How Does Rate Shopping Affect Your Credit Scores?

Quick Answer

Rate shopping can help you save cash, and typically has a minor credit score impact. Depending on the type of credit you’re rate shopping for, you may incur one or more hard inquiries.

A woman sitting at her desk with papers and a laptop, shopping for loan rates

Rate shopping is the act of comparing interest charges and other terms from multiple lenders before accepting a loan or credit card offer. It's a way to ensure you're getting the best possible terms on your credit and, if done correctly, will have only a minor impact on your credit scores. Here's the lowdown on rate shopping and credit scores.

What Is Rate Shopping?

Rate shopping is the process of comparing interest rates, fees and other terms from lenders and credit card issuers to get the best possible deal.

Rate shopping can land you lower interest rates that mean big savings over the life of a loan or credit card account. If you're not careful, however, rate shopping can also reduce your credit scores—temporarily, at least. When you understand the links between rate shopping, credit scoring and the way credit scoring systems handle credit checks, or inquiries, you can credit shop with minimal effect on your scores. Here's how it all works.

What Is an Inquiry?

In the context of your credit, an inquiry is a credit check performed by a lender to evaluate your creditworthiness. When a lender reviews your credit report or seeks a credit score based on that report, that request appears on your credit reports as an inquiry.

There are two types of inquiries: hard and soft. Each type of inquiry has different consequences for your credit scores.

Hard Inquiry

A hard inquiry can trigger a small, temporary reduction in your credit scores. It occurs after you've applied for credit, when a lender is deciding whether to issue you a loan or credit card and deciding how much to lend and how much to charge you in interest and fees.

Credit scoring systems such as the FICO® Score and VantageScore® may ding your scores by a few points when you receive a new hard inquiry, because new debt is statistically associated with greater risk of missed payments. Your scores typically recover within a few months (and may increase further afterward) if you maintain timely bill payments. Multiple hard inquiries for different types of credit in close succession can have a cumulative negative effect on credit scores, however. More on this below.

Soft Inquiry

A soft inquiry has no effect on your credit scores. It occurs when a lender or other authorized entity checks your credit report for informational purposes not directly related to an official credit application. Examples include card issuers checking your credit before sending you a promotional offer, and you checking your own credit report.

Does Rate Shopping Hurt Your Credit?

To accommodate rate shopping on installment loans such as mortgages, auto loans and student loans, FICO and VantageScore treat hard inquiries related to loan applications submitted within a narrow time as a single event.

With current versions of the FICO® Score, the time window is a 45-day period; some older versions of the FICO® Score that are still used by lenders have a 14-day window.

VantageScore uses a rolling two-week window: If you submit a series of applications for loans in the same amount and less than two weeks separates each application date, VantageScore will treat credit checks related to them as a single inquiry.

Credit scoring systems do not treat inquiries related to credit card applications as a single event. You can, however, still rate-shop for credit cards without incurring multiple hard inquiries. To do so, use the prequalification option available from many card issuers.

Prequalification typically takes only a few minutes and provides an estimate of the borrowing limit and interest rate the lender would give you if you formally apply for a card. Prequalification does not cause a hard inquiry and will not affect your credit scores. While prequalification doesn't guarantee credit terms, it can give you a good idea of the interest rates and borrowing limits you can expect.

To get a firm offer of credit card terms, you must submit a full application, which typically requires more information than prequalification and also triggers a hard inquiry. A good approach is to apply for the card with the prequalification terms you like best. If you like the final terms you get after applying, accept the offer and your credit scores will only see a temporary ding from one hard inquiry. If you'd like to try for better terms you can apply elsewhere, but keep in mind that doing so will prompt another hard inquiry.

The Bottom Line

Rate shopping is a smart practice that, done carefully, has only a minor temporary impact on your credit scores. When shopping for installment loans, submitting all your applications within a 14-day timespan can prevent multiple hard inquiries from hurting your credit scores, no matter what credit scoring system or version may be used to check your credit.

When shopping for credit cards, getting estimates on interest rates and fees via prequalification is a good strategy, and tools such as Experian CreditMatch™, which pairs you with credit cards based on your credit profile, can save you time.