Everyone knows how important your credit score is — from getting approved for a credit card to getting lower interest rates on loans. It’s essential to keep your credit score up so you can get the best credit offers.
Even if you don’t need to access that credit right now, you should be prepared for when an emergency arises and you could use some extra funds.
While checking your credit score helps you know where you currently stand and how you’re improving over time, some types of credit inquiries can cause damage. Learn the differences between each type of credit check so you can keep your credit score as high as possible.
What’s the difference between hard inquiries and soft inquiries?
A credit inquiry happens when you, a lender, or other third party requests a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.
Creditors can use the data on your credit report to view your payment history, confirm your personal information, and even generate customized credit offers. Exactly who can access your credit report is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). You can also authorize others to view your credit report if you wish.
There are two different types of credit inquiries: hard and soft. The difference comes from who exactly is accessing your report and why.
Typically, any application for credit you make will result in a hard credit inquiry.
This can include credit card, personal loan, mortgage, and car loan applications. Collection agencies may also access your credit report to attempt to find your location, resulting in a hard inquiry.
A soft credit inquiry, on the other hand, typically occurs as part of a background check rather than a full credit analysis. Applying for a pre-approval from a creditor to get a rate quote is one of the most common reasons for a soft inquiry.
However, a soft inquiry can also be performed even if you aren’t applying for credit. For example, they can be used as part of the screening process for potential landlords and employers.
Insurance companies, utility companies, and cell phone providers, for example, may also check your credit However, those inquiries don’t result in accumulating new debt. They’re considered soft inquiries.
Finally, checking your own credit score only counts as a soft inquiry. Checking your credit score does NOT hurt your credit score as long as you are not actually applying for a loan.
You don’t ever want to apply for credit just to check your credit score. If you do, it counts as a hard inquiry. However, if you buy your FICO credit score from myFICO or get it for free at any of the sites offering free credit scores, it will not count against you.
Potential creditors can perform a soft inquiry to help tailor customized credit offers for you based on your credit profile. That’s how you end up with pre-approval offers in the mail for credit cards, personal loans, and refinancing.
If you don’t want those creditors accessing your information and filling your mailbox with junk mail, you can opt out by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com.
How do inquiries affect your credit score?
Hard inquiries impact your credit score in a few different ways. First, all hard pulls stay on your credit history for two years. They’re individually listed in a section towards the end of your credit report.
Each hard credit inquiry causes a slight dip in your credit score, though usually no more than five points or so. Credit inquiries stay on your credit report for up to 2 years. However, the damage only lasts for about a year.
Recently, credit scoring models have changed to accommodate consumers’ tendencies to shop around for offers. For example, if you’ve made several car loan inquiries within a short period of time, usually within 30 to 45 days, they will only count as a single hard inquiry.
Lenders and credit card issuers still see each credit inquiry, but this typically doesn’t cause alarm since it appears you’ve only been shopping around for the best rates.
Do credit card inquiries hurt my credit score?
Too many credit card inquiries, can raise a red flag when a potential lender is reviewing your credit report during the application process. This is true for a couple of different reasons.
First, credit card inquiries aren’t usually lumped together as part of rate shopping. The other worrisome part for lenders is that it can take time for a new line of credit to show up on your credit report. Lenders may not feel confident that all of your current accounts and balances are listed on your credit report.
You could potentially have new credit cards and outstanding balances, making the lender’s debt to income ratio calculations inaccurate. There’s just no way for them to know. So, it’s ideal to stop applying for credit cards well before you need to apply for other types of loans.
The good news is that soft credit inquiries don’t have any effect on your credit score at all. That’s why shopping for credit through pre-approvals is a safe way to find the best rates and terms. It allows you to get rates from as many lenders as you’d like without hurting your credit.
Future potential lenders can’t see soft inquiries on your credit report. They don’t use that information when evaluating your application.
Can you dispute a hard inquiry?
Yes, hard inquiries can be disputed if you think one or more have been inaccurately listed on your credit report. According to the FCRA, creditors must receive your authorization before conducting a hard inquiry. If you’re considering disputing any inquiries, start by checking all three credit bureaus.
Not all creditors report to all three bureaus, so the information could be listed differently on each one. Plus, each credit bureau has its own dispute process. So, successfully disputing an inquiry on one report will have no effect on the other two.
Contact the Creditor First
If you don’t recognize one or more of the inquiries listed on your credit reports, start by contacting the creditor directly. It’s best to write a formal letter and request a return receipt via certified mail. That way you can keep extensive records and time the company’s responsiveness.
They are required by law to provide proof that you authorized the inquiry through a loan or credit card application. If they can’t, they must instruct the credit bureau to remove the inquiry from your credit report.
File a Credit Bureau Dispute If Necessary
Often, the credit card company may just remove it rather than going through the hassle of digging up old paperwork. If you have difficulty working with the credit card issuer, you can also file a dispute directly with the credit bureau.
When deciding whether to dispute hard inquiries, look at your overall credit situation. It may not be worth your time if you only expect to get one or two inquiries removed. After all, that will probably only result in an increase of a few points.
If you have significant negative items on your credit report, your time may be better spent concentrating on getting some of those removed.
Still, you might want to remove inaccurate hard inquiries if you are about to apply for a major loan and want your credit history as clean as possible. That way, you don’t have to worry about the lender seeing so many inquiries listed over the last two years.
How can you safely monitor your credit score?
When you’re attempting to raise your credit scores, it’s important to check it regularly to see which of your financial behaviors are having a positive impact and which ones are causing damage.
Checking your own credit report doesn’t affect your credit scores, and neither does signing up for a credit monitoring service. You get regular updates on your progress. Plus, you can also feel safe knowing that you’ll quickly be able to detect any potential identity theft or fraud.
For a comprehensive list of the best credit monitoring services available, check out our reviews.
If you’re simply interested in getting your credit score regularly, ask your bank or credit card company if they offer a free credit score service. You might get access to your credit scores each month as part of your member benefits.
Understanding how credit inquiries work can save you a lot of grief and aggravation when it comes time to apply for new credit. Check your credit reports at least once a year to make sure you stay on top of any inaccuracies or errors, then follow up with any incorrect information you find.
By keeping your credit report and credit score clean and up to date, you’ll have an easy time the next time you need to get a loan or new credit card.