Credit inquiries are a fact of life. Submitting a job application, setting up utility services, applying for a loan or credit, or even taking steps to research your financial situation — these are just a few actions that can trigger a credit inquiry.

Most checks on your credit are relatively routine. Still, you can expect that a hard credit inquiry will lower your overall credit score, at least temporarily. You might ask yourself if removing that inquiry from your credit report is possible. The simple answer is no, but it is possible if you never authorized the credit check to begin with.

What is a credit inquiry?

Credit inquiries happen when individuals or companies want to know more about your financial health. They want to know if you have a solid history of paying loans or credit card debt. One path to this knowledge is by checking your credit reports. A credit inquiry, sometimes known as a pull, means someone checking on your credit.

Inquiries are divided into two categories: soft and hard.

Soft inquiry

A soft inquiry happens when you check your credit reports or FICO score. It can also be triggered when a credit card company wants to market its services to you. For example, preapproved credit card offers that come in the mail likely are the result of a soft credit check.

When you examine your credit report, you’re not taking action to add more debt to your life. Those checks or preapproved offers are just that — preapproved. You’re not signing anything or giving permission for anyone to send you a credit card.

Because of this, a soft pull will pop up on your credit report, but you’re the only one who sees it. A soft inquiry is more of an informal scan of your credit than a deep dive into your ability to pay off debt. This means that a soft inquiry won’t impact your credit score.

Hard inquiry

A hard inquiry signifies that a creditor or lender wants a detailed look at your credit file to determine if you’re a risky borrower.

Hard pulls typically occur if you apply for a loan (think mortgage, auto loan, student loan or credit card). In this case, the creditor wants to know your history of paying off debt and how much credit you’re currently dealing with. The lender, bank or credit card company wants assurance that you can pay off any debt they might issue.

Because of this in-depth search:

Sending in a credit card application or applying for a loan will generate a hard inquiry. These activities, in turn, will show up on your report and stick around for two years. They’ll also temporarily drop your credit score.

However, that hard pull shouldn’t impact your score for more than a year or so. Additional factors like on-time payments and utilization play a much bigger role in determining your credit score. In other words, don’t worry if that score loses a few points because you’re applying for a needed credit card or loan.

You also shouldn’t worry if you’re shopping for an auto loan or mortgage and need multiple credit checks. If multiple hard pulls from lenders take place within a 14-day period, they are considered a single inquiry and shouldn’t have much impact on your credit score. Just don’t get in the habit of applying for credit every month.

When to dispute a hard inquiry

A hard credit pull requires your permission.

As mentioned above, you can’t remove a hard pull from your credit report just because you want to lower your credit score. If you gave the lender or credit card company permission to delve into your financial background, that inquiry will be on your credit report.

The situation is different if you didn’t authorize that hard pull. If this is the case, you can — and should — take steps to remove the inquiry from your report. The inquiry could be the result of a clerical error, or it may indicate identity fraud or theft.

Here’s what to do in this situation.

1. Notify the creditor that made the inquiry

Contact that company to report the issue and find out who authorized the hard credit pull. Ask for proof of authorization. If the company can’t provide that proof, it should contact the credit bureaus to remove the error.

2. Tell the credit bureaus

In addition to asking the creditor to contact Equifax, Experian or Transunion, take the initiative and contact the credit bureaus yourself. Outline the issues and errors in writing, fill out the necessary dispute forms, gather the necessary documentation and mail the information to all three bureaus.

3. Freeze your credit

Freezing your credit means going to the three credit bureaus and asking them to put a lock on your report. This prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit reports or files. Under federal law, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit anytime online or by phone. Be sure to freeze your credit with all three bureaus.

Remember that a freeze could prevent legitimate creditors from checking your credit report or score. If you are trying to get a new loan or credit card, unfreeze your credit temporarily so you can get approved.

4. Report identity theft to the government

Finally, you should report the incident through the Federal Trade Commission’s website. The website also provides multiple action steps to help you get through the process and develop a recovery plan.

How to prevent unauthorized hard inquiries

The best way to prevent unauthorized hard pulls is to be proactive.

Check your credit reports regularly

The best way to keep an eye on hard and soft pulls on your credit is to check your credit reports consistently. Fortunately, this is easy to do, thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The FCRA outlines your rights concerning credit reports and scores. Under the Act, you have the right to one free copy of each of your three credit reports once a year. You can download all three at once or spread them out over 12 months. Often, credit reports are available even more frequently.

To take advantage of this, visit The website will ask you a few questions and direct you to the three credit bureaus where you can download your credit reports.

Keep an eye on your credit score

Accessing your FICO score, VantageScore or both is a good idea. You can find this information by signing up for credit monitoring from one (or all) of the three bureaus. If you’re a bank or credit card customer, you may already have access to your free scores.

If you see an unexpected drop in your credit scores, dig into the cause. Look for any hard inquiries that seem unfamiliar, and follow up with the bureaus if you see anything suspicious.

Place fraud alerts on your credit accounts

Fraud alerts come into play if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. When you request a fraud alert on your credit report, lenders or credit card companies know to check with you before providing a loan or issuing a new credit card in your name. The alert means others need to take reasonable steps to ensure that you authorized a credit check or financial inquiry.

The beauty of a fraud alert is that if you request it from one credit bureau, the other two are automatically notified.

The bottom line

Hard credit pulls happen whenever you apply for a loan or credit card. They do remain on your report for a time and can temporarily lower your overall score. In most cases, you simply need to wait (and practice good credit habits) until the information drops off your credit reports.

However, if you didn’t give permission for that hard credit inquiry, you should take action promptly to remove it from your reports.

The good news is that you can monitor your credit status with help from multiple tools. Assuming a proactive stance — and understanding the impact of hard and soft pulls on your credit — can help ensure your solid credit foundation.