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The Difference Between Hard and Soft Credit Inquiries

“You know, if you check your own credit reports it will hurt your credit scores.” Have you ever been afraid to check your own credit reports because of that myth? If so, the good news is that it really is a myth. Checking your own credit reports will never harm your credit scores in any way. However, that is not necessarily the case when other companies check your credit reports.

What Are Credit Inquiries?

In the credit world an “inquiry” is the term used to refer to the action of you or someone else obtaining or “pulling” a copy of your credit report. When your credit report is pulled a record of the pull, known as an inquiry, is recorded on your credit reports in order to fulfill a requirement set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA Sec. 1681g(a)(3)A). In other words, the credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian – are required by Federal law to maintain a record of access into your credit reports. Generally speaking, inquiries from lenders are maintained for 2 years and all other types range from 6 months to 12 months.

Certain types of inquiries may have an impact on your credit scores, and not in a positive way. “Hard” inquiries, the type that occur when you apply for credit, have the potential to negatively impact your credit scores. About 10% of your credit score points are based on the presence or lack of inquiries on your credit reports. “Soft” inquiries, as mentioned above, will never impact your credit scores at all. In fact, you’re the only one that will ever see those.

Now that you understand the difference between how credit scoring models treat hard and soft inquiries you may be wondering which types of inquiries qualify as hard inquiries and which types are considered soft inquiries. This will help.

Soft Inquiries Occur When

  • You Check Your Personal Credit Reports
  • Employers Check Your Credit Reports
  • You Receive Pre-Approved Offers of Credit
  • Insurance Companies Check Your Credit Reports
  • Your Current Creditors Check Your Credit Reports for Account Maintenance

Hard Inquiries Occur When

  • You Fill Out a Loan Application (i.e. Mortgage, Auto Loan, Personal Loan, Student Loan, Etc.)
  • You Fill Out Credit Card Applications
  • Collection Agencies Check Your Credit Reports for Skip Tracing

Credit Score Impact

When you pull a copy of your own credit reports a list of all recent inquiries will be listed. This list will include both soft and hard inquiries. However, when a lender pulls a copy of your credit report(s) only the hard inquiries will be included. Not only will soft inquiries have zero impact on your credit scores, but your lenders will not even be privy to them.

Although many consumers and consumer activists deplore the idea of inquiries possibly damaging your credit scores, statistics undisputedly show that consumers who apply for credit more often are riskier than those of you who do not. Even so, the truth is that every single hard inquiry on your credit reports will not automatically have a negative impact on your credit scores.

Instead, credit scoring models will look at your overall number of hard inquiries in the last 12 months and will assign the points to that aggregate. However, even though every hard inquiry may not automatically damage your scores they should be still be limited as much as possible. You do not need to fear applying for credit when you really need it, but you should definitely break the habit of applying for credit in order to receive a free t-shirt or a discount off your purchases.

About the author

John Ulzheimer


  • I ran a CA for years, and I want to caution readers about “Zombie” collection agencies that prey upon unsuspecting debtors. These people chase old, time-barred debts and try too get people to pay on them. What’s relevant here is that they will sometimes make unlawful inquiries when there is no “permissible purpose.” When you check your credit, make sure that only legitimate inquiries are listed in your file(s). Even “soft” inqs should be challenged, if done by a company with no legitimate purpose. This type of invasiveness can be especially troublesome if your score is on the bubble, say at around 700.

  • I have multiple inquiries I know that is killing my score. Between refinancing my house and getting a vehicle put a lot of strain on my credit report. Is there a way I can get them off. I tried talking to different credit councils like the one you are for but I know this one thing they cannot do is help me with this problem. Any suggestions?

  • Is it Legal for collection agencies to make a hard inquiry on your credit for skip tracing purposes and how are the removed. I don’t think that’s fair to be allowed to be done.

  • i applied for a car loan and explained about my credit and was very Pacific that they were not run alot of credit inquiries one to be exact they ended up running 12 hard inquaries i contacted the credit bureas infact wrote them to be removed they replied that they were correct and would not remove them is that fair? what can be done about that?

  • How can a person wipe off the credit inquiries. Ones you never authorized to do in the first place. I’ve checked my credit score and I have seen some that I have no idea who or what they are.

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