In this article:
- What Is the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Inquiry?
- How Much Does a Hard Inquiry Lower Your Credit Scores?
- How Do Hard Inquiries Affect Shopping for Loans?
- How to Reduce the Impact of Hard Inquiries on Your Credit
- Can Inquiries on My Credit Report Be Disputed?
- Avoid Unnecessary Applications Prior to Applying for Home or Auto Loan
Whether it's a retail credit card or a jumbo mortgage loan, whenever you apply for credit the lender will likely pull your credit report in what's known as a hard inquiry. Each one can stay on your credit report for up to two years, but it shouldn't affect your credit scores for more than a year. In most cases, inquiries cease to have any significant impact on scores after just a few months.
Having several hard inquiries within a short time may have a greater impact—except in certain cases (more on this below). Even so, the effect of each hard pull diminishes with time.
Checking your own credit report or using credit monitoring services is not considered a hard inquiry and therefore has no effect on your credit score.
What Is the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Inquiry?
When you review your credit reports after applying for a loan, credit card or other form of credit, you'll likely see the hard inquiry it caused, but you also may see other inquiries, called soft inquiries.
Soft inquiries are often the result of you checking your own credit report, a preapproved offer of credit, or a periodic account review by a company you already do business with—but those aren't the only events that can cause them. They differ from hard inquiries because they don't generally reflect an application you've submitted for credit, and could even be the result of something like the IRS verifying your identity for your tax refund, for instance. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit scores.
How Much Does a Hard Inquiry Lower Your Credit Scores?
How many points does a hard inquiry cost you off your credit score? FICO® reports that a hard inquiry will reduce your credit score by five points or less. Your scores should rebound in a few months.
If you have less-than-stellar credit and a lot of hard inquiries for different types of credit within a short time, the effects will last longer; your overall credit score may be slightly reduced for as much as a year. After two years, hard inquiries drop off your credit report entirely.
In general, the number of hard inquiries on your credit report isn't a major factor in your credit score. The FICO® Score☉ model considers your payment history, credit utilization, total debt, length of credit history, credit mix and new credit when calculating your credit score. Hard inquiries are part of the "new credit" category, but they don't weigh heavily relative to the other factors.
How Do Hard Inquiries Affect Shopping for Loans?
When you're shopping around for the best rates on a mortgage, auto loan or other large loan, you may apply with several lenders, which will cause a separate hard inquiry from each one to appear on your credit report. But that doesn't mean your credit score will plummet, as most credit scoring models weigh multiple inquiries for mortgage or auto loans as one inquiry if they are made within a certain time period (14 to 45 days, depending on the scoring model). In fact, the newest scoring models from FICO® and VantageScore® completely ignore multiple inquiries for mortgage and auto loans within a short period of time. So you can shop for that dream car or home without worrying about your credit scores.
However, multiple hard inquiries for other types of credit, such as credit cards or even personal loans, aren't treated the same way, and may cause lenders to suspect you're having financial difficulties. Applying for a credit card, an auto loan, a home equity loan and a personal loan within the span of a month, for instance, could be a signal you're in need of money or are taking on too much new debt too fast, and pose a risk to lenders that you won't be able to pay it all back.
If you're making a major purchase, you shouldn't necessarily let the fear of hard inquiries stop you from shopping around for the lowest interest rates. However, you should take steps to ensure that hard inquiries don't negatively affect your credit.
How to Reduce the Impact of Hard Inquiries on Your Credit
If you plan to apply for a large loan such as a mortgage, having fewer hard inquiries on your report can make you more attractive to lenders. To minimize the impact of hard inquiries on your credit score, avoid applying for new credit in the months leading up to your big loan application.
You should also get a free copy of your credit report three to six months in advance and check to make sure your credit and inquiry information is accurate and up-to-date. Hard inquiries that you don't recognize could be a warning sign that someone has stolen your identity and is attempting to apply for credit in your name. Keep in mind that the business name a company uses to request your credit report may not be the same as the name you know them by. Some companies have a "Doing Business As (DBA)" name or use an abbreviated name when accessing your credit report.
Improving your credit score can also reduce the impact of hard inquiries. The stronger your credit is, the less likely it is that an inquiry will have a significant impact. If you're not sure what your credit score is, check it to see. The higher your score, the less you'll need to worry about the negative effects of a single credit inquiry. To improve your credit score before applying for a loan, take these steps:
- Get the risk factors that come with your credit score and use them to identify the issues having the most impact on your score. If an inquiry is affecting a lending decision, there are likely other more important issues that are hurting your credit. An inquiry by itself will never cause you to be declined or pay a higher rate.
- Keep your credit card balances low. Ideally, pay your balances in full every month. If that's not possible, work on paying down debt and keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30%. This ratio measures how much of your available credit you're actually using. Use too much, and lenders may be reluctant to extend more.
- Sign up for Experian Boost®ø, a free service that adds your on-time utility, cellphone, Netflix® and other bill payments to your credit report.
Can Inquiries on My Credit Report Be Disputed?
Legitimate inquiries can't be disputed or removed from your credit report until the two-year time period is up.
A hard inquiry from a company you don't recognize doesn't necessarily indicate a case of identity theft. When you shop around for a mortgage or car loan, websites, brokers or dealerships may send your information to multiple lenders, who will each check your credit. If you don't recognize the name of the company that performed the hard inquiry, you can often find contact information for the company listed in the entry on your credit report or online, so you can call to verify.
If it turns out that a company pulled your credit report in error, you can ask the company to contact the credit bureau(s) to have the inquiry removed. If someone is fraudulently applying for credit in your name, you can contact the credit bureau to dispute the inquiry and ask to have it taken off your credit report.
Avoid Unnecessary Applications Prior to Applying for Home or Auto Loan
While a single hard inquiry on your credit report can cause a small, short-term decline in your credit score, it shouldn't have a major negative impact, especially if you have good credit. Having several hard inquiries for different types of credit in a short time, however, could cause a more significant dip in scores and cause lenders to worry that you are having financial difficulty or that you could become overextended.
If you're seeking a loan for a big purchase like a home or a car, first get a copy of your credit report and review it. Avoid applying for new credit until you apply for your mortgage or auto loan. And consider signing up for free credit monitoring—it will help you stay on top of your credit situation and can also help alert you to signs of fraud or identity theft, including unauthorized hard inquiries.