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Each time you apply for a new credit card, your credit scores may go down—but only slightly.
A hard pull, also known as a hard inquiry, is recorded in your credit file every time you authorize a lender to check your credit reports when applying for new credit—including for a credit card. Hard inquiries remain on your credit reports for two years, but any effect they have on your scores will be gone after 12 months.
How a Credit Card Application Can Impact Your Credit
A hard inquiry is a record showing someone has checked your credit report—with your permission—to evaluate you for some type of credit application. This happens whenever you apply for a new credit card.
Depending on how developed your credit history is, a single hard inquiry may have little to no impact on your credit scores. This is not as true for people who have poor credit or less in their credit file: These consumers may see a slight drop in their scores as a result of the hard pull.
If you have multiple hard inquiries in a short period of time, this could have a greater impact on your credit scores than if you have just one. Lenders may view this as a sign that you're seeking a significant amount of credit, which could indicate that you are having financial troubles and are at risk of overspending. And for consumers with little credit history, multiple applications represent an even greater risk.
There are, however, some situations where an inquiry or group of inquiries do not affect your credit scores. The first is a soft inquiry, or soft pull, which is recorded in your credit file whenever you check your own credit report or when a lender checks your score to preapprove you for an offer. If you've received credit card preapprovals in the mail, these are typically the result of a soft inquiry. Soft pulls are different from hard pulls, and while they appear on your credit reports, they do not affect your scores.
Additionally, multiple hard inquiries that occur when you are rate shopping, say for an auto loan or mortgage, are typically counted as just one if the applications are submitted within a certain period of time, usually about two weeks but sometimes up to 45 days. These don't hurt your credit because credit scoring models such as FICO consider interest rate shopping to be a good practice when taking on new credit.
How Long Do Hard Inquiries Stay on Your Credit Report?
Once a hard inquiry is recorded, it will remain a part of your credit history for two years. The effect the hard inquiry has on your credit reports, however, will typically disappear after about 12 months.
How to Minimize the Impact of Hard Inquiries
If you have good credit and a history of on-time payments, an occasional inquiry as a result of a credit application will have a negligible effect on your credit scores. It's when you begin to apply for multiple credit products in a short period of time that you may see a significant dip in your scores (with the exception of rate shopping, as noted above).
To limit the impact these hard inquiries have on your scores, consider only applying for new lines of credit, including credit cards, when you really need them. To avoid bunching multiple hard inquiries for different types of credit products in a short period of time, wait for six months to a year between credit applications to lessen the potential impact on your credit.
If your scores are low and you want to see them improve, avoiding hard inquiries is important. Focus on making all your payments on time, and if you have any debt, try your best to pay it down as much as possible.