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Hard vs. Soft Credit Checks: How Do They Impact Your Credit?

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Updated May 19, 2024

When you apply for a loan or line of credit, the lender or bank will do a credit check. But in some instances, you'll find the credit check won't impact your score, and in other instances it does. The type of credit check, whether it's a soft credit inquiry or hard one, can impact your credit in different ways.

Let's shine a light on the difference between a soft credit check and a hard credit check.

What is a soft credit check?

Also known as a soft inquiry, or soft pull of your credit, a soft credit check is a review of your credit file by lenders. This includes prescreened offers and when you apply for prequalification on a line of credit, loan, or credit card. When you request a copy of your annual report from AnnualCreditReport.com or from a credit monitoring service, that also means a soft inquiry of your credit.

While soft inquiries do show up on your credit report, and can stay on your report for one to two years, they won't hurt your credit score.

What is a hard credit check?

A hard credit check are inquiries lenders or creditors make when you apply for credit or loan, such as a credit card, personal loan, personal line of credit, auto loan, or mortgage. When a creditor makes a request to look at your credit file, it's to determine your creditworthiness, or how risky you might be as a borrower.

They'll see your present and future financial behavior including your payment history and the balances on your loans. If the lender sees you have a few missed payments, that could be a sign that you might have trouble staying on top of payments in the future. On the flip side, if you have a history of making on-time payments, then it demonstrates to lenders that you are creditworthy. Hard inquiries also show up on your credit report and also can also affect your score.

When is each type of credit check used?

Soft credit inquiries are used when:

  • You are prescreened for a credit offer.

  • You apply for prequalification for a loan or line of credit.

  • You order a credit report from one of the credit bureaus.

    Hard credit inquiries are used when:

  • You apply for a loan or line of credit (i.e., a credit card, mortgage, auto loan, personal loan), and a lender reviews your credit file to determine your creditworthiness.

Whether it's a soft credit check or a hard credit check, lenders and creditors need permission to do an inquiry. Furthermore, your credit file can't have a credit freeze or block on it. Otherwise, lenders won't be able to access and review your credit.

How credit inquiries affect your credit score

As mentioned, both soft and hard credit inquiries show up on your credit report. However, only hard inquiries can negatively impact your credit. Hard inquiries can stay on your credit report for two years. While the inquiry shows up on your report for that time, they only affect your report for about a year.

If you're shopping around for a new credit card, mortgage, car loan, or new utility services provider, the good news is that multiple credit inquiries within a certain time frame count as one. This depends on the particular scoring model used with the credit check — there are literally dozens of different credit scoring models. Generally, the time frame is anywhere from 14 to 45 days.

A good rule of thumb is only to apply for credit as needed. That will help you steer clear from getting hit with hard pulls, which can cause your score to dip. If your credit score is below where you want it to be, credit builder apps like Brigit can help you raise it.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can you reduce the impact of a hard credit check?

If you're comparison shopping for a loan or line of credit, you can lower the impact of a hard credit check by making multiple inquiries within a designated period. This signals that you're applying for credit because you're looking for the best rates and terms, and because you're stretched thin financially.

If you think a hard inquiry was a mistake, you can try to dispute it with the credit bureau or directly with the lender. Unless a hard credit inquiry was due to identity theft, they cannot be nixed from your credit report.

How long do inquiries stay on your credit?

Both soft and hard credit inquiries can stay on your credit report for one to two years. Only hard inquiries can impact your credit, and they can typically only affect your credit for up to 12 months.

How many points does a hard inquiry affect credit score?

A hard inquiry can usually affect your credit score between 1 and 5 credit points. It usually only causes your score to dip for about 12 months.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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