Soft vs. Hard Credit Checks

Find out which type of credit pull can affect your credit score

Did you know banks, lenders and even some businesses can pull your credit report to check the health of your credit? Assuming, of course, that they legally have a permissible purpose.

But there are two very different types of credit checks: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. And only one can affect your credit score.

What Is a Hard Inquiry?

A hard inquiry, also called a hard pull, happens when a lender checks your credit report after you apply for credit. This could include applying for a credit card, mortgage or car loan. Or sometimes, it occurs when you open a new account. 

“When you apply for credit,” credit-scoring company FICO® explains, “you authorize those lenders to ask or ‘inquire’ for a copy of your credit report from a credit bureau.” FICO also shares that these types of inquiries may stay on your credit report for up to two years.

How Could Hard Credit Checks Affect Your Credit Score?

According to FICO, a hard inquiry can have a negative effect on your credit score, usually by just a few points. But how much your score is affected can depend on your specific financial situation.

Having too many inquiries on your credit report—especially within a short period of time—may also have an impact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says. And if your credit report shows multiple credit applications within a short period of time, it might appear to lenders that your finances have changed negatively.

As you learn more about credit checks and their impact to your score, keep in mind there are multiple scoring models. Companies like FICO and VantageScore have different versions of their own scores. So you might see slight differences in your score depending on what model was used.

Examples of Hard Inquiries

Some things that FICO says might trigger a hard inquiry include

  • Applying for a credit card.
  • Requesting a credit limit increase.
  • Applying for a loan.
  • Buying a home or renting an apartment.
  • Opening accounts like phone, cable or internet.

Steps to Manage Your Credit Pulls

Here are some tips compiled from the CFPB to help you manage hard inquiries on your credit:

  • Apply only for credit you need—and consider the impact on your score. A new account may lower the average age of your credit history. And that could have a negative impact on your credit score. However, getting a new line of credit may also help you reduce your overall credit utilization, which could improve your credit score. These are general examples, since your score depends on a number of different factors. But the important thing to remember is to use your credit wisely.  
  • Shop for a mortgage or a car loan in a short time frame. Credit-scoring models typically account for comparing loan rates before choosing a lender. Generally, credit inquiries by multiple lenders that take place within 14 to 45 days count as only a single inquiry. That means you can minimize the impact to your credit score by shopping for a loan in a shorter amount of time.
  • Monitor your credit. Regularly checking your credit reports can help you stay on top of factors that impact your credit. And you can check your reports for free every 12 months from the three major credit bureaus.

CreditWise from Capital One is an easy way to monitor your VantageScore 3.0 credit score and TransUnion® credit reports for free—even if you’re not a Capital One customer. With the CreditWise Simulator, you can even explore the potential impact of your financial decisions before you make them.

What Is a Soft Inquiry?

According to the CFPB, a soft inquiry is a review of your credit file and existing accounts. And unlike hard credit checks, soft inquiries do not impact your credit score. 

In some cases, a soft credit check can even help guide you. You might get “pre-screened” pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers in the mail, by phone or by email. If so, it likely means a credit card company made a soft inquiry into your basic credit information. This can help lenders decide if you meet their initial requirements for a card offer.  

Keep in mind that these offers don’t mean you’re guaranteed to get a card. You still have to apply to see if you’re approved. And that requires a hard inquiry. But checking to see if you’re pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card can be a great way to compare options and find the right fit.

Some issuers even have online tools that allow you to see which cards you could be eligible for before you apply. Pre-approval at Capital One is quick and requires only some basic info. And it won’t hurt your credit score.

Examples of Soft Inquiries

According to credit-reporting agency Experian, soft inquiries may include things like

  • Checking your own credit score.
  • Opening a bank account.
  • Credit checks by employers.
  • Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers.

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score

Remember, even though your credit score isn’t always affected by an inquiry, you’ll want to control how many “hard” hits it takes. Knowing how to check your credit report can help you know where you stand.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many scoring models used by lenders. It likely won’t be the same model your lender uses, but it is an accurate measure of your credit health. Alerts are based on changes to your TransUnion and Experian® credit reports and information we find on the dark web. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your file at one or more consumer reporting agencies or you do not have a file at one or more consumer reporting agencies. The tool is not guaranteed to detect all identity theft.

The CreditWise Simulator provides an estimate of your score change and does not guarantee how your score may change.

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