Hard credit inquiry vs. soft credit inquiry: What they are and why they matter

Traveler waits outside an airport while wondering what a hard vs. soft credit inquiry isImage: Traveler waits outside an airport while wondering what a hard vs. soft credit inquiry is

In a Nutshell

A hard credit inquiry may impact your credit scores and stay on your credit reports for about two years, while a soft credit inquiry won’t affect your scores.
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If you’ve applied for financing or other credit and the lender checked your credit scores as part of the process, you’ve probably experienced what’s called a hard credit inquiry.

When lenders check your credit with a hard inquiry, they often make a note of their official review in your credit reports. They use that information to assess how you’ve handled credit in the past, how often you’ve paid your debts and bills on time, and whether you have any derogatory marks on your credit reports.

They also want to know how much credit you’re juggling and how long you’ve been managing your credit. All of these factors help creditors decide whether to extend new credit to you or give you additional credit.

What is a hard inquiry?

Hard inquiries (also known as “hard pulls” or “hard credit checks”) generally occur when a financial institution, such as a lender or credit card issuer, checks your credit when making a lending decision. They commonly take place when you apply for a mortgage, loan or credit card, and you typically have to authorize them.

How many hard inquiries is too many?

In general, adding one or two hard inquiries to your credit reports could lower your scores by a few points, but it’s unlikely to have a significant impact.

Having a lot of hard inquiries within a short time frame though will likely have a greater impact on your scores. This is because lenders — and in effect, credit-scoring models — look at multiple credit applications in a short amount of time as a sign of risk.

What is a soft inquiry?

Soft inquiries (also known as “soft pulls” or “soft credit checks”) typically occur when a person or company checks your credit as part of a background check. Unlike hard inquiries, soft inquiries won’t affect your credit scores. (They may or may not be recorded in your credit reports, depending on the credit bureau.)

Will checking my own credit scores result in a hard inquiry?

No. This is reported as a soft credit check, so it won’t lower your scores. You can check your VantageScore 3.0 credit scores from two major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, for free at Credit Karma as often as you like without affecting your credit scores.

Examples of hard credit inquiries and soft credit inquiries

The difference between a hard and soft inquiry generally boils down to whether you gave the lender permission to check your credit. If you did, it may be reported as a hard inquiry. If you didn’t, it should be reported as a soft inquiry.

Common hard inquiries

  • Mortgage applications
  • Auto loan applications
  • Credit card applications
  • Student loan applications
  • Personal loan applications
  • Apartment rental applications

Common soft inquiries

  • Checking your credit score on Credit Karma
  • “Prequalified” credit card offers or insurance quotes
  • Employment verification (i.e., background check)

How to minimize the effect of hard credit inquiries

When you’re buying a home or car, don’t let a fear of racking up multiple hard inquiries stop you from shopping for the lowest interest rates.

FICO may record multiple inquires for the same type of loans (again, like mortgage and auto) as a single inquiry as long as they’re made within a certain window — typically about 14 days.

While some lenders can rely on scoring models that give you more time to shop without incurring an additional hard inquiry, you may want to stick to 14 days to do your comparison shopping, since you likely won’t know which scoring model a lender relies on to generate your score.

Next steps

Your credit scores play a big role in your financial well-being. To help you keep track of hard inquiries that may influence your credit scores, check your credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion at Credit Karma.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.