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Adding a new credit inquiry to your report could damage your credit score. But its impact on your credit could depend on a variety of factors, including whether you’ve run a soft vs. hard credit check.

That’s why it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the differences between these two types of credit checks — especially if you plan on shopping for a loan or applying for a credit card anytime soon.

What is a hard credit report inquiry?

Let’s start with what a hard inquiry is versus a soft inquiry. A hard credit report inquiry is when someone with authorization checks your credit history when you apply for new credit, like a mortgage loan or a credit card.

When are they used?

Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian, says the credit reporting agency sees relatively few hard inquiries from people because most people aren’t “applying for lots of credit all the time.” Usually, it’s once or twice a year at most.

The key differentiating factor in a hard credit pull is that it involves actually submitting loan applications and credit card applications. Providers won’t do a hard inquiry on your credit unless you submit an official application.

Pros and cons of having a hard credit report inquiry

  • Necessary to take out new loans and credit cards
  • Usually taken off your credit report after two years
  • Can decrease your credit score by 5 to 10 points each
  • You may need to have several hard credit checks if you aren't initially approved

What is a soft credit check?

A soft credit inquiry occurs when you authorize someone to check your credit score, such as for preapproval for a credit card application or card loan. The key difference is that a soft credit pull is not attached to a specific application for credit or time frame and therefore doesn't affect your credit score.

When are they used?

Soft credit checks may be used any time you're interested in learning whether you could qualify for different offers or interest rates with your current credit profile.

Credit card companies often perform soft inquiries when you're rate shopping. They may also use soft credit pulls when determining approval for credit card offers, during a background check or when assessing your credit risk.

Pros and cons of having a soft credit check

  • Doesn't impact your credit score
  • Helps you figure out your credit score at each of the major credit bureaus
  • Can help you decide whether performing a hard inquiry is worthwhile
  • You'll still need a hard pull to receive a new loan or credit card

Hard vs. soft credit check: How do they differ?

The most significant difference between hard and soft credit checks is whether the inquiry is attached to a specific product request. If you’re actually applying for a credit card or a car loan, the company will likely make a hard pull. If you’re just shopping for rates or looking at your offers without actually applying for anything, that would likely involve a soft credit pull.

Hard credit check

Hard credit checks impact your credit score. However, they don’t cause much damage in isolation. You can lose five points on your score after a hard credit check, but the inquiry may stop having an impact on your credit score after one year.

However, you can seriously damage your score if you try to run too many hard credit inquiries. It’s essential to authorize hard credit checks only when absolutely necessary.

Soft credit check

Soft credit checks allow you to explore your credit options without submitting applications or performing hard checks that could damage your score. Most of the best mortgage lenders and credit card companies will use soft credit pulls to present you with quotes on interest, down payments and other qualifying criteria before you make a final decision.

You can also use sites like AnnualCreditReport.com to perform a soft credit inquiry and check on your VantageScore or evaluate differences in your credit report between the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.

Can credit inquiries affect my credit score?

Yes, hard inquiries will impact your credit score, while soft credit inquiries won’t. However, if you need to perform hard inquiries, there are steps you can take to minimize their impact.

How to improve my credit score after a hard credit inquiry

If you need to run a hard credit check for a mortgage loan request or new credit card, there’s not much you need to do to improve your score. As long as you continue making on-time payments and don’t request additional hard credit inquiries in the immediate future, any dip in your credit score should recover quickly.

How to reduce the impact of a hard inquiry

The best way to reduce the impact of a hard inquiry is to do as few of them as possible. One or two here and there won’t significantly impact your score. But if you run five to eight within the same six-month period, lenders could view you as a credit risk.

You can also limit the impact of a hard inquiry by looking after the other aspects of your credit score. On-time payments, credit utilization ratios and delinquent accounts can hurt your score more than hard inquiries. If you take care of these aspects of your credit report and keep the hard inquiries to a minimum, the effect of a single hard pull should be minor.

Hard vs. Soft Credit Check FAQs

How long do inquiries stay on my credit?

Hard inquiries stay on your credit history for two years. However, the overall impact on your score generally only lasts a few months before it recovers. Soft credit inquiries never appear on your credit report.

How many points will a hard inquiry cost me?

A single hard credit inquiry can reduce your score by 5 to 10 points. But your score could decrease substantially more than that if you run several hard credit pulls within the same six-month period.

Is there any exception on hard credit affecting my credit score?

No, hard inquiries will always have an impact on your credit score. But the effect will diminish as time moves forward.

What is the best way to check my credit reports?

You can check your credit score and access your credit report for free through sites like AnnualCreditReport.com or most credit card issuers. These platforms perform soft credit pulls so you don't have to worry about hurting your score when using them.

Can I reduce the impact of a hard inquiry?

The best way to reduce the impact of hard credit inquiries is to take care of the other parts of your credit score. Keep making on-time payments and avoid having delinquent accounts. If you do that, a single hard credit inquiry shouldn't have a meaningful impact on your score.

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