Credit inquiries: What they are + how they affect your credit score
Credit inquiries on your credit report can be a little confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Sometimes known as a “credit check” or “credit pull,” a credit inquiry occurs when an institution requests your credit report and scores from any or all of the three major credit bureaus. They’re typically conducted by financial institutions, but can be done by others—for example, landlords often pull a credit report when you apply for a lease.
There are two types of credit inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Commonly referred to as a “soft pull,” soft inquiries don't affect your credit scores—they’re typically only visible to you when you view your report and don’t show up on a formal credit report.
On the other hand, a hard inquiry or a “hard pull” does affect your credit score—it’s a formal inquiry that becomes part of your credit report. This means that anyone (including you) who does a hard pull will see the inquiry. Because hard inquiries impact your credit score, they can only be performed with your consent.
To better understand how a hard pull impacts your score, it can be helpful to think of your credit score as a pie. Credit inquiries are one small slice—specifically, 10 percent of the pie—while the rest is made up of your credit card utilization rate, percentage of on-time payments, length of your credit history and any derogatory marks or late payments on your report.
Below, we’ll cover different types of credit inquiries and what to know when it comes to your credit health.
What is a soft inquiry?
We covered the basics of a soft inquiry above—thankfully, these aren’t indicators of a big risk and don’t impact your credit score, but it’s still important to understand them.
Soft pulls are the most basic form of a credit check and occur when a person or company reviews your credit as part of a background check. For example, this happens when credit card companies check your credit without your permission to pre-qualify you for certain credit card or loan offers. A potential employer might also run a soft inquiry before hiring you to see your basic credit score.
Other forms of soft credit scores include checking your own credit or applying for a phone bill or utility service. In this case, the soft credit check acts as a way to qualify you for certain plans or coverages.
What is a hard inquiry?
As we covered earlier, hard inquiries do impact your credit score, so you’ll want to pay close attention to them. A hard inquiry is triggered when you apply for credit, such as a mortgage, credit card, auto loan, student loan, personal loan or business loan.
A creditor or interested party performs a hard pull to check the history and strength of your credit score and to ensure you have no negative marks on your report, like late payments or charge-offs. Negative marks will likely reduce your chances of being approved for a loan as they indicate that you may not be a responsible borrower.
A single hard inquiry may lower your credit score by five points or fewer, so you shouldn’t typically lose sleep over it. After all, credit inquiries only make up 10 percent of your total credit score (think of the pie slice). However, the impact of the inquiry depends on your unique credit history. If you have exceptional credit, a few points may not be a big deal.
On the flip side, if you have less-than-stellar credit or are in the process of building your credit from the ground up, it’s important to think twice before authorizing hard credit inquiries—a five-point drop can be more difficult to recover from if you already have a low score.
How to minimize the effects of hard credit inquiries
Naturally, there are some things, like buying a car or a home, that take some shopping around for the best rates. In this case, you might be worried that multiple inquiries from different lenders may significantly hurt your credit report, and you’re not wrong to assume this. Fortunately, lenders understand that you’re not looking to take out 10 loans on the same car or home, you’re just shopping around for the best deal.
For this reason, credit scoring models are designed to include special rules for these certain types of loans in an effort to prevent your scores from being penalized for multiple inquiries for the same loan—this is often referred to as “shopping around” logic.
For FICO® scores, all auto, mortgage and student loan inquiries that fall within a 30-day period are considered one inquiry. After 30 days, the model breaks those three types of inquiries into a 45-day “dedupe” period. Multiple inquiries during a 45-day period are grouped together and counted as one inquiry—a process that’s often referred to as “collapsing.” Similarly, the VantageScore model gives you a rolling two-week window to shop for the best interest rates for certain loans.
Sometimes it’s unclear if a credit inquiry will be hard or soft. For example, if you open an account at a financial institution, sign up for cable TV or internet service or rent a car without a credit card, or if someone just needs to verify your identity, you may get hit with a credit inquiry—but which one? Because these can be either hard or soft, the only way to know is to ask the potential creditor and maybe even check in with one of the credit bureaus before moving forward.
Does checking your credit score lower it?
There’s a common misconception that checking your own credit report will hurt your credit score. In fact, checking your credit score is a good thing. (We’ll say it louder for the people in the back: it’s a good thing!) This can help you monitor any suspicious behavior, identify unauthorized credit inquiries and learn where you have room for improvement.
Fortunately, there are many ways to check your credit score without hurting your credit. You can go through any of the major credit bureaus, free credit reporting services or even your bank (sometimes). If you choose a free service, always make sure you verify the authenticity of the provider so you don’t get yourself into trouble.
How long do inquiries stay on your credit report?
A hard inquiry will stay on your credit report for two years. While this might seem like a long time, it actually only impacts your credit score for 12 months—of those 12 months, the first six months will count the most against your score.
Because credit inquiries stay on your report for a significant amount of time, it’s important that you’re cautious about not authorizing too many hard inquiries at once. The more hard inquiries you have on your credit report in a relatively short period of time, the more they’ll hurt your credit score.
Again, if you have a solid credit history and score, a few hard inquiries on your credit report likely won’t have a significant impact over the two years they stay on your account, but if you’re rebuilding your score, this is a quick way to bring it down.
Removing inquiries from your credit report
As we mentioned earlier, credit inquiries can only be performed if you authorize them. So, if you spot an error, such as an inquiry that you didn’t approve, you should certainly dispute this with the credit bureaus. You may also contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for help.
Unauthorized credit inquiries can be a sign of identity theft, which is why it’s important to check your credit report often. Even if the inquiry in question isn’t removed from your report, it’s important to understand what’s going on.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act , each credit bureau must investigate the disputed information with the institution that reported the inquiry to prove that you initiated the request for credit. If they find that you didn’t initiate an inquiry, it will be removed.
The bottom line: What can and can’t hurt your credit score
Your credit score is an important component of your financial well-being, so it’s important to understand all the factors that make up your score—credit inquiries are just one of those.
If you’re concerned about your credit or need some help repairing a low credit score, credit repair can help you fix your credit report and take control of your financial well-being.
from a Credit Expert