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From the Experts at

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 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, 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

    • 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

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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?

    • 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?

    • 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.

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