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What is a hard inquiry?

A hard credit check affects your credit score

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Looking for a mortgage loan, new credit card or personal loan? Your lender will likely carry out a hard credit check as part of the application process. By reviewing your credit report, lenders can gauge your creditworthiness and decide if they want to lend you money or extend you credit.

Your credit report will also affect what types of rates the lender offers you. A higher credit score will give you access to the best rates, while a lower credit score usually means a higher borrowing cost.

A hard credit check can temporarily affect your credit score and stays on your credit report for two years.


Key insights

  • Lenders typically require a hard credit pull as part of the application process for a loan or new credit
  • Your permission is required for a lender to perform a hard credit pull
  • A hard credit inquiry can cause a short-term decrease in your credit score.

Defining hard credit inquiry

A hard inquiry, also known as a “hard pull” or “hard credit check,” is when a lender or business reviews your credit file as part of a credit application process. For instance, if you’ve ever applied for a car loan, you’ve probably permitted the lender to perform a hard credit check.

The lender will review your credit report to evaluate how you've previously handled credit. They’re looking for answers to these types of questions:

  • Do you pay all of your bills on time?
  • Do you have large amounts of outstanding debt?
  • Do you have experience using multiple sources of credit?

The answers to these questions help the lender determine your creditworthiness. Other examples of when you might expect a hard credit request are when you apply for a mortgage, a credit card or a personal loan.

Lenders must ask for your permission to perform a hard inquiry into your credit.

Before a lender can pull your credit report, they are required to ask for your consent. As part of this process, the lender will ask for some of your personal information, including your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number.

A hard inquiry typically impacts your credit score. According to FICO, the average person can expect their score to drop by fewer than five points from one hard inquiry, but this usually lasts for only a few months. Those with a long credit history or multiple accounts can expect less of a drop than those with a short credit history or few credit accounts.

Keep in mind that several hard inquiries — particularly when you are applying for multiple credit cards — over a short period of time will damage your score more than having just one inquiry. This is less likely to occur if you are checking rates from home, auto or student loan lenders. Credit scoring models recognize this as “rate-shopping” and allow from 14 to 45 days for you to compare lenders, treating this as a single hard inquiry.

Difference between soft and hard credit pull

Soft credit checks and hard credit checks perform two different functions. Soft pulls allow the lender to preapprove you for a rate and won’t affect your credit score. Hard pulls enable lenders to offer you rates and finalize the loan application process; hard pulls do affect your credit score.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has established rules around who can carry out a soft or hard credit check with or without your permission. Lenders don’t need your approval to perform a soft credit pull. For instance, credit card companies will often do a soft pull to provide customers with promotional offers like a preapproved credit card. For a hard credit inquiry, your permission is typically required, but there are some exceptions. Your authorization is not required in response to a court order, or when you are applying for a license or other government benefit.

Soft credit pullHard credit pull
Effect on credit scoreNo effectPossible decrease in credit score
Permission requiredNoYes, with some exceptions
Examples
  • Checking your own score
  • Pre-qualifying for a loan
  • Credit card company preapproving you for offer
  • Applying for a credit card
  • Applying for a loan (personal, auto, mortgage)

How long does a hard credit pull stay on your credit report?

A hard credit pull stays on your credit report for two years. According to Experian, the inquiry typically won’t affect your score after a year and usually won’t have a significant impact after a few months. Soft inquiries typically don’t show up on your credit report for lenders; however, they are visible when you request your personal credit report.

Hard inquiries show up on your credit report to show lenders a timeline of when you’ve applied for new credit. Lenders may deem consumers with a larger number of inquiries riskier borrowers.

FAQ

Will a hard credit check negatively affect my credit score?

A hard credit check can negatively affect your credit score, but this drop usually lasts only for a few months to a year. Your individual credit history affects how much your score is affected. According to FICO, most can expect their score to drop by fewer than five points from one hard inquiry.

Does a hard inquiry mean I got approved for a loan?

A hard inquiry does not mean you are approved for a loan. A hard inquiry simply means that a lender has accessed your credit file to help it make a decision about extending credit.

Can a hard inquiry happen without my permission?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes rules around who can carry out a hard inquiry with or without your consent. While your permission is typically required for hard credit checks, there are some exceptions, such as when a court orders a credit inquiry.

How can I find out who made an inquiry on my credit?

To see who has made an inquiry on your credit, request a copy of your credit report. A section of the report shows you who made a credit inquiry and when it occurred.

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    Bottom line

    When you apply for a loan or new credit card, you can expect a hard credit inquiry. Lenders perform a hard pull and review your credit file to help them decide if they want to extend you a loan or credit card. A hard credit check can cause a temporary drop in your credit score and will show up on your credit report for two years.

    When you check your credit score, this is considered a soft inquiry, and your credit is not impacted. You can request your credit report to review who has performed a credit check and make sure no one is checking your credit without your permission or opening new credit accounts in your name.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. FICO, “Credit Checks: What are credit inquiries and how do they affect your FICO Score?” Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.
    2. Equifax, “Understanding Hard Inquiries on Your Credit Report.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.
    3. eCFR, “16 CFR Chapter I Subchapter F.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2022.
    4. Experian, “What Is a Hard Inquiry and How Does It Affect Credit?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2022.
    5. Experian, “Can Someone Run a Credit Check Without My Permission?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2022.
    6. Experian, “What Is a Soft Inquiry?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2022.
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