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From the Experts at Credit.com

What Is a Hard Inquiry?

by Gerri Detweiler

What is a Hard Inquiry

You may have heard that a hard inquiry can hurt your credit score. But you may not be sure exactly what that means – what is a hard inquiry anyway?

Here’s why it’s important to understand how a hard inquiry works: shopping for lower cost credit can save you money. But if you’re not careful, the inquiries that are created as a result of those applications can drop your credit scores, which in turn can result in higher interest rates when you borrow. On a large loan like a car loan or mortgage, a drop of even a few points can mean you’ll pay a higher interest rate. And that, in turn, may mean you’ll pay more over the life of the loan. So avoiding unnecessary ones can save you money.

An inquiry is created when your credit report is accessed. Let’s say you apply for a car loan and the lender requests your credit report and score from Experian. The fact that your credit information was used by a particular company will be noted on your Experian report with the date, name of the company that requested it, and the type of inquiry.

Want to know if inquiries are bringing down your credit score? Get your free credit score from Credit.com along with an explanation of what factors are affecting your score, and an action plan for your credit.

Before we get into the specifics of how a hard inquiry works, it’s important to put them in perspective. Unless you have really been shopping heavily for credit (more on that in a moment), they shouldn’t have a huge impact on your credit scores. The category “new credit” accounts for about 10% of your FICO credit scores, and inquiries are just a part of that category. As a result, a single inquiry is likely to drop your score by less than 5 points, but only if it’s a hard inquiry, and with the limits described in a moment.

Plus, while inquiries remain on your credit reports for two years, only those within the past year count, at least with the majority of score models used these days. Older ones are ignored.

Hard Inquiry vs. Soft Inquiry

Hard inquiries are ones that can affect your credit scores. They indicate that you are actively trying to get credit, whether that’s a car loan, mortgage, student loan or credit card.

Soft inquiries, on the other hand, aren’t generated by shopping for credit and they do not affect your scores. For example, if a lender sends you a preapproved credit offer, that inquiry is called a “promotional” inquiry and it’s a soft inquiry. And when you check your own credit score, the same thing applies. Similarly, if you already have a credit card or loan with a lender, it may review your account from time to time and the account review inquiry that results doesn’t show up when lenders request your reports or scores.

Inquiries generated by an employer or an insurance company are also ignored for purposes of calculating your scores.

Do No Harm

There are a couple of ways to help minimize the likelihood that your score will drop due to this factor.

Shop Till You Drop: Looking for a mortgage, car loan, or student loan? Limit your shopping to a two-week period. If you do, it’s likely those applications will only count as a single inquiry. That’s because most scoring models will count all inquiries of one of those types as one, provided they take place within a 14 or 45 day period (depending on which model is being used).

Monitor Your Credit: Check your credit report and your credit scores before you shop for credit. Then do your homework and try to apply for loans for which you are most likely to qualify. You can monitor your credit score each month for free at Credit.com, and when you do, we’ll match you to credit card and loan offers based on your credit profile and score which should help you save money.

Who’s Checking My Credit?

If you review your credit reports and you see an inquiry listed but you don’t recognize the name of the company listed, first check to make sure it’s not a promotional inquiry. If it is, then you were probably sent an offer for preapproved credit and that’s nothing to worry about. (You can opt out of preapproved offers.) If that’s not the case, the contact information for that company should be listed on your report so you can contact them. If that information isn’t provided, ask the credit reporting agency for it.


Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Applying for credit typically causes a small, temporary drop in your credit score. But having additional credit available may actually help your score, because it can help your credit utilization ratio (the amount of credit you are using compared with the amount available). You want to keep that at no more than 30%. To find out how it affects you personally, you can get a free credit score from Credit.com that comes with a breakdown of the factors determining your score.

  • Michelle

    How often are credit reports updated? I paid off a major credit card in March and according to my most recent credit report a balance is still showing.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Nicole – Inquiries typically don’t drop credit scores by more than 4 – 7 points or so, so it’s probably not a big deal as far as your credit goes. The loan itself is the bigger deal!

  • Chuck

    I’ve seen many articles explaining how soft inquiries don’t negatively effect your credit score. But I never saw a clear explanation of what exactly a soft inquiry is? Meaning, what info does the credit bureau provide to those who make soft inquiries? Do they just verify the name/DOB/address, or do they tell the Inquirer how many credit cards I have and if I ever missed a payment etc.? Is the exact same info furnished to a soft Inquirer as to a hard Inquirer?

    • David

      The difference is essentially that a hard inquiry is defined as one that you initiate for the purpose of obtaining a loan. These will “count against you”.

      If a bank does their own inquiry for their own purposes to market material to you or target you for a loan product then it is a soft inquiry and will not “count against you”

      The information in the report will vary by the type of inquiry the bank does. They may just pull a score, they may pull a full report.

      If they are looking a full report then you should know whats on there. Check out annualcreditreport.com for your once per year free full report (no score).

  • Bill

    I tried buying a new car a short time ago, but changed my mind due to some unrelated family issues. Those are now taken of and I’ve stated again. Now I find out that there over 20 hard hits on my credit report from dealers checking for car loan rates for me from before. Five, from one dealer alone. This is killing me credit wise. Why is one dealer checking five times for a best rate for me five hard hits? none of these resulted in anyone loaning me anything. Experian doesn’t seem to care, and are no help. What, if anything can I do?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Bill – It’s true that once they are on there they are hard to get removed. After a year most credit scoring models ignore them and they will come off your report in two years. In the meantime, many credit scoring models will ignore multiple car loan inquiries in a short period of time. So depending on which model the next lender uses it may not hurt your credit scores. I’d suggest next time, though, that you only check in one place to see if you can get a good rate. One possibility is a credit union. If you don’t already belong to one, you can find credit unions that offer car loans nationally here.

  • Audrey

    I had my wallet stolen late last week, so I set fraud alerts with all the credit bureaus. Today, I received a call asking if I had attempted to open an account with a retailer. I had not. Now I’m finding a hard inquiry on my credit report. How do I get rid of that

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    It’s impossible to say, because so many things go into a credit score. If being overwhelmed by debt is resulting in late payments and a loan eliminated that, perhaps. Your very best bet is to check your credit scores regularly and know where you stand. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free. You will also want to get your free annual credit reports and make sure those are error-free. You can find more information here: Will Debt Consolidation Help or Hurt Your Credit?

  • angelica

    How can i check from where the inquiries are coming?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      The name of the company checking your credit report must be listed under the inquiries section. There should be contact information for that company as well, but if there isn’t you can ask the credit bureau for that.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    If your credit scores very strong then you shouldn’t have a problem qualifying for the apartment that you want to rent. To minimize the number of inquiries created, you might try showing them a copy of your credit report and asking them to prequalify you before you apply. (They may want to pull their own copy for a final review but at least this could show them that you have excellent credit.) As for the inquiries that are generated, keep in mind that they are only reported for two years and under most credit scoring models they only affect your credit for the first year.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Not necessarily. They don’t have to warn you or get your permission unless it is for employment. But they must have permissible purpose; to extend credit or review an insurance application for example.

  • Erick

    I received a hard inquiry on my credit and then a new credit card on my mail box. What can I do, if I don’t requested any of both.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Call the credit card issuer and cancel the card, explaining the situation. It is possible there was a same name mixup, but it is also possible someone applied for a card in your name and planned to steal it from your mailbox. You may want to set up a fraud alert on your credit reports. You can find more here:
      What’s a Credit Freeze?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am not sure I understand the situation fully. Sometimes companies will disclose a range of APRs and will not tell you what rate you qualify for until you apply and they check your credit. Is that what you are talking about?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Hmmm…that is confusing. Have you checked your credit reports to see what’s going on? Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If you mean if you and the company don’t end up as lender/borrower or issuer/cardholder, no. The hard inquiry remains for up to two years. It causes a small, temporary dip in your scores. There are special provisions in which multiple inquiries count as just one (as in when you are shopping for a home mortgage), but a hard inquiry indicates only that you applied for credit — not whether your application was accepted or rejected, or you ultimately decided against the financial product.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    This is actually a pretty common practice among card issuers.

  • Candice

    I was recently pre approved for a new credit card with better reward point then my exciting card. I decided to go ahead with it. Now here’s the issues , I went in to speak with my bank rep and have the new credi card replace the existing one and not apply for a new card , transfer it over, ( because I was already pre approved) but the girl messed up and ended up starting a new application for it and not not just transfer over to a different card. So now I have a hard hit on my credit. I have a high score but I’m not happy with this mistake. Is there a way to get it removed from my history because it wasn’t my fault?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      You could call the credit company to ask, but the dip in your credit score should be small and temporary. Unless you are about to apply for a mortgage or make some other large purchase, it’s probably not worth worrying about.

  • Tlaw2

    In Feb last year I bought a new car, resulting in 5 hard inquiries on one day. Did the same in Aug for another vehicle, resulting in 6 inquiries. In late December applied for a mortgage, resulting in 2 more hard inquiries. These are all showing up on my credit reports. Are they negatively impacting my score? If so, can I dispute them as 1 inquiry each instead of 13 individual inquiries?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      They stay on your credit reports for a year, but they don’t generally have an impact after 6 months. A hard inquiry can cause a small, temporary dip in your credit. It sounds as if the only ones that could be hurting your scores at this point would be two inquiries from December, and they won’t have much impact now (March).

  • arthur ford

    I have a good credit score. I don’t have a exstensive credit history though. I just approved for a 2000$ credit at best buy I was going to apply for a credut card at office depot as whele in the same week. Will that look bad on my credit score?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      You can do it, but be aware that multiple small decreases in your credit score can add up. And a hard inquiry does cause a small, temporary drop in your credit score. If you are looking to make a big purchase (house, car) in the near future, it would be smart to wait. Also, take care to apply only for credit you are relatively certain you will get. Because if you get turned down, you still lose a few points on your credit score without getting credit in return.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Usually soft inquiries are for preapproved offers so the issuer will set the parameters and get a list of customers who meet those qualifications. They usually don’t see the credit report at all; the mailing is handled through a mailing service. Similarly with an account review there usually isn’t someone actually reviewing the credit reports. Rather they are trying to identify accounts for special offers or for risk factors that may warrant an account action (such as closing an account).

    • Loreene Martinez

      so if you apply for those offers you recieve in the mail, as soft inquiries, does that turn that initial offer into a hard one?

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        Yes. A hard inquiry will be created when you actually apply.

        • Eric

          I’ve read all the comments and have learned a lot from your site. But I will try to be specific with my question. I have a credit score of 761. I only have one credit card at the moment and was thinking of adding one more. But I also have plans of buying a new car in 6 months from now. Do u think if I apply for a new credit card now, pay all my bills on time, should I be able to add back the about 5 points back that will result from the hard inquiry hit In 6 months, just in time to get a car?

          • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

            Depending on which credit scoring model you are using, a 761 is often considered a quite respectable score that can help you get a decent auto loan rate. There’s a good chance you’ll be fine, but I can’t say for certain what will happen in six months if you get a new credit card now (in part it would depend on the model). So you’ll have to decide whether you want to take the chance, or just wait until you get the car loan.

  • gary faer

    why is my credit score lower when Ford checked it then when I check it myself?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the question…?

  • Ryan

    I see a lot of explanation about *how* hard and soft inquiries will affect your credit, but I see nothing about why.
    Can anyone explain to me *why* a hard inquiry affects your credit? This is something that has never made any sense to me, and strikes me as a catch-22.
    Imagine if for every job you applied for you decreased your employ-ability by 5 points. Or for every college you applied to, you decrease your likely acceptance by 5 points.
    Given that we are bombarded by credit offers every single day of our lives, it would seem only fair that every time a credit card company offered you a line of credit and you rejected it, your credit score would go up 5 points. It would only be temporary – you know, two years. That’s the only scenario in which this sub-moronic practice would be fair or logical.

    But I digress. I would really love an explanation. I’m sure it will be hilarious.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It’s because at the time the credit scoring model was created that information was found to be statistically “predictive.” In other words, consumers with XX inquiries were XX times more risky than those with fewer. But models have changed over the years.

  • fearless

    Gerri:

    Texas is a deregulated state: customers get to choose their utility providers. And there are lots of great offers out there, and you stand to save money if you shop for the best offers and switch frequently. (I’m sure the situation is similar in the other 15 deregulated states.)

    But here’s the rub: utility companies will run a credit check when you apply for service. Does this affect your credit score? Or — stated another way — is that a hard or soft inquiry?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Yes, my understanding is these inquiries are hard inquiries and do affect your credit scores.

  • Daughter of Maat

    When a landlord does a soft credit check, are the usually getting a full report, or does it just show that you have X amount of collections etc. My husband is past due on his child support. He pays every month, just not the full amount because he’s unemployed due to an on the job injury and needs surgery. We’re trying to buy a mobile home and have to apply to the park where the home is located and I’m concerned his child support being behind will get us denied.

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      It really depends on the type of credit report the landlord pulls. I’d suggest you pull your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com to provide to the mobile home park — they may accept that (and might even thank you for saving them the cost of checking your credit). Your husband’s past-due child support may not appear on the free annual report, as it’s reported to the credit bureaus differently. Here’s a good explainer on that:

      http://blog.credit.com/2014/06/what-happens-if-you-stop-paying-child-support-85356/

  • Amanda

    I have read through all the current comments but didn’t see the exact question I am about to ask. Understanding hard and soft inquiries and their impact, I received a “hard” inquiry from an existing credit card because they were going to increase my spending limit. However, this was not authorized or requested to increase the limit. Is this legal and why a “hard” inquiry when not authorized? Can this be disputed and do they have the legal obligation to remove the inquiry?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Your current creditors are allowed to check your credit periodically. While these inquiries are often soft inquiries, the FCRA does not specify any difference between hard or soft inquiries so it doesn’t address your specific problem unfortunately.


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