When it comes to hard inquiries and soft inquiries, only hard inquiries damage your credit score. There are ways you can minimize the impact of hard credit inquiries if you plan ahead.
There’s a common misconception that any time a lender reviews your credit report, your credit score will take a hit. Luckily, this isn’t the case. This is where it’s helpful to understand the difference between hard and soft credit inquiries.
While a hard credit inquiry (when you apply for a new credit product) does impact your credit score, a soft inquiry (when a lender or other third party reviews your credit score for a purpose other than applying for credit) won’t affect your credit score at all.
Let’s dive deeper into how hard inquiries and soft inquiries work, as well as how they can affect your credit score.
What is a hard inquiry?
A hard inquiry (also referred to as a hard credit check or hard pull) happens when you apply for a new credit product such as a credit card or loan. When you apply for credit, lenders will review your credit report in order to determine the risk of lending money to you. Rental and utility applications can also lead to hard inquiries.
When a lender reviews your credit as a part of your application, this counts as a hard pull. You will encounter hard credit inquiries when you apply for credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other types of lending products. A hard inquiry will lower your credit score, generally by a few points.
What is a soft inquiry?
There are two different types of soft inquiries: requests from yourself or from an outside party.
A soft inquiry (also known as a soft credit check or soft pull) happens in a few different scenarios.
The main instance is when you review your own credit report. You are entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three main national credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Even if you want to review your credit report more than once a year, it won’t hurt your credit score. Reviewing your credit report regularly is a good habit to adopt as you can keep an eye out for any mistakes you need to fix or signs of identity theft.
A soft credit inquiry can also occur when you apply for preapproval with a lender, you get a quote from an insurance company or when an employer checks your credit as part of their job application process.
It’s a bit hit or miss if an employer will check your credit when considering hiring you. This is more common for roles that require strong money management skills (such as accounting or CFO positions). If an employer wants to review your credit, they do have to inform you and get your consent first.
There will be times when you may not be aware that a soft credit inquiry is happening. For example, when you get credit card offers in the mail unsolicited, that credit card issuer likely performed a soft credit inquiry to see if you qualify for the credit card they want you to officially apply for.
Examples of hard and soft credit inquiries
To better understand when you may encounter a hard or soft credit inquiry, check out a few examples of when you’ll be subject to a hard or soft credit inquiry.
Common hard inquiries
- Credit applications (credit card, personal loan, auto loan, mortgage loan, etc.)
- Rental applications
- Some utility applications
- Credit limit increase requests
Common soft inquiries
- Credit application preapproval offers
- Insurance quotes
- Credit monitoring services
- Prospective employer credit checks
How hard and soft inquiries affect your credit score
Unfortunately, hard inquiries do lower your credit score because the credit bureaus interpret new credit applications as a sign that you’re going to take on more debt soon. On the bright side, the hit your credit score will take isn’t a massive one — credit inquiries only account for 10 percent of your overall FICO credit score.
Generally, credit scores drop by five to 10 points after a single hard inquiry. Your credit score can bounce back from this drop reasonably quickly, but the inquiry will stay on your report for two years.
Remember, a soft inquiry won’t affect your credit score at all.
How to minimize the impact of hard credit inquiries
We can’t always avoid hard inquiries, but we can minimize the impact they have on our credit scores. When you apply for a new credit card, each application will result in a hard inquiry. That’s why it’s a good idea to know what card you want and how likely you are to be approved before you apply, and to space out card applications by at least six months. Here’s what happens when you need to apply with multiple lenders:
Multiple hard pulls in a short amount of time
When you’re shopping for a credit product like an auto loan or a mortgage loan, chances are you’re going to want to apply with multiple lenders to see who will give you the best possible interest rates, fees, loan amounts and terms.
When multiple 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 you do have 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 to 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. 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.
The credit bureaus are aware that applying with multiple different lenders is a smart financial move to make and won’t penalize you for it. When you apply for the same type of lending product with multiple lenders in a short period of time, they assume you’re shopping around for the best deal and not looking to accumulate debt through several different loans.
How to dispute hard credit inquiries
When you do review your credit report, which counts as a soft inquiry, it’s important to check for errors. If you find a hard inquiry listed that you believe is incorrect, you can take steps to dispute it and have it removed from your credit report.
1. Gather supporting documents
You need to collect any information that can act as evidence that a hard inquiry listed on your report is incorrect. If a mix-up occurred because of a misspelling, wrong date of birth or incorrect address, you can also provide proof and get the mistake fixed. While errors on a credit report can be a sign of fraud, sometimes they occur because of simple typos.
2. Draft a dispute letter
Next, you’ll need to write a letter disputing the hard inquiry you believe is a mistake. This sample letter from the FTC is a great place to start, but you can customize it to meet your needs. Your letter should explain why you’re disputing the hard inquiry and include a request to remove or correct it. You should attach any supporting documentation, such as proof of identity, that you have to your letter.
3. Keep a paper trail while you wait for a response
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus are legally required to investigate any claims of credit report errors. It’s still important that you keep an organized paper trail of your communications and follow up in a timely manner. If you end up needing to take your dispute to court, you’ll want clear documentation of your correspondence with any credit bureau.
If the credit bureau you disputed finds that the hard inquiry in question was a mistake, they should fix it and send you a new copy of your corrected report for free. You can also request that the credit bureau send a notice of correction to any company that has received your credit report in the past six months.
Hard inquiries can temporarily hurt your credit score, but there’s no need to fear soft inquiries because they won’t impact your credit score at all.
There will be times when you can’t avoid a hard inquiry — and that’s OK. They eventually drop off your report and while you wait, you can practice other good credit habits (such as making on-time payments) to keep your credit score as healthy as possible.