Did you know that every time someone pulls your credit reports, it’s considered a credit inquiry? And even when you check your own reports, it still counts as an inquiry.
While some credit inquiries can cause your scores to drop by a few points, many of them don’t do any harm at all. Unfortunately, most people are confused about which is which.
In short, your scores may take a small hit each time you apply for a new credit card or loan. But there are several ways you can avoid losing points.
Types of credit inquiries
There are two types of credit inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. You may also hear them referred to as hard or soft pulls.
These two inquiry types happen under different circumstances, and they affect your credit scores differently, so it can help to understand what sets them apart:
- Hard inquiry: Hard inquiries occur when you apply for a new credit card or loan and, as a result, you authorize the creditor to pull your credit report. Each hard inquiry can cost you up to five points, but some have no impact at all.
- Soft inquiry: If someone pulls your credit for reasons other than approving new financing, it’s considered a soft inquiry. For example, it’s a soft inquiry when you pull your own reports. Soft credit checks appear on your credit reports but don’t impact your credit scores.
|Type of credit inquiry
|How long does it stay on your credit reports?
|Initial impact to credit scores
|How long does it impact your credit scores?
|Roughly 0-5 points
Hard inquiries vs. soft inquiries: What’s the difference?
The main difference between hard and soft credit inquiries is whether or not you apply for financing.
If you apply for a new loan or credit card, including a mortgage, a student loan or a personal loan, the application is considered a hard inquiry. Some creditors offer pre-qualification with no credit check, which gives you a chance to see what you qualify for without impacting your credit scores, and others will perform a hard inquiry when you apply.
There are also many occasions where a credit report review is always a soft credit check. Here are some examples:
- A financial agency pre-screens you to see if you’re eligible for a product offer
- You pull your own credit reports
- A credit monitoring service reviews your credit
- A creditor you already have an account with looks at your reports
- A potential employer screens you for a job
- A credit counselor pulls your reports to review them with you
How credit inquiries affect your credit score
Credit inquiries play a minimal role in how your credit scores are calculated. In fact, they’re tied for last place on the factors FICO considers. Here’s how FICO determines your scores:
- 35% Payment history
- 30% Amounts owed
- 15% Length of credit history
- 10% Credit mix
- 10% New credit (including hard inquiries)
Despite their small role in determining credit scores, having multiple hard inquiries in a short span of time can affect the score. Sure, one application may only cost you a few points, but the losses can add up if you make multiple applications within a year.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should never apply for a new credit card or loan. If used responsibly, a new account can help your scores grow in the long run. In particular, it helps if the new account diversifies your mix of credit, and if you make all of your payments on time.
Monitoring and managing credit inquiries
For anyone looking to reduce their hard inquiries and keep their credit scores in good shape, there are a few ways you can manage this aspect of your credit:
- Pre-qualification or preapproval: Reduce your total number of hard inquiries by looking for creditors who offer pre-qualification or preapproval without performing a hard pull.
- Rate shopping: If you’re shopping for a mortgage, an auto loan or student loan, all of your applications will only be calculated as one if you make them within a 14-day “rate shopping” window.
- Opt-out of pre-screening offers: Stop third parties from making unsolicited soft pulls to your credit for five years by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or calling 888-OPT-OUT (877-567-8688). Opting out can also prevent fraudsters from stealing credit card offers from your mailbox.
- Credit freeze: If you’re concerned about identity theft, ensure no one can open an account in your name by placing a free credit freeze on your credit reports.
- Limit increase: Instead of applying for new credit, you can avoid a hard inquiry and improve your credit scores by requesting a limit increase on a credit card you already have open.
Want to see who’s reviewed your credit within the last two years? You can request your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and find a full list of credit pulls under the ”inquiries” section in each report.
Looking at this information not only helps you stay on top of your credit profile, but it can also help you catch fraud.
If you see a hard inquiry you didn’t make, it’s a red flag that someone applied for credit in your name. For inquiries that don’t belong to you, or any other information that indicates fraud, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau to get it removed for free and place a free fraud alert on your reports.
Keep hard inquiries to a minimum
In the grand scheme of things, credit inquiries play a very small role in your credit health. If you’re hoping to improve your credit scores, you’ll get a lot farther by making debt payments on time and paying down your credit card debt than by worrying about inquiries. But there’s still a chance you can do real damage by accruing too many hard inquiries in a short timeframe.
To prevent that damage, be strategic about when and how you apply for new accounts. Before applying, compare terms from multiple lenders to find a product that best meets your needs. And if possible, see if you can prequalify without a hard credit inquiry.
Written by Sarah Brady | Edited by Rose Wheeler
Sarah Brady is a financial writer and speaker who’s written for Forbes Advisor, Investopedia, Experian and more. She is also a former Housing Counselor (HUD) and Certified Credit Counselor (NFCC).
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