What Is a Soft Inquiry and How Does It Affect My Credit Score?

Jaron Pak
A credit report paper showing an excellent credit score of 790.

A soft credit check is also known as a soft pull or soft inquiry. It takes place when an individual checks their own credit score or a third party does so with documented permission. A soft credit check is distinctly different from a hard credit check and can be useful for more than one credit-related occasion.

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Soft Inquiry vs. Hard Inquiry

The line between what is a soft credit check and a hard credit check is distinctly different, and each one enables you to do different things.

A soft inquiry is an excellent informational tool for both you and potential lenders. It provides quick, easy access to your credit information without impacting your credit score.

A hard inquiry, however, is where the rubber meets the road. It consists of a legitimate, authorized check on your credit with the clear intention of opening a new line of credit. It is a necessary, normal step for taking credit-related action, but it also can have a negative impact on your credit if done too often.

Examples of a Soft Credit Check

Soft credit checks typically involve events like:

  • Insurance preapproval. Getting insurance quotes often involves a quick soft credit check.
  • Loan preapproval. When you receive a preapproved offer for a loan, they’re typically attached to a soft credit inquiry.
  • Background checks. Activities, like applying to a job or renting a car, may require a brief credit check as part of a larger background check.
  • Checking your own credit score. Often credit card companies will offer monthly soft pull updates on your own credit score for informational purposes.
  • General third-party inquiries. Someone like a landlord may want a brief snapshot of your credit. In addition, existing lenders may want to check up on your credit score from time to time.

Examples of a Hard Credit Check

Hard credit checks typically take place for larger credit-oriented events, such as:

  • Credit Cards. Opening a new credit card account usually requires a hard credit check.
  • Auto Loans. Borrowing a car is a significant investment that requires the lender to perform a hard check on your current credit status.
  • Student Loans. College is expensive, and borrowing large sums to cover your education will typically involve a hard credit check.
  • Mortgages. Of course, your mortgage is one of the largest lump sums you’ll ever borrow. Any lending institution will need to run a thorough hard credit check before giving you a mortgage.

Which Inquiries Show Up on My Credit Report?

Put simply, soft inquiries should not affect your credit score at all.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act does require the major credit bureaus to keep a record of all soft credit checks made on an individual’s credit report, but the reporting of said soft credit inquiries does not significantly affect the score itself.

On the other hand, as previously mentioned, hard credit checks, while rarer, do impact your score — temporarily, at least. A hard credit check will remain on your score for up to 2 years, but the impact is more significant in the short term and typically tapers off after roughly 12 months.

Hard credit checks are particularly bad for your credit if there are multiple inquiries in a relatively short period of time, say a year or two, as this indicates that you may be opening multiple lines of credit. While this may be fine in select cases, often it’s a sign of an inability to pay bills or cover expenses.

One caveat to this is when multiple inquiries take place in a very short period of time, all of which pertain to the same kind of loan type (say a car loan, for instance). At times a cluster of checks may be lumped into one single inquiry, as the likelihood that you’re rate shopping will be taken into account.

However, if you make an inquiry for a car loan and then go and open two or three separate credit cards from different lenders all within the same few months, the independent nature of each inquiry won’t look good to the models that calculate credit scores.

As a final note, you can still dispute hard inquiries on your report if you legitimately believe that you did not authorize them. In fact, if such a case arises, it may also be indicative of someone attempting to defraud you. So make sure you take steps to address suspicious credit checks immediately.

Keeping Perspective

It’s also important to remember that your entire credit score is hardly calculated from something as simple as how many times you’ve checked your credit. In fact, there are many different factors that affect your credit score.

Things like your credit utilization ratio, quantity and variation within the lines of credit you possess, on-time payments, and the longevity of your credit itself all factor into the mix. If all of these are in fine form, a lender is less likely to be concerned about multiple hard credit checks in a short period of time.

Benefits of a Soft Inquiry

The clear-cut benefit of soft inquiries is that it allows you to check in on your credit score as often as you’d like without hurting the score itself. This can be very helpful when it comes to making credit-related decisions.

Soft pull credit cards are also a benefit of soft inquiries. Secured credit cards that require a deposit, for instance, do not always require a hard credit check to be approved. In addition, using the “shopping cart trick” allows you to get an in-store credit card that often skips the hard credit check in order to be approved.

How to Run a Soft Credit Check

There are a number of institutions that enable you to check in on your credit score including:

Often, though, the easiest way to run a soft pull is to simply check with your credit card company. Most companies offer a free credit check that is often updated on a monthly basis, providing you with clear, up-to-date information about where your credit currently stands. And, of course, this is all done without negatively impacting your credit score.

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