Soft pull vs. hard pull: How each inquiry affects your credit

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There are two types of credit inquiries: hard credit inquiries and soft credit inquiries. Soft credit pulls don’t affect your credit, but hard credit pulls are reported to the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and can lower your credit score.

What is a hard inquiry, and why can it lower your credit score?

“Credit bureaus are required to maintain a list of companies that accessed your credit reports,” explains John Ulzheimer, a nationally recognized credit expert who has worked for both FICO and Equifax. “That’s why inquiries exist. The reason they are considered by credit scoring systems is because they are predictive of credit risk, hence the potential score impact.”

If you want to apply for the best credit cards on the market, you’re going to want your credit score to be as high as possible—and that means understanding how credit inquiries work. How is a hard credit inquiry different from a soft credit inquiry? How many points does a hard inquiry affect your credit score? Is it possible to remove a hard credit check from your credit report? Let’s take a close look at the two types of credit inquiries and how each one affects your credit.

What is a hard inquiry?

A hard inquiry, sometimes called a hard pull or hard credit check, is an inquiry into your credit history and creditworthiness. Before a lender issues you a new line of credit, for example, it performs a hard credit inquiry to determine whether you are managing your existing credit accounts responsibly.

If a hard credit inquiry reveals that you have poor credit, you might not qualify for the credit card, loan or apartment you’re applying for. If a hard credit check reveals that you have excellent credit, you might receive a lower interest rate on your new credit account.

A hard inquiry can lower your credit score by a few points, though not all hard credit inquiries lower your credit score.

What is a soft inquiry?

A soft inquiry, sometimes called a soft pull or soft credit check, allows lenders, employers and other interested parties to review your credit—but these inquiries are not associated with lending decisions. Insurance companies use soft credit checks to provide accurate quotes, credit monitoring services use soft pulls to track signs of identity theft and credit issuers do soft inquiries before issuing pre-approval offers. A soft credit inquiry might even factor into whether you get your next job.

A soft inquiry does not affect your credit score in any way.

Examples of hard and soft inquiries

Most hard credit inquiries come as a response to a lending application, whether you’re applying for a new credit card or applying for a new apartment (yes, landlords and property management companies perform hard pulls when considering your application). Soft credit inquiries, on the other hand, are credit checks that are unrelated to lending decisions. When you pull your own credit report, for example, you are conducting a soft inquiry on your credit.

Here are some of the most common hard and soft credit inquiries:

Common hard inquiries

  • Credit applications, including credit card, loan and mortgage applications
  • Credit limit increase requests
  • Rental applications
  • Some types of utility applications

Common soft inquiries

  • Credit pre-approval offers
  • Credit monitoring services
  • Insurance quotes
  • Employer credit checks

How hard inquiries impact your credit score

“Hard inquiries may, but do not always, impact your credit scores,” Ulzheimer said, noting that one of the most common misconceptions about credit inquiries is that they always have a negative effect on your credit score. If a hard credit inquiry does negatively impact your credit score, it is likely to drop by no more than 10 points—and the damage should last no longer than a year. Hard inquiries automatically fall off your credit report after two years.

“The impact, if any, will last 12 months,” Ulzheimer advises. “Once an inquiry becomes older than 12 months, they are not seen by either FICO or VantageScore’s credit scoring models.”

How soft inquiries impact your credit score

Soft credit inquiries have no impact on your credit score. Though soft inquiries might appear on a special section of your credit report, they are not recorded by either FICO or VantageScore, which means they cannot affect your credit score.

The reason soft inquiries are not tracked by FICO or VantageScore is because soft inquiries are not directly related to a credit application. A lender might conduct a soft credit inquiry as part of a credit pre-approval, but that’s not the same thing as completing the credit application process. If you decide to apply for a credit card after receiving a pre-approval offer, the lender will do a hard credit pull before deciding whether to formally accept you for the card.

How to minimize the impact of hard credit inquiries

If you want to minimize the impact of hard credit inquiries, try to avoid applying for a lot of new credit all at once. That way, your credit report doesn’t bear the burden of multiple credit card applications and the associated hard credit pulls.

If you’re taking out a car loan or a mortgage, try to condense your credit shopping into a short time period.

“The best way to minimize [credit inquiry] impact is to shop around in a short period of time, no more than 45 days,” explains Ulzheimer.

The credit bureaus often track this type of rate shopping as a single credit inquiry, which will do less damage to your credit score.

That said, Ulzheimer advises consumers to not worry too much about whether inquiries will impact their credit.

“I wouldn’t worry at all about inquiries. They are the least impactful of all scored attributes, so there are plenty of other things that are considerably more important to worry about.”

High credit card balances and missed credit card payments, for example, have a much larger effect on your credit score.

How to dispute or remove credit inquiries

It’s possible to dispute or remove some credit inquiries from your credit report. If you initiated the hard credit pull by applying for new credit, you cannot remove the credit inquiry from your report. However, if the credit inquiry is the result of identity theft or some other error, you can file a dispute with the credit bureaus and request a hard inquiry removal.

To dispute a credit inquiry, follow the instructions associated with the credit bureau that developed the report.

According to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission study, 5 percent of Americans have errors on their credit reports—but that doesn’t mean every unfamiliar credit inquiry on your credit report is the result of an error. As Experian reminds us, credit inquiries can come from lender names we don’t recognize and we often don’t realize that applying for a car loan or a mortgage could prompt multiple hard credit inquiries from potential lenders. Think carefully about where those credit inquiries might have come from before filing a dispute.

Bottom line

Hard and soft credit inquiries are standard parts of an ordinary financial life. Although hard credit inquiries can lower your credit score, the impact is relatively small and should drop off your credit report after two years. Soft credit inquiries have no impact on your credit—you conduct your own soft credit inquiry every time you review your credit report. If you practice responsible credit habits like making on-time payments and maintaining low balances, the occasional hard credit inquiry should have very little effect on your overall credit score.