Everything from how long your credit history has existed to how often you pay your bills can affect your credit score — which is good to know, if you want to improve your credit. And as you may know, hard inquiries, which are often made by loan providers or insurers, can also affect your score. But what does that really mean? We will explain that to you.
You may also be wondering: How often should I pull my credit report? What if someone ran my credit without permission? Does that hurt my score? What should I do about it?
Our financial experts want to help you navigate these questions. We will explain soft and hard credit inquiries, what to do if you want to dispute the inquiry, how to increase your score, and how to find the best credit card for credit repair. If someone pulls your credit without authorization, it can affect your credit score, as we said, but it isn’t always a major problem. Read on to learn more.
What Happens If Someone Ran My Credit Without Permission?
If you’re someone who keeps an eye on your credit scores and reports (good job, by the way), you will likely notice if something shows up on the report that you didn’t expect. If you haven’t checked your history lately, it’s a good time to check your credit score and make sure you’re up to date. If you see that someone pulled your credit without your permission, don’t stress. Know that not all credit pulls affect your score negatively — but, of course, some do. We’ll explain the differences.
But first, consider what happened to one of our commenters:
I recently got married and had my name changed. My landlord noticed on my proof of insurance that my name has changed. When they updated my name on their file, it automatically pulled a hard inquiry on my credit without my consent. Is it legal to pull a hard inquiry for updating [your] last name?
“The short answer is no, it is not legal for someone to place a hard inquiry on your credit file without specific permission to do so,” according to an email written by Bruce McClary, the vice president of public relations and communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. However, he said, “We should keep in mind that this could be an unintentional error on the part of the data provider or an inaccurate listing created by the credit reporting agency.”
What Does it Really Mean When Someone Pulls Credit without Authorization?
Let’s make sure we’re all clear — inquiries are prompted when you or a lender access your credit reports. But two types of inquiries are prompted by two different types of report reviews.
A hard inquiry is created when you’re actively trying to secure new credit, like when you’re shopping around for a new credit card, mortgage rates, or applying for a loan.
On the other hand, a soft inquiry (which doesn’t affect your credit) isn’t created by credit card comparison shopping—think of those promotional fliers you get in the mail saying you’re “pre-approved.” Thankfully, these soft inquiries won’t affect your score. However, it’s good to know who is doing this.
Credit reviews done by insurance companies are also supposed to be considered soft inquiries, but there are times when they’ll pull hard inquiries instead. These are some of the people who may request hard inquiries:
- Lenders—If you want to borrow money from somebody (a bank, a student loan provider, a mortgage company), you should be willing to show your credit report. The lender wants to know you can pay back the loan and any interest that will accrue. If you have a good credit history, your chances of getting better rates are much higher, too.
- Utility Companies—Electricity, water, etc. Our experts note that likely, you’ll pay these bills off (so you don’t get stuck in the dark), but companies may want to ensure you have a good track record of paying. If you don’t own a house, you probably won’t encounter this, though.
- Car dealerships—When you go to buy a car, the dealership wants to make sure you’ll be able to pay back any auto loans you take out. However, if you’re rate shopping, don’t stress. The FICO scoring system takes this into account and will consider multiple hard pulls, within a 45-day period, to be one single pull.
- Landlords—Even if you’re just renting, your landlord may ask to pull your credit. Remember, they need to get your approval, but your approval may be required before they agree to let you move in.
How Do I Fix My Credit?
First, understand that if you wish to increase your score, credit cleanup isn’t a “quick fix.” Credit repair takes time and patience. If you’ve missed multiple payments in a row, a one on-time payment won’t make up for that, according to our experts. It takes time to rebuild credit and clean up bad credit reports, especially if you’re trying to pay off debts, but the good news is: you’re not alone and you aren’t doomed.
But thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the bureau(s) have 30 days to respond to your dispute and remedy the mistake if they verify that an unauthorized inquiry is, in fact, a mistake. (Note: There are a few situations where it may take 45 days.) However, that doesn’t mean you should just assume your credit scores will improve after that time. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit to see the effects of your dispute.
If, for whatever reason, the hard inquiry is deemed “not a mistake,” then know your credit score isn’t greatly impacted. A single inquiry should only drop your score by only five points or less, if it affects your score at all.
We think the key to fixing your credit is simple: keep track of your finances. Start with a spreadsheet and keep a running tab of your incoming money, your outcoming expenses, your debt, and your ongoing payments, so eventually you can raise your credit score above the national average which is the highest it’s ever been at 699.
Understanding Hard Queries and Why They Matter
Five main factors affect your credit, one of which is hard inquiries. Although it is one of the smaller influencers — credit inquiries generally make up 10% of the points in your credit scores — this search for credit is still appearing on your reports, typically for up to 24 months. So, every time you apply for a loan or fill out a credit card application, this is documented on your reports.
Legalities aside, what impact would that one hard inquiry have on our commenter’s overall credit? Minimal, according to McClary.
“A single inquiry accounts for a microscopic percentage of your overall credit score, so it may be one of those situations where the effort to dispute the item is disproportionate to the impact on the credit score,” he said. “Ultimately, the decision to proceed is up to the individual.”
What exactly are they seeing, when they pull a hard inquiry? On a soft inquiry, an employer or company will see your debt and payment history but will not be able to see your credit score, your birth date, or your account numbers. They can, however, see your loans, your lines of credit, and any collections accounts. On a hard inquiry, they will be able to see a little more, such as a co-partner’s debt history (so long as you share an account with them), ongoing minimum payments (which may show that you can’t afford to pay off the full balance), and how many credit inquiries have been made on your record.
Should I Dispute the Inquiry?
Returning to the example of our commenter, we should verify that she is seeing a hard inquiry affect her score and not just the report of a soft inquiry. When checking your credit reports, you will see them in different columns. Someone pulling a credit report without authorization happens more often that you may think. If it is a confirmed hard inquiry, and if our commenter does decide to dispute the inquiry, she has a few options. Disputing errors on your credit report is something you can do on your own, or you can turn to a professional credit repair agency for help. Either way, these are the four steps a dispute requires:
- Pull your credit reports from each of the three major bureaus. Not every bureau receives the same information, nor do they share information with each other, so it’s a good idea to review all three to see where the errors are and with whom you’ll need to file a dispute. You can get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the big three agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Write a dispute letter. This should outline what the problem is and your arguments as to why the reported information is incorrect. Make sure you are clear and concise in what you write. Remember: You must file a separate dispute for every item you feel is wrong on your report.
- Gather accompanying documentation. The more evidence you have to show the item is incorrect, the stronger your case will be. Make sure you don’t send original versions of any of the documents — only submit copies.
- File the dispute letter and accompanying documentation. If sending this in the mail, make sure you send it via Certified Mail so you can track the paperwork and confirm it was received. Remember: You’ll need to send this information to each bureau that is reporting incorrect information.
Can I Find Out Who Pulled My Credit?
Yes, but it’s complicated. When a company pulls your credit — whether it’s for insurance, employment, or pre-approved credit — it will be visible on your credit history, but it will vary, depending on which credit bureau pulls it.
As mentioned, there are three main credit bureaus, and each one is simply predicting this: how quickly (and how likely) you will pay back any debts. This is why your credit score varies so often — and why you should keep track of it.
When you actually view your report, you will see five different sections. To find out if someone checked your credit without permission, you will want to focus on the inquiry section, which you can sort by name or account type.
Pros and Cons of Disputing the Inquiry
Disputing a hard inquiry is not like disputing a fraudulent charge on a credit card. Here are the reasons for — and the challenges of — disputing unauthorized inquiries.
Pros of Disputing:
- If you have been a victim of identity theft, you’ll want to ensure that these inquiries have been removed so your credit score is not negatively impacted.
- You can work with a professional credit repair company to ensure that you complete every step of the process as seamlessly as possible.
- Once removed, you won’t have to worry about the inquiry affecting your credit score — or preventing you from obtaining future loans.
Cons of Disputing:
- It is time-consuming. Seriously, this process could take months.
- An open credit report dispute can affect your need for a loan, so this is a good reminder to stay on top of your credit history before applying for a loan.
- Your credit score won’t change that significantly. If you’re not worried about five points, then the effort might not be worth the payoff.
Deciding to dispute a hard inquiry that has been made without your permission is up to you. If the inquiry was made years ago, it likely won’t make a difference anymore. Depending on your score, your patience, and your tenacity, it may or may not be worth the effort. Remember, though, you can only get hard inquiries removed, if they were not authorized by you.
What Can Affect My Credit Score Without My Approval?
Making poor financial choices ( forgetting to pay parking tickets or medical bills) or requesting credit pulls (for new credit cards, for credit limit increases, for insurance, etc.) can affect your score, but unfortunately, there are reasons why your credit could be low that aren’t your fault. Some examples include the following:
- IT problems—If you’re making online payments, make sure to pay a few days in advance. It can take time to process these payments, and it is possible to miss a deadline because of the processing time. Unfortunately, this can affect your score.
- Linked accounts—If you have a joint account with somebody who is not financially responsible, this can affect your score. Most often, this matters when somebody submits a credit application. If you and that person share an account or debt, the company can pull both of your credit scores. If you don’t want this to happen, you can simply unlink the accounts.
Another major concern is identity theft — or any type of fraud — which can greatly affect your credit score. You don’t want this to happen, and yes, it is a pain, but as soon as you notice fraudulent behavior on your account(s), you should report it. This may require you to call your credit card holder(s) and file a dispute with the credit bureaus, but the effort will pay off. It still might impact your score, temporarily, but eventually, the problem should be resolved by the credit bureau(s).
Everything You Need to Know About Finding the Right Credit Card
If you feel your credit history needs improvement, even after removing fraudulent activity from your report, you should consider opening a new credit card which can help you increase your credit score. There are great credit card options for building credit. If you have bad credit, however, finding the right card can be a challenge. So if you’re looking to rebuild your credit, here’s what we recommend looking for in your next credit card:
- A card that comes with email and text alerts, so you never miss a payment.
- A card that connects to your checking or savings account, so payments can be easily transferred. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of your bank’s financial products.
- A card that comes with an interest-free grace period.
- A card with low interest rates, even if you have to apply for a secured card, which requires a cash deposit to secure a line of credit.
- A card with no yearly fees, if possible. You don’t want to get stuck paying extra, while you’re building up your credit.
- A card that keeps track of unusual behavior so you can avoid fraud. Again, it helps if you have email and text notifications set up, so you can stay on top of your account activity.
- A card that comes with 24/7 customer support.
Instead of applying for multiple credit cards at once, we believe you’re better off applying for one and focusing on paying it off on time, keeping your balances low, and being consistent. Just remember: You’re playing the long game, so don’t get caught up in the short-term benefits.
Our suggested cards for building credit are listed here. If you can align your credit card with your bank, this will make tracking easier and will cut down on the steps it takes to pay. The key is to simplify the process and ultimately, save money. Whatever card you go with, make sure you check the terms and conditions before opening that line of credit.
Credit Repair Services and Preparing for Your Financial Goals
Now that you understand the problem with pulling credit without authorization, as well as the importance of tracking your credit history, you can start focusing on your financial goals.
If you are looking for credit repair services, to get back on the right track, consider the attorneys at Lexington Law. They are a trusted Credit.com partner. Not only do they offer personalized credit consultations, but they can they help you dispute errors on your report and fix your credit. Call for a free consultation, and don’t forget, you can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. Knowing your credit history is the first step to fixing it.