulls, accounts for just 10% of your overall FICO credit score. You can expect your credit score to drop, then, by no more than five to 10 points after a single hard inquiry. The drop isn’t permanent, either. Your score will again climb as long you pay your bills on time and keep your revolving debt under control.

“A hard credit pull is one where the consumer has given a creditor the authority to pull credit as part of an application process,” said Eric Jeanette, founder of Freehold, New Jersey-based Dream Home Financing. “These hard pulls do negatively impact your credit because the credit agencies are making the assumption that you are likely going to add more debt soon.”

Hard credit inquires remain on your credit reports for two years before falling off.

Bundled credit pulls don’t hurt as much

But what if you are searching for a mortgage loan or auto loan? You want the lowest possible interest rate and fees, so you shop around and seek preapproval from several lenders.

When these lenders run your credit to determine if you qualify for your loan, and for how much of one, it does count as a hard pull. But there is some protection here: Multiple hard pulls for the same kind of loan in a short period of time will be treated as just one hard inquiry.

Say you’re shopping for a mortgage loan and you apply with several lenders to make sure you get the lowest interest rate. The first mortgage, auto or student loan inquiry is ignored entirely by the credit scoring formulas for 30 days following the credit pull, according to credit score expert Barry Paperno.

When any other lender pulls your credit for a mortgage, auto or student loan approval for the next 45 days, though, these pulls will only count as one inquiry. This is a way to protect consumers for making the financially smart decision to shop around for the best rates and fees.

Oleg Yavorovskiy, chief executive officer of New York City-based Guardian Debt Relief, said many consumers don’t understand this. And this dissuades them from shopping for the lowest rates on student loans, auto loans or mortgages.

“Lenders know that even if you apply with several different lenders, you’ll only buy one house or car,” Yavorovskiy said. “They’re not worried, then, that all those hard inquiries mean you’re going to run up debt on several different loans. They look at it differently than they do with credit card applications.”

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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