Last Updated: March 17, 2023
When applying for a personal loan, a job, or even renting an apartment, you may need to undergo either a hard or soft credit check. In this article, we’ll compare hard vs soft credit check processes to shed light on how they affect your creditworthiness.
We’ll discuss how each of them differs from one another, who can perform each kind of inquiry, how these checks may affect your credit, and we’ll provide some advice on what to do and consider before undergoing such credit checks.
Let’s dig right in!
Hard vs Soft Credit Inquiries
Hard and soft credit inquiries are very similar in the fact that they both show your credit status. Their biggest difference is that one of them affects your credit score, and the other doesn’t. Read below to know more about hard and soft credit inquiries.
What Is a Hard Credit Check?
A hard credit check, also called a hard pull, happens when you apply for a credit card, a loan, or any new line of credit. This type of credit inquiry enables lenders to assess the risks you pose as a borrower.
Lenders often perform a hard check to verify your track record and determine whether they’re willing to work with you. Given that, what does a hard credit check show? The answer includes the following:
- Credit history
- Payment history
- Credit score
- Public liens
- Tax liens
When checking these records, organizations pay close attention to any missed payments or outstanding debt. Your credit history and score also play a significant part in such inquiries.
One key difference between hard and soft credit inquiries is that hard pulls need your authorization. Unauthorized hard credit checks may be a sign of identity theft, and it could have dire consequences for your overall credit performance.
Also, a hard credit check is noted by credit bureaus on your credit report. As such, it does have an effect on your credit score, as opposed to soft inquiries.
Here are some examples of hard credit inquiry situations that you should be aware of:
- Loan applications: these may include mortgage, car, student, or personal loans.
- Credit card applications: a credit card company must know if you’re financially stable and responsible.
- Credit limit increase requests: issuers check not only your payment history but also your overall credit rating and performance.
- New utility applications: new utility account providers conduct hard checks to determine the likelihood that you’ll pay on time.
- Apartment rental applications: landlords may perform hard credit inquiries. If you’re a landlord yourself, you may want to find the best tenant check services around.
- Collection agency skip tracing: skip tracers perform hard credit checks as part of their effort to locate indebted individuals who have “skipped” or left town.
What Is a Soft Credit Check?
A soft credit check, or a soft pull, happens when an entity checks your credit report for purposes other than a new application for credit. That is, no new credit or loan application needs to be granted. Soft credit checks don’t affect your credit score because lenders don’t treat them as additional risk.
A potential employer may request a soft inquiry on your credit report, and it won’t affect your credit score. Meanwhile, credit card issuers or mortgage lenders can also perform soft pulls when they’re pre-approving you for an offer.
These entities often look at the following when performing a soft inquiry:
- Credit history
- Payment history
- Credit score
- Tax liens
- Public liens
As opposed to a hard inquiry, this type of credit check doesn’t need your legal authorization. Entities can also freely check credit without affecting your score or report.
On top of that, these inquiries are recorded, but they’re only visible to the owner of the report. Examples of situations that may land you a soft credit inquiry include:
- Pre-approved credit checks: pre-approval processes help issuers determine your eligibility without performing hard credit checks.
- Insurance applications: insurance companies use soft pulls to give accurate quotes as well as check for signs of identity theft.
- Personal credit checks: you may perform your own credit check via credit pulls database providers or credit bureaus.
- Account reviews by your current creditors: when creditors review your account, a soft pull helps them monitor your performance.
- Employment applications: especially in the financial industry, employers need to check your aptitude and reliability in terms of money management.
Does the Number of Credit Checks Matter?
The frequency of credit checks matters, but the impact on your credit score depends on the types of credit inquiries done. Other factors also come into play, so you must understand how such checks work to avoid any confusion or surprises on your report.
Hard Credit Checks
One hard inquiry on your credit score doesn’t matter as much as multiple consecutive ones.
However, multiple hard inquiries on your report may indicate to lenders that you’re in a tough financial situation. This is what you should try to avoid as much as possible in terms of check inquiries.
At the same time, multiple hard inquiries on your credit report can lower your credit score. It can become a vicious cycle: since numerous hard checks indicate that you’re a high-risk customer, lenders will want to perform more checks on your report to know your exact situation, lowering an already bad credit score.
So, how long do hard inquiries stay on your credit report? Such inquiries can stay on your report for at least 12 months, but they don’t stay there for longer than 2 years. Also, the impact on your credit score may continue for a few months.
Hard credit checks account for 10% of your calculated FICO score. This scoring model takes into account the total number of hard credit checks performed on you. The upside is that it considers inquiries that aren’t over 12 months old.
So, how many points is a hard inquiry going to cost you? Based on this model, you shouldn’t lose more than 5 points on your credit score for multiple hard inquiries.
The “Rate Shopping” Exception
There are times when multiple hard inquiries are necessary. For instance, you might be applying for a mortgage or car loan, and you’ve submitted an application to multiple lenders to compare rates.
In such cases, credit bureaus recognize that you’re “shopping” for better rates. As a result, the hard credit check impact on your score will be minimized. At times, you won’t even lose points, since rate shopping indicates financial responsibility.
Deduplication can also remove any chances of penalty on your credit score. Under the FICO Safe Harbor rule, you won’t be penalized for multiple hard inquiries for one loan type if they occur within 45 days of each other. Meanwhile, VantageScore gives you a 14-day grace period to benefit from deduplication.
Soft Credit Checks Number
The biggest difference between hard vs soft credit check requests is that the latter doesn’t affect your credit score in a negative way.
Since soft credit checks aren’t tied to any new credit application, you can have dozens of them, and your score won’t change. What’s more, they’re not visible to lenders. Only you will see the full list of soft checks done. On the flip side, what the requesting party can see on a soft check isn’t disputable.
What to Do Before Applying for a Loan of Any Type?
Now that you know the difference between hard and soft credit inquiries, you can better choose between loan types to apply for. Following the steps below will help you avoid unpleasant and unwanted situations in terms of credit checks.
Ask the Lender What Kind of Credit Check They Perform
Before applying for a loan, make sure that you understand the lender’s policy in terms of credit checks. Ask whether they have a pre-approval process, which usually requires only a soft credit check.
Review Your Credit Report
When applying for any type of loan, it’s best to check the details yourself. The FCRA grants a free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com, and this check doesn’t affect your credit score — it basically lets you perform a soft credit check for free, so take advantage of it.
If Your Credit Score Is Low, Build Your Credit First
There’s a huge chance your application will be denied if your credit score is low, so it’s best if you find ways to fix your credit score. It’s worth the attempt; having a good credit score helps you acquire better terms and rates from the lender.
If you notice any errors on your credit report:
- Verify all the checks you authorized to remove the possibility of identity theft.
- If you find unauthorized inquiries, file a hard inquiry removal request, especially if it’s erroneous, and report it to the major credit bureaus.
- Dispute all other errors you find.
- Consider freezing your credit if the dispute is serious and takes a long time to resolve.
Comparing hard vs soft credit check requests, it’s crucial to understand how each of them affects your credit score. Hard credit checks are more serious than soft inquiries since they affect your credit score, especially if they happen multiple times. They happen whenever you apply for a new loan or line of credit and require your authorization. Meanwhile, soft credit checks can be performed without your knowledge, but they won’t affect your credit score.
Hard vs Soft Credit Check Key Features
|Feature||Hard credit check||Soft credit check|
|Purpose||For new credit applications||A simple review of your credit|
|Must be noted in the credit report||Yes||Yes|
|Visible to lenders||No||No|
|Affect the credit score||Yes||No|
|How long do they stay on the credit report?||12 months to 2 years||Only visible to the owner|
A soft pull shows lines of credits, your credit score, credit history, collection accounts, and everything else that you see whenever you check your own credit report. A soft credit pull can be requested by your potential landlord or employer, insurance companies, and existing lenders with whom you have an account.
Hard inquiries hurt your credit score because you’re applying for a new line of credit or a loan. Multiple hard inquiries are particularly damaging to your credit score, and they stay on your credit report from one to two years. The effects on your score can last for several months.
You can check your credit score without hurting it via AnnualCreditReport.com, which provides a free credit report every year. You can also request one free report from each of the three major US credit bureaus. If you play your cards right, you can get a free report every quarter.
Hard credit checks account for 10% of your overall credit report and credit score. If hard inquiries are inevitable, you can still benefit from deduplication. Credit bureaus treat multiple inquiries for one type of loan as a single inquiry if they happen within 14 to 45 days from each other.
Yes, it does. Soft credit checks are simple reviews of your credit status, so there’s no in-depth information on your payment history. However, it does show important details such as lines of credit, payments sent to collections, and even defaults. Even so, soft credit checks don’t affect your credit score.
Yes, it is. Every time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score goes down slightly because the issuer conducts a hard pull to know your payment history. Such checks let them know whether you meet their requirements and if they can trust you to manage credit wisely.
The main difference between hard and soft inquiries is that the former affects your credit score and requires your authorization. On the other hand, soft checks can be done without your permission but don’t affect your credit. Hard inquiries are caused by new credit applications, while soft checks are not.