What Is a Soft Credit Check?

Whenever you apply for anything—a loan, credit card, etc.—the lender will need to look into your credit report. Called a credit check, there are two kinds of credit checks—hard and soft. Each is used for different reasons and has a different impact on your credit score. Below, find out more about soft credit checks, when and how they’re used and why they’re beneficial.

What Is a Soft Credit Check?

A soft credit check occurs when someone pulls your credit report, but it isn’t used to decide whether to offer you credit. In most cases, soft credit checks are for informational or promotional purposes.

  • Informational soft credit checks. Examples include pulling your own report to see what’s on it, employers pulling it with your permission as part of a background check and insurance agencies looking at your score to help determine the level of risk you might bring as a client. Some landlords might also run soft checks as opposed to hard inquiries.
  • Promotional soft credit checks. These are typically run by creditors who want to see if they can offer you potential products. For example, if you receive a mailing from a personal loan or credit card company stating you have been prequalified for potential credit, that company has probably run a soft check.

Soft vs. Hard Credit Checks

Soft credit checks are different from hard inquiries. Hard inquiries occur when a lender is making a final decision about whether to lend you money.

Examples of when a hard credit check might occur include:

  • You’re applying for a mortgage, car loan or personal loan
  • You apply for a credit card
  • You ask for new terms on a credit card

Even if lenders have run a soft check to prequalify you, they’ll run a hard check once you officially apply for credit. That’s because a new credit inquiry provides them the most current information and lets them make a final decision about whether they’ll lend you money and at what rates and terms.

Here are a few other differences between hard and soft inquiries:

    Get everything you need to master your credit today.
    Get started for free
    • Others who check your credit report can see hard inquires. Only you can see soft inquiries.
    • Hard inquiries have an impact on your credit score. Soft inquiries don’t.
    • Hard inquiries require your approval. Soft inquiries can be run without your knowledge.

    Why Does a Hard Inquiry Affect Your Credit When Soft Credit Checks Don’t?

    The reason hard inquiries affect your score when soft inquiries don’t is because the number of hard inquiries could suggest that you’re a risk to a potential lender. If you have dozens of hard inquiries in the past six months, that means you’ve applied to numerous credit opportunities. It can be a sign you’re desperately seeking funds or you’re not managing your financial life well.

    Soft inquiries don’t necessarily mean you’re seeking funding. You might be checking your own credit weekly because you’re trying to repair it, for example. Or perhaps you’re on a job hunt and employers are checking your credit during background checks. These don’t reflect on your potential risk as a borrower.

    Both hard and soft inquiries remain listed on your credit report for up to two years. Hard inquiries typically affect your score only for the first 12 months, though.

    How Do I Run a Soft Credit Check?

    You can run a soft inquiry on your own credit by checking your score or getting a copy of your report. Here are a few ways you can do so:

    Features of ExtraCredit
    • Get a free credit score from AnnualCreditReport.com. You have a legal right to receive one free report from each of the credit bureaus every year. Spread them out, ordering one each quarter, to keep an eye on your general credit information throughout the year. Until April 2021, you can get one free report per week per bureau because of measures to help people manage finances during COVID-19.
    • Sign up for ExtraCredit. It lets you see 28 of your FICO scores so you know exactly where your credit stands at any time. You can also use the app to get personalized offers you’re likelier to be approved for given your credit score, which reduces unnecessary hard inquiries that might occur if you blindly shopped around for credit.
    • Sign up for our Credit Report Card. This lets you see how you’re doing in the five major areas that impact your score, which include payment history, credit utilization, credit age, credit mix and hard inquiries.

    Checking your own credit score or reports, including through products such as ExtraCredit, are not hard inquiries. These activities don’t affect your credit.

    Can You Fail a Soft Credit Check?

    You don’t necessarily fail a soft credit check. However, the information obtained during that process might cause a company not to reach out to you. For example, if a company offering a travel rewards credit card with a high credit score requirement pulls your score and sees it’s only mediocre, that company might not send you a promotional offer.

    In some cases, prequalification via a soft credit check is part of the application process. For example, secured credit cards that cater to people with poor credit often don’t do a full hard inquiry at all. Or they might start with a soft inquiry just to let you know if you should move forward, which is beneficial. If you’re not going to qualify, why go through a hard inquiry that brings your score down?

    One card that uses this process is the Milestone Unsecured Mastercard. You don’t need excellent credit to apply for and be approved for this card, and a soft inquiry lets you know if you should continue with the process.

    Milestone® Unsecured Mastercard®

    Apply Now
    on Milestone's secure website
    Card Details
    Intro Apr:

    Ongoing Apr:

    Balance Transfer:

    Annual Fee:
    $35 - $99*

    Credit Needed:
    Snapshot of Card Features
    • Easy pre-qualification process which does not affect your credit score
    • Choice of card image at no extra charge
    • Less than perfect credit is okay, even with a prior bankruptcy!
    • Mobile friendly online access from anywhere
    • Accepted nationwide, wherever Mastercard is accepted
    • Unsecured credit card, no deposit required
    • Protection from fraud, if your card happens to be lost or stolen

    Card Details +

    Can You Remove a Hard Inquiry from Your Report?

    Hard inquiries can bring your score down a small amount. Because of that, you definitely want to avoid unnecessary hard inquiries on your report. Luckily, you have to give permission for these types of checks. The Fair Credit Reporting Act also protects your right to accurate information in your credit file.

    If you see a hard inquiry on your report that you didn’t approve, you can challenge it. Write a letter to the credit bureau noting you didn’t give permission for the inquiry and asking it to investigate and make appropriate edits to your report.

    The Bottom Line on Soft Inquiries

    Soft inquiries offer a lot of advantages and almost no disadvantages. They don’t hurt your credit score and can help keep you informed or qualify you for promotional offers. You do want to keep an eye on your reports and who is looking at them to ensure your information is being handled in a safe manner. And if you want to lock down your data for privacy purposes, you can freeze your credit to make soft and hard inquiries impossible without action on your part.

      Get everything you need to master your credit today.
      Get started for free

      Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them. Compensation is not a factor in the substantive evaluation of any product.

      Hello, Reader!

      Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

      Our People

      The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

      Our Reporting

      We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

      The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

      In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

      Our Business Model

      Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

      Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

      Your Stories

      Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      - The Credit.com Editorial Team