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How Do Auto Loan Inquiries Impact Credit Scores?

Dear Experian,

I run an auto dealership that sells luxury automobiles. I understand that multiple inquiries within a "shopping" timeframe do not hurt an individual's credit score. Can you explain what the time frame is and any other tips we can pass along to our customers?

- LLS

Dear LLS,

You are correct that most credit scoring systems allow people to shop for the best rates on car loans without having a negative impact on their credit scores. They do so by counting all inquiries for auto loans within a given period of time as a single inquiry.

That time period may vary from one credit scoring system to another. But shopping for rates within a 14-day period will ensure inquiries are counted as only one for scoring purposes, or excluded entirely by some scoring systems.

A two-week period allows plenty of time for a person to be preapproved by their own lender, or for a car dealership to shop their loan application with multiple lenders in a practice commonly referred to as "shotgunning."

Multiple Inquiries May Appear From Just One Application

When a car dealership "shotguns" a loan application, they send it to many different lenders with which the dealership has relationships. The process usually only takes a few minutes and enables lenders to compete for the loan and for the car dealership to help their customer find the best loan terms.

Often, the customer can pick the car they want, apply for credit, get approved and drive off the lot within a matter of hours, all without leaving the dealership.

Each individual lender that accesses the borrower's credit report will appear on the report as a separate inquiry. But, because credit scoring systems count multiple auto loan inquiries as a single inquiry, this process of shopping for the best rate does not affect a person's ability to qualify for credit.

Order a Credit Report Prior to Applying for New Credit

When considering a large purchase such as a new car, consumers should get a copy of their credit report well in advance to make sure that everything in it is accurate and up to date. Doing so will also give the consumer an idea of areas they might need work to improve their credit standing before applying for the car loan.

Pay Attention to Credit Score Risk Factors

I also encourage everyone to get a copy of their credit score at least once when they request their personal credit report. A credit score will come with a description of what items in a person's credit report are most affecting the score, both positively and negatively. Those credit score risk factors are specific to the individual's personal credit report and will help them identify the steps they need to take to become more creditworthy.

Consider allowing your finance manager to share the credit score risk factor statements with your customers when they pull their credit for lending purposes. Your customers can use those statements to take steps to improve their creditworthiness.

My final suggestion is to make sure your customers have reasonable expectations based on their overall financial situation. Getting prequalified with a lender can help consumers get a better idea of how much car they can truly afford. The best way to avoid disappointment is to not get your heart set on a luxury vehicle only to discover you can only qualify for something more modest.

Thanks for asking.
Rod Griffin, Director, Consumer Education and Awareness

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