Hard Inquiry vs. Soft Inquiry — What’s the Difference?

Knowing the difference between a hard inquiry vs soft inquiry can help you maintain a good credit score. Here’s what you need to know.

Most people know that your credit score can drop if you miss a payment or have a new collection filed against you. But how about when you apply for new credit? Yes, a credit application will trigger a “hard inquiry” on your report, which can have an impact on your credit score. Here’s what to know about hard inquiries, and how they compare with “soft inquiries.”

What is a Hard Inquiry?

Hard inquiries occur when you apply for credit and consent to allow a lender to check your credit report. These inquiries dated within the past 12 months count toward 10% of your credit scores even though 24-months of inquiry history is retained in your credit report.

Hard inquiries are listed by date and include the lender’s name and the name of the third-party credit provider that provided the report to the lender.

Examples of hard inquiries include:

  • Applying for a car loan and the dealer checks your credit report
  • Applying for a new credit card
  • Requesting to have the credit limit increased on an existing credit card
  • Applying for a mortgage
  • Applying to lease an apartment

Only authorized parties are allowed to access your credit report, and to do so, they must have a permissible purpose. Lenders only have permissible purpose if you have applied for credit and given the potential lender consent to check your credit report. Hard inquiries made for any other reason without your consent are not permissible and you have the right to dispute any unauthorized inquiries.

How Many Points Does a Hard Inquiry Affect Your Credit Score?

According to credit experts, “In most cases, a hard inquiry from a lender will decrease your scores by 7 points or less. The highest drop in scores that I’ve seen was 23 points, but that is very rare.”

The impact of applying for credit will differ from person to person based on their unique credit history. Individuals with very little or no credit history may see a bigger drop in scores compared to someone who has established credit and who has proven to manage more accounts over time.

It is true that in most cases, an occasional hard inquiry will have little to no impact on your credit scores. However, a new hard inquiry can lower your score by a few points when certain factors come together in your credit report:

  • Opening a new credit card or line of credit will affect your length of credit history because it lowers the average age of your total accounts. This, in turn, will lower your length of credit history and subsequently, will lower your credit scores.
  • New credit, once used, will increase the “amounts owed/credit utilization” factor of your credit scores and may also contribute to lowering your scores.

Minimize the Impact of a Hard Inquiry on Your Credit Score

To minimize the impact on your score, do your rate shopping within a focused amount of time. Most credit scores are not affected by multiple inquiries from the same type of creditor within a short period of time.

Credit score models have been programmed to accommodate typical “rate shopping periods” for auto, mortgage, or student loans. This means that if you are looking to buy a new automobile, conduct your comparison shopping among multiple dealers and creditors within a 30-day average period. Then, multiple hard credit inquiries from auto lenders will only count as a single hard inquiry for credit scoring purposes.

Hard inquiries count toward the calculation of your credit scores, so it’s important to monitor your inquiries. Make sure that you know who, when, and why a creditor has reviewed a copy of your credit report. If you notice hard inquiries in your credit report that you do not recognize, it’s important to find out more about them by using the information in your report and disputing the inquiries. You can learn more about how to dispute inaccuracies in your credit report by visiting the FTC’s website.

How to Check for Hard Inquiries

The next time you apply for new credit, you’d be wise to obtain and review your credit report. Or, get a free report at annualcreditreport.com, a federally-mandated website that gives you a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus. In your report, you’ll see a list of the creditors and lenders who have checked your credit file over the past 24 months. These credit checks by creditors and lenders are called “inquiries.”

But not all inquiries are created equal — hard inquiries and soft inquiries have different effects on your credit score.

What is a Soft Inquiry?

Soft inquiries are checks of your credit report that are not associated with your credit application. They do not impact your credit scores in any way.

Examples of soft inquiries might include any of the following:

  • Checking your credit report and credit scores through an organization authorized to provide credit reports to consumers
  • Applying for a job
  • Receiving prescreened offers of credit from credit card companies, insurers, and other creditors

Hard Inquiry vs. Soft Inquiry: Rule of Thumb

If you’re not applying for credit, you won’t incur a hard inquiry. So you don’t need to worry about dragging down your credit score by signing up for an app or service that helps you monitor your credit.

That being said, don’t be afraid to apply for credit if you need it. The impact on your score is typically small if you are not applying for many kinds of credit within a short time.

Preparing for a Mortgage? 5 Ways to Build Credit Without Credit a History

Building a credit profile from scratch can be a daunting task, especially for those who have no credit history. These individuals, often referred to as having a “thin credit file,” face challenges in securing loans, credit cards, or even mortgages. Interestingly, having no credit at all can sometimes be more problematic than having a poor credit history when applying for a mortgage. There are effective strategies to help those with thin credit files establish a robust credit profile. Here are five practical ways to get started:

1. Get a Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards are one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to build credit. Unlike traditional credit cards, secured cards require a cash deposit as collateral, which typically serves as your credit limit. For example, if you deposit $500, your credit limit will also be $500. By using the card responsibly and making timely payments, you can demonstrate your creditworthiness to the credit bureaus. Over time, this activity will be reported to the major credit bureaus, helping you build a solid credit history. Ensure you choose a secured card that reports to all three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

2. Become an Authorized User

Another effective strategy is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. This could be a family member or a trusted friend with good credit habits. As an authorized user, the primary account holder’s positive payment history will be added to your credit report, boosting your credit profile. However, it’s crucial to ensure the primary account holder maintains good credit behavior, as any negative activity can also impact your credit.

3. Apply for a Credit Builder Loan

Credit builder loans are specifically designed to help individuals build credit. Unlike traditional loans, credit builder loans hold the loan amount in a secured savings account while you make monthly payments. Once the loan is paid off, the money is released to you. This process helps you build a positive payment history, which is essential for improving your credit score. Credit builder loans are typically offered by credit unions and community banks.

4. Use a Co-Signer

If you’re having trouble qualifying for a loan or credit card on your own, consider asking someone with good credit to co-sign for you. A co-signer agrees to take responsibility for the debt if you default, which reduces the lender’s risk. This can make it easier for you to get approved and start building credit. However, it’s important to manage the account responsibly, as any missed payments will affect both your and your co-signer’s credit.

5. Report Alternative Payment Data

Traditionally, credit scores are based on credit card and loan payment history. However, some services allow you to report alternative payment data, such as rent and utility payments, to the credit bureaus. Companies like Experian enable you to add these types of payments to your credit report. This can be a great way to establish a credit history if you don’t have any traditional credit accounts.

Building a credit profile with a thin credit file requires patience and strategic planning. By using secured credit cards, becoming an authorized user, applying for credit builder loans, using a co-signer, and reporting alternative payment data, you can effectively establish a strong credit history. Remember, the key to building and maintaining good credit is consistent, responsible financial behavior. Over time, these efforts will pay off, opening doors to better financial opportunities.

Unlocking Lower Mortgage Rates By Boosting Your Credit Score

The interest rate you qualify for when securing a mortgage can make a huge difference in your financial journey. The good news is, that by understanding how credit scores impact mortgage rates and implementing strategic steps to boost your score, you can potentially unlock lower rates and save thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Lenders use credit scores as one of the primary factors in determining the interest rate they offer you on a mortgage. Generally, the higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate will be. This is because a higher credit score indicates to lenders that you’re a lower-risk borrower, making you eligible for more favorable terms.

Here’s a rough breakdown of how credit scores typically correlate with mortgage rates:

Excellent Credit (781–850): Borrowers with excellent credit scores often qualify for the lowest mortgage rates available.

Good Credit (661–780): While not as advantageous as excellent credit, borrowers with good credit scores still usually receive competitive rates.

Fair Credit (601–660): With fair credit, you might still qualify for a mortgage, but you’re likely to face higher interest rates.

Poor Credit (Below 600): Borrowers with poor credit scores may struggle to qualify for a mortgage, and if they do, they’ll likely face significantly higher interest rates.
*Credit ratings from VantageScore 3.0® credit score ranges

Steps to Boost Your Credit Score

Now that you understand the importance of credit scores, let’s explore actionable steps to boost yours and qualify for those lower mortgage rates:

1. Check Your Credit Report

Start by obtaining a copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Review them carefully for any errors or inaccuracies that could be dragging down your score. Dispute any discrepancies you find to ensure your report is accurate.

2. Pay Your Bills on Time

Your payment history is a crucial factor in determining your credit score. Set up automatic payments or reminders to ensure you never miss a due date. Even one late payment can have a significant negative impact on your score.

3. Reduce Credit Card Balances

High credit card balances relative to your credit limits can harm your credit score. Aim to keep your credit utilization ratio—the amount of credit you’re using compared to your total available credit—below 30%. Paying down credit card debt can quickly improve your score.

4. Avoid Opening New Accounts

Opening new credit accounts can temporarily lower your credit score. Additionally, each new account adds a hard inquiry to your credit report, which can further ding your score. Hold off on applying for new credit until after you’ve secured your mortgage.

5. Keep Older Accounts Open

The length of your credit history also impacts your score. If you have older credit accounts in good standing, keep them open, even if you’re not actively using them. Closing old accounts can shorten your credit history and potentially lower your score.

6. Consider a Credit Builder Loan

If you’re struggling to establish credit or rebuild a poor credit history, a credit builder loan can be a valuable tool. These loans are designed specifically to help individuals improve their credit scores by making on-time payments.

Real-Life Example: The Impact of Improving Your Credit Score

Let’s illustrate the potential savings of boosting your credit score with an example:

Scenario 1: Sarah has a credit score of 650 and qualifies for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate of 4.5%. On a $250,000 loan, her monthly payment would be approximately $1,266, and she would pay a total of $206,016 in interest over the life of the loan.

Scenario 2: After diligently working to improve her credit score, Sarah’s score increases to 750. Now, she qualifies for the same mortgage with an interest rate of 3.5%. With the lower rate, her monthly payment drops to around $1,122, and she pays only $154,197 in interest over the life of the loan—a savings of over $50,000!

Boosting your credit score takes time and effort, but the potential savings on your mortgage make it well worth it. By following these steps and monitoring your progress, you can position yourself for lower mortgage rates and significant long-term savings. Remember, every point increase in your credit score can make a difference, so stay focused on your financial goals and watch your credit score—and your opportunities—rise.