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Soft Inquiry Vs. Hard Inquiry: What Should You Know?

Miranda Crace5-minute read
UPDATED: July 26, 2023


Anytime you apply for financing, the lender will make a credit inquiry to confirm your identity and creditworthiness. Will this inquiry hurt your credit score? The answer depends on whether the financial institution is making a hard or soft inquiry. While these two types of credit checks might sound similar, they actually have some major differences.

Let’s take a deep dive into the key components of a soft inquiry versus a hard inquiry and when a lender would use each.

What Is A Credit Inquiry?

A credit inquiry or credit check is when a lender – such as a bank, credit union or credit card company – requests financial information from one or more of the three major credit bureaus: ExperianTM, TransUnion® and Equifax®.

The two types of credit inquiries are known as a “hard pull” and a “soft pull,” respectively, and the two serve different purposes and have different effects.

Soft Pull

Soft credit checks (sometimes referred to as soft pulls or soft inquiries) give a lender a high-level view of your credit history. This type of check doesn’t provide much detailed information but offers a brief snapshot of your financial situation. In fact, a soft credit check doesn’t even include your birthdate, marital status or bank account numbers, and it won’t go on your credit history – aside from being visible to you alone when you view your credit report.

Soft inquiries can be used for:

  • Personal credit checks
  • Employer background checks
  • Preapproved credit card offers
  • Monthly reviews by your current lender

Hard Pull

Hard inquiries (also known as hard pulls or hard credit checks) allow for a detailed review of your credit accounts and payment history. Unlike soft pulls, hard inquiries are recorded on your credit report that others can view, and these inquiries can remain there for up to 2 years. They also make up 10% of your FICO® Score.

A hard credit inquiry can be used for:

  • Loan applications (including personal loans, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, etc.)
  • Credit card applications
  • Credit limit increase requests
  • Rental applications

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Hard Inquiry Vs. Soft Inquiry: How Are They Different?

Clearly, you won’t be sharing as much information with a soft pull versus a hard pull. Up next, we’ll take a closer look at how both types of inquiries impact your credit score, how long they stay on your credit history and when either could be used during the application process.

Effects On Your Credit Score

Soft pulls aren’t officially reported to the credit bureaus, so they won’t have an impact on your credit score. In other words, you don’t have to worry about hurting your credit score every time you check your credit report.

Conversely, hard pulls are recorded and could reduce your credit score by up to five points. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll experience a drop in your credit score every time. Since a FICO® Score puts more value on your payment history, credit utilization, credit mix and the average age of accounts, you might not feel any effects from a single hard credit check. But if you have several hard pulls in a short period of time, you could see your credit score drop.

Length Of Time On Your Credit History

As mentioned, soft pulls won’t be included in your credit history such that lenders and potentially other individuals can see them if they make an inquiry. But you’ll be able to view past soft inquiries whenever you check your own credit report.

On the other hand, hard inquiries may stay on your credit report for up to 2 years. However, the FICO® Score model won’t factor in credit pulls that are a year or more old. If you have a short credit history, too many hard inquiries could make some lenders consider you a higher risk. This means you might receive a higher interest rate and pay more for your loan. Or you might not be approved for the loan at all.

When They’re Used During The Loan Application Process

Depending on your lender, they might run both a soft and hard credit inquiry when you apply for financing. For instance, if you’re rate shopping for a personal loan, you might choose to prequalify to find out how much your monthly payment would be. Your lender would probably do a soft pull at this time to confirm your identity before giving you a loan estimate.

If you decide you want to apply for the loan and submit a loan application, your lender will then make a hard inquiry to secure more details about your personal finances. From there, they’ll carefully assess your payment history and current accounts, and they’ll either approve or decline your application based on their findings.

Soft Vs. Hard Credit Checks: FAQs

You can learn more about both soft and hard credit inquiries from the answers to the following frequently asked questions.

What’s the difference between a hard inquiry versus a soft inquiry?

A hard credit pull occurs when a lender checks your credit report to determine if you qualify for a loan or line of credit. A soft credit pull is used for personal credit checks, preapproved credit card offers and prequalification for a home loan.

How can I prepare for a soft or hard credit inquiry?

If you’re planning to pursue a line of credit or an installment loan in the near future, it could be wise to prepare your credit score for an inquiry. You can do this by taking a few actions, which include:

  • Reviewing your credit report: This will give you an idea of your credit score and whether you need to make any changes.
  • Disputing errors: If you find inaccurate information on your credit report, you should contact the credit bureau to fix the mistake. Corrections can help improve your credit score.
  • Making on-time payments: Since your payment history makes up a large portion of your credit score, consistently paying your bills will boost your credit. You can also opt for automatic payments to make this effort even easier.

Can I prevent the effects of a hard inquiry?

You can’t do much to prevent the impact of a hard pull, but you can minimize the effects. First, you can try to limit the number of hard inquiries made. For example, don’t apply for loans you know you won’t qualify for.

You should also group your inquiries together. This measure will help ensure that they’ll fall off your report around the same time. Lenders also often view a few hard pulls in a short period as one. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), inquiries made within a range of 14 to 45 days will typically only count as a single inquiry.

Do several soft credit inquiries equal a hard inquiry?

No, soft pulls have no effect on your credit score even if you have multiple pulls in a short period. Financial institutions can’t see how many soft pulls have been made, so they won’t be able to include those in their assessment of your finances.

How can I remove a hard inquiry from my credit report?

When reviewing your credit report, you’ll see a section called “Hard Inquiries.” Carefully check each entry, and if you find any that are unauthorized or inaccurate, you can have them removed by submitting a dispute with the credit bureau that made the report.

Final Thoughts

Credit card issuers, online lenders and banks can use soft and hard inquiries to assess your creditworthiness. Both types of checks are useful tools and could come into play during the loan application process. By learning more about how each affects your credit score, you can be a more informed borrower.

And if you’re ready to apply for financing, you can get started online today with Rocket LoansSM.

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Miranda Crace

Miranda Crace is a Senior Section Editor for the Rocket Companies, bringing a wealth of knowledge about mortgages, personal finance, real estate, and personal loans for over 10 years.