What is the Difference Between a Hard Credit Inquiry and a Soft Credit Inquiry?

When it comes to managing your finances, understanding the nuances of a credit inquiry is vital. Two common terms you’ll encounter are “hard credit inquiry” and “soft credit inquiry.” These terms refer to different methods that lenders and financial institutions use to assess your creditworthiness. The distinction between the two can significantly impact your credit score and overall financial health. We’ll explore the differences between a hard credit inquiry and a soft credit inquiry, their impact, and when each is generally used.

How Do Credit Inquiries Work?

A credit inquiry is a record of someone (a lender, creditor, or other authorized party) accessing your credit report. A credit inquiry plays a pivotal role in the world of credit and lending. When you apply for credit, such as loans, credit cards, or even rental agreements, a credit inquiry is an essential tool lenders use to evaluate your creditworthiness. However, not all credit inquiries are created equal. Understanding the difference between a hard credit inquiry and a soft credit inquiry is important for making informed financial decisions and safeguarding your credit score.


What is a Hard Credit Inquiry?

A hard credit inquiry, often referred to as a hard pull, hard inquiry, or hard credit check, is a comprehensive assessment of your credit report. Common examples of hard inquiries include applying for a mortgage, an auto loan, a credit card, or a personal loan. When a hard inquiry is made, it is recorded on your credit report and can have a temporary negative impact on your credit score.

The key characteristics of a hard credit inquiry include:

Initiated by You: A hard credit pull is triggered when you actively seek credit by submitting an application for a loan, credit card, or other form of credit.

Impact on Credit Report: A hard inquiry is documented in your credit report. Meaning, anyone reviewing your credit report can see you’ve recently applied for credit.

Credit Score Impact: A Hard inquiry can have a temporary adverse impact on your credit score. The extent of the impact varies depending on your overall credit history and the number of recent hard inquiries. Hard inquiries serve as a timeline of when you have applied for new credit and may stay on your credit report for two years. A hard credit inquiry, however, typically only affects your credit score for one year.

When Does a  Hard Credit Pull Occur?

Lenders typically perform a hard credit pull when a thorough assessment of your creditworthiness is needed. Often occurs in scenarios where you’re actively seeking new credit, and the lender wishes to evaluate the risk associated with lending to you.

Common instances when hard pulls are employed include:

Credit Card Applications: When applying for a new credit card, the issuer typically conducts a hard credit check to determine if you qualify and to establish your credit limit.

Loan Applications: Whether it’s a mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan, lenders use a hard inquiry to assess your creditworthiness and decide whether to approve your application.

Rental Agreements: Some landlords may request a hard credit check as part of their tenant screening process to gauge your financial responsibility.

Utility Services: When setting up utilities like electricity, gas, or cable, the service provider may perform a hard inquiry to determine if you need to pay a security deposit.


What is the Impact of a Hard Credit Pull on My Credit Score?

One of the primary concerns about a hard credit pull is the potential effect on your credit score. It’s true that a hard inquiry can lead to a temporary dip in your credit score, but this impact is typically modest and short-lived. A hard credit check can also decrease your credit score by 5 points or less.

The reason a hard inquiry can potentially harm your credit score is it indicates to potential lenders that you are actively seeking new credit. Lenders may interpret this as a sign of financial instability or an increased risk of taking on too much debt. However, the effect of a single hard inquiry is usually minor and temporary, resulting in a small dip in your credit score.

Small Credit Score Reduction:

Each hard inquiry could reduce your credit score by a few points. However, the impact is often less significant if you have a long and positive credit history.

What is the Impact of Multiple Hard Credit Inquiries on My Credit Report?

If you’re shopping for a specific type of credit, like a mortgage or auto loan, multiple hard inquiries within a short period (usually 14-45 days, depending on the scoring model) are typically treated as a single inquiry. This allows consumers to compare loan offers without being penalized multiple times.

How Long do Hard Inquiries Stay on your Credit Report?

The negative impact of a hard inquiry typically lasts for about two years, but its significance diminishes over time. After approximately six months, the impact is considerably less noticeable.

It’s essential to note that while a hard inquiry could temporarily lower your credit score, responsible credit management and timely payments on existing accounts can help your score recover and potentially improve over time.

How to Remove a Hard Credit Inquiry From My Credit Report?

While a hard inquiry can remain on your credit report for up to two years, it generally has a diminishing impact on your credit score over time. However, if you believe a hard inquiry was made in error or without your authorization, you can take steps to potentially remove it:

Dispute inaccuracies: Review your credit report regularly and dispute any inaccuracies or unauthorized hard inquiries with the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) reporting them. They will investigate your dispute and remove the inquiry if it’s found to be incorrect. You may also dispute any inaccuracies directly with the creditor.

Find out how to Check Your Annual Credit Report for Free.

Time-based removal: While it takes time, a hard inquiry naturally ages and has less impact on your credit score as it gets older. After two years, a hard inquiry is typically no longer a factor in your credit score calculations.


What is a Soft Credit Inquiry?

A soft credit inquiry, also known as a soft pull, soft inquiry, or soft credit check, represents a less intrusive examination of your credit report. Unlike a hard inquiry, a soft inquiry does not affect your credit score. A soft credit inquiry provides a limited snapshot of your credit history and is generally used for informational purposes.

Key characteristics of a soft credit pull include:

Initiated by Others: A soft inquiry is often initiated by entities other than you, such as lenders, employers, or service providers. A soft inquiry can occur without your knowledge or explicit consent.

No Impact on Credit Report: Importantly, a soft credit pull does not appear on your credit report, and it does not influence your credit score in any way.

When and Why a Lender Uses a Soft Pull

A soft credit pull is used in various situations where an entity needs to access your credit. Common examples include:

Pre-Approval Offers: Credit card companies often use a soft pull to pre-approve you for credit card offers. These offers are typically sent by mail or email and are based on a cursory review of your credit report.

Employment Screening: Some employers incorporate a soft credit check as part of their background screening process, especially for roles that involve financial responsibilities or access to sensitive information.

Rental Application: When applying to rent an apartment or house, landlords or property management companies may perform a soft credit check to verify your identity and assess your rental history.

Personal Credit Monitoring: You can use a soft credit pull for personal credit monitoring. Services like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame provide free access to your credit report through a soft credit pull.

What is the Difference Between a Soft Credit Inquiry and a Hard Credit Inquiry?

The primary difference between hard and soft credit inquiries lies in their impact on your credit report and score, as well as the circumstances in which they are used. Here’s a quick comparison: 

Hard Credit Inquiry:

Impact: Can lead to a temporary decrease in your credit score.

Use: Typically occurs when you actively apply for new credit or financial products.

Soft Credit Inquiry:

Impact: Does not affect your credit score.

Use: Common in situations where credit information is needed for non-lending purposes or when you check your own credit.

Understanding when each type of inquiry is likely to occur is crucial for managing your credit effectively and avoiding unexpected surprises.


How to Manage Credit Inquiries

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the difference between a hard and soft credit pull, let’s explore valuable tips for managing each effectively:

Hard Credit Pull:

Plan Ahead: Be selective about when and where you apply for credit. Multiple hard inquiries in a short time frame can have a more substantial impact on your credit score.

Rate Shopping: If you’re shopping for a specific type of credit, such as a mortgage or auto loan, try to do your rate shopping within a short time frame. Multiple inquiries may be treated as a single inquiry, minimizing the impact on your credit score.

Monitor Your Credit: Keep a close eye on your credit report and score. This will help you detect any unauthorized hard inquiries and address inaccuracies promptly. Find out how to Check Your Annual Credit Report for Free.

Credit Score Considerations: While a hard pull can affect your credit score, they are just one factor among many. Continue to focus on responsible credit management, such as making on-time payments and maintaining low credit card balances to help boost your creditworthiness.


Soft Credit Pull:

Use Free Credit Monitoring: Take advantage of free credit monitoring services that use a soft pull to provide regular updates on your credit report. This can help you stay informed about any changes to your credit history.

Understand Pre-Approval Offers: When you receive a pre-approval offer for credit cards or loans, carefully review the terms and conditions before applying. Pre-approval does not guarantee approval, and the final terms may differ from the initial offer.

Regularly Review Your Credit: Make it a habit to check your credit report regularly, especially if you’re actively managing your finances or considering major financial decisions.


In the intricate world of credit management, understanding the difference between a hard credit pull and a soft credit pull is essential for making informed financial decisions. While a hard inquiry can cause a temporary dent in your credit score, it is a necessary part of the lending process. In contrast, a soft inquiry offers valuable insight without impacting your creditworthiness.

Understanding when and why each type of credit pull occurs can help you navigate the credit landscape with confidence. Whether you’re applying for a loan, renting a home, or simply monitoring your credit, this knowledge empowers you to make the right choices and maintain sound credit practices for the long term.