What is a hard inquiry?
Hard inquiries generally occur when a financial institution, such as a lender or credit card issuer, checks your credit report when making a lending decision. They commonly take place when a consumer applies for a loan, credit card or mortgage, and you typically have to authorize them. Most important to note, hard inquiries might lower your credit score by a few points and they may remain on your credit report for two years. As time passes, damage to your credit score usually decreases or disappears, often even before the hard inquiry falls off your credit report.
What is a soft inquiry?
Soft inquiries typically occur when a person or company, such as a potential employer, checks your credit report as part of a background check, when you are "pre-approved" for credit card offers and when you check your own credit score. A soft inquiry may occur without your permission. Soft inquiries may be recorded in your credit report, depending on the credit bureau, but they won't affect your credit score in any way.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that checking your own credit score using companies like Credit Karma will hurt your credit score. This is not the case. You can check your credit score at Credit Karma as often as you like and doing so will never lower your credit score.
Examples of Hard Versus Soft Inquiries
While we mentioned some common examples of which financial actions result in a hard or soft inquiry, here are some lesser-known actions that may incur a credit inquiry.
If you are unsure whether a financial action you are about to take will result in a credit inquiry, ask the financial institution or company. Also, if a financial institution or company informs you that they will be checking your credit, ask them to distinguish whether or not it is a hard or soft inquiry.
Why Hard Inquiries Hurt Your Credit Score
While hard inquiries are necessary for certain financial actions, such as applying for a loan or credit card, hard inquiries should be minimized as much as possible. Your credit score may be penalized for multiple hard inquiries because applying for too much credit at one time may indicate that you are desperate for credit, or that you aren't able to qualify for credit. While one hard inquiry will usually just knock a few points off your credit score, multiple hard inquiries in a short amount of time may cause significant damage to your score.
Keep your hard inquiries to one or two a year. Credit Karma data shows that on average, consumers with lower numbers of hard credit inquiries have higher credit scores.
How to Dispute Hard Credit Inquiries
If a hard inquiry occurred without your permission, check your full credit report to see the full details of the inquiry and determine if you should attempt to dispute it.
Note that you can only dispute hard inquiries that have occurred without your permission. If you have authorized the hard inquiries, it generally takes up to two years for those hard inquiries to be removed. You can learn more here.
Before applying for credit, take time to build your credit score. With a higher credit score, you'll improve your chance for approval for the financial products you want and at the best terms and rates.
To keep track of hard inquiries, check your score and credit report at Credit Karma. In addition to providing you with your free credit score, Credit Karma notifies you of any changes to your credit report, including any new hard inquiries.
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