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Hard Credit Check vs. Soft Credit Check

by Ryan Guina

Your credit score is an extremely important number. A good credit score can have an affect on your ability to get a loan, how much interest you will pay, your ability to rent a house or an apartment, or even get a job. But did you know that the simple act of having your credit score pulled too often can have a negative impact on your credit score? Too many hard credit pulls can be seen as a sign by lenders that you may be borrowing too much money and are at risk for not being able to pay back your loans.

A credit pull (also known as a credit check or credit inquiry) is when you or someone else accesses your credit history. But not all credit inquiries have the same effect on your credit score. There are times when pulling your score has no effect on your credit score. Why the difference? It depends on why the credit inquiry is made. There are two types of credit pulls, hard credit pulls and soft credit pulls.

Soft credit check vs. hard credit check

A soft credit check is one that does not effect your credit score. A soft credit check is recorded in your credit history, but is only visible to you and not visible to lenders. You can check your credit report and score as often as you want with no negative effects to your credit score. Some examples of soft credit inquiries are:

  • Credit score and credit reports you request for yourself.
  • Pre-approval credit checks done by credit card companies and mortgage lenders. (You know that junk mail you hate to receive? Lenders who send out pre-approved loan applications do a soft credit check to find potential customers in a certain credit score range. If you apply, then a hard credit check is made to verify your score).
  • Routine credit checks by your credit card or insurance company to review your current credit situation.
  • Pre-employment screenings by potential employers or for a security clearance.
  • Identity verification when opening a new bank account (note: some institutions do a hard credit inquiry).

A hard credit check is one that can negatively impact your credit score. These occur when you give a lender permission to check your credit history with the intent to open up a new line of credit. Each hard credit check can cause your score to drop by roughly 5 points and can affect your score for 6 months to a year. The hard credit pull is visible to anyone and will remain on your credit report for up to two years. The good news is that hard credit pulls are almost always voluntary – i.e. you are applying for a new line of credit and give permission for the credit inquiry to happen.

The reason your credit score will drop is because the more money you have access to through loans, the more difficult it is to repay. That is why your available credit is part of your credit score.

Some examples of hard credit pulls occur when:

  • You apply for a credit card.
  • You apply for a mortgage, auto loan, HELOC, or other loan.
  • Opening a new bank account at certain institutions. (here is a list of banks that do hard credit pulls).
  • Opening a new cell phone account.

Be careful when checking your credit score or applying for credit

Because too many hard credit pulls can lower your credit score, you should only get a hard credit pull when necessary. For example, when shopping for a car or looking for a house, don’t let every loan officer pull your credit score to tell you how much your payments will be. It is best to pull your own credit score (which counts as a soft credit pull) and ask them to run a preliminary check with your numbers. The loan officer should be able to give you an unofficial number based on your score and you can have them run the official numbers if you decide to take a loan out through them. Just be careful and don’t let them pull a bait and switch on you!


Published or updated April 12, 2011.
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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ryan

Start-Up,

To be honest, I don’t know if you can reopen a line of credit after closing it and have it be seamless on your credit history. I recommend contacting your former credit card company and asking them if you can reopen the account and whether or not the card will be recognized with it’s original opening date. (I’m sure it will for the credit card company, but I don’t know if it will for your credit score). Sorry I can’t be of any more assistance.

NatalieMac,

Thanks for pointing that out!

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2 Start-Up

Great post.

I have a question about credit pulls. Before I got into really paying attention to my credit score I closed a credit card account that I had used for a long time. I will be closing on my mortgage in the next two months and still have to lock down my interest rate. I think having that long standing credit card account would have helped my credit/FICO score. Any thoughts on whether I should try to get my account back up? Will my credit history for that account be returned if I re-open? Will it take a hard pull to do this even if I was in good standing when I closed it?

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3 NatalieMac

One important point – the method used to calculate your credit score takes into account the fact that you may need to shop around for the best rate, and hard credit pulls for the same type of account all made within a short amount of time have the same impact on your credit score as one hard credit pull.

For example, if you’re shopping for a car loan, it’s okay to let the dealer and a few different banks make a hard credit pull for a car loan within a period of two to four weeks. So feel safe shopping around for the best rate on a loan, mortgage or credit card. Just as long as you don’t draw out the process too much.

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4 Jeff

I believe there is a cap on the time limit. For instance, if you are shopping around for a mortgage, you can inquire up to 5 times in 30 days. But you need to close the deal within the 30 days after the first inquiry.

( 5 inquiries in 30 days are just an estimate )

This is what my understanding is of the matter.

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5 Ryan

Yes, the pre-approved credit applications are usually sent because someone has done a soft credit pull on you. It doesn’t affect your credit though. Why is it legal? Probably because large credit companies spent a lot of money and lobbied Congress to make it so.

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6 KidsCraftZone

You mean to tell me every time I get that junk mail from my mortgage company and credit card lenders they are pulling my credit. I know you say it is not as bad as hard credit check but why are they allowed to do it at all? I guess I never realized how many things could negatively effect your credit. Great posting!

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7 Laura

Is it legal or is there a limit to how many times a single company can do a credit check on a single person?

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8 Ryan

Laura,

I’m not sure. If they are doing a soft credit check, it won’t affect your credit score, so it shouldn’t matter. Companies are only allowed to do a hard credit check if you give them permission.

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9 Sheryl Massey

I applied for a car a month and a half ago and they are still checking my credit. They keep calling me and leaving messages for me to call them. I have spoken with them twice and told them I no longer interest but they continue to call me and run my credit. What can I do?

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10 Ryan

Sheryl,

They should only run your credit once, and that is only with your permission. If they continue to contact you after you have repeatedly asked them not to, that can be considered harassment. I recommend asking to speak to a manager and explicitly request to be permanently removed fro their calling list. After that, they can no longer call you. As for credit checks, if they pulled your credit without permission, you may be able to have that removed from your credit report by contacting the credit bureaus and notifying them of an error. Good luck, and I hope the company stops harassing you.

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11 Angel Guzman

I have been chashing the requirements for a refi @ first 580 was needed when I got to the 580 the requirement went up to 600 now it is 620. Last week i had a 607 mid score but when i applied for an approval online they returned my mid score of 589 that’s 18 points. The loan officers all stated that when they pulled an inquiry it does not effect the score. In the past 2 months I have been trying to get the best deal to refi. Is there any way to increase the score 30 points I need to do this refi within the month. Thanks

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12 Ryan

Improving your score takes time, and I don’t know if it can be done in a month. Here are some tips on how to improve your credit score.

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13 Jen

I was looking into an alarm system and had the sales person out to my house. Went over some numbers with him. I signed the contract but was never told that my credit was going to be pulled. Is that legal?

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14 Ryan

Credit checks are common, but the company pulling your credit file needs to have a valid reason and usually, if not always, your permission. Was it written in the contract that your credit would be checked, or mentioned verbally?

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15 Jen

No it was not mentioned or read in the contract.

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16 Ryan

To be honest, I’m not sure what your options are. You can complain to the company, Better business Bureau, or state attorney generals office, though I’m not sure what, if anything will come of it. State laws probably vary on this topic, so I’m not sure I can offer much more than that. Sorry!

17 George

I want to know if it is legal for instance:
a) I opened a checking and Savings Account for my son at Wells Fargo. I ended up with 2 hard credit checks against my name, both on the same day, one for each Account.
b) I bought a second property and applied for one loan with Wells Fargo, I ended up with 2 (not 1) hard credit checks also both on the same day
c) I bought a vehicle through Chrysler Financial, again two hard credit checks
d) I bought a vehicle from BMW this year, again, two hard credit checks against my name on the same day.

Please let me know if this is allowed or not becuase I want to take action. I have good credit and do not see any reasin for 2 checks to be performed every time I apply for credit.

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18 Ryan

George, I have no idea why your credit would receive two hard checks in the same day from the same company. If you believe it is hurting your credit score and you plan on making any purchases in the near future, then consider contacting the credit bureaus and asking to have one hard check removed from each instance.

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19 dee

Okay, I applied for two credit cards the same day and was turned down. How bad will this hurt my credit and will this count as two hard hits?!

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20 Ryan

dee, it will probably count as two hard hits on your credit report, but it shouldn’t affect your score much. If your score needs improvement, continue making on time payments and wait a few months. You will see some improvement with time.

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21 dee

Thanks Ryan! I am just so annoyed with myself because I know better. My credt score has been climbing steadily since last year. Went from 635 (ouch) to 685 in six months. I would hate to go backwards even a little.!

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22 Expat returns home

I’ve been living overseas for the past two years, and I’m beyond excited about moving back to the States in a few months. My question is this: Is there any way to prevent my credit score from taking a beating from hard inquiries, since I’ll be applying for a cell phone, an apartment and a new bank account? For what it’s worth, my score is in the 780s and I won’t be applying for any new credit cards.

I seem to recall several years ago, even places like Blockbuster did hard inquiries. I’m nervous that re-establishing myself in the States is going to hurt my credit! Any thoughts? Thanks heaps!

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23 Mac

Ryan, can a Wells Fargo Home Mortgaga Company do a hard credit pull while you are trying to do a Hemp loan modification thru them? Shouldn’t they be doing a soft pull after the initial hard pull?

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24 Elaine

I have been trying to finance with one mortgage broker for 3 months. I authorized them to pull my credit in the initial application, but they have pulled it a total of 4 times over 90 days. They just notified me that they couldn’t honor their quote because on the last pull my mid score dropped from 737 to 719 in two weeks (last time they pulled) and blamed the ONE hard pull that my new ISP did (without my permission btw), and said it will cost me $1250.

CredCo, the company that the broker used to pull, said the broker can call a specific number, person and extension (they provided to me) and have those inquiries deleted.

Can you think of ANY reason a mortgage broker would hard pull my credit 4 times in 90 days?

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25 Ryan Guina

The only reason I can think of is if the original inquiry had expired. For example, they may have a policy that credit scores are only good for 30 days. That doesn’t account for all the inquiries, but it could account for two or three of them. If they noticed a drop in score, they may have decided to do another credit pull. I would contact them and follow the info you were given by CredCo and ask them to have all but the most recent inquiry deleted, as it is only the most recent inquiry they will likely be using.

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26 Gilbert

Ryan, i just did a credit verification with dish net… i been offer great pricing and monthly discounts but i didn’t accepted yet. i also been told that if i don’t take the offer because i did a verification that the next time my credit will have injuries. Is that a hard pull or low pull? and is it true.

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27 Ryan Guina

This sounds like a hard credit pull, if running the check multiple times will affect your credit score. I have no experience with Dish Net, so I can’t verify if this is true or not. I would try using a search engine with the phrase “Dish Net hard credit pull” or something similar. You can also call them and ask their customer service department. If you decide to go with them in the near future, you may also try calling them and asking them to use your most recent credit pull so it won’t affect your score. If the credit pull is recent enough, they may accept it – but they probably don’t have filters in place to screen for that, so you would almost certainly need to ask them first.

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28 Sue

What kind of information is released in a ‘soft credit check’? For example – when you rent a car with anything other than a major credit card, I was told they do a soft credit check. What kind of things would stop them from renting someone a car?

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29 Bob

Why havent you mentioned that a creditor, for example a judgment creditor, can pull a hard credit check on anybody they have a judgment against.It appears they can do it anytime they wish.

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30 Mike

Thank you for the article. My credit rating dropped a surprising 16 points from 808 to 792 when I applied for a PayPal MasterCard to activate an Ebay account. I feel royally rooked because I was not warned and it seems like a wild over-reaction to a minimal $500 credit line. Since I have no plans to access anything requiring my credit score, I have no immediate harm like a denial of credit. But I understand that one can sue for aggravation, time and reputation. I could invest the time to sue, or correct this on my credit report, but the easier route may be waiting 6 months or so for the damage done to dissipate with the hard inquiry falling away and my score going back up. All that said, it still doesn’t make sense why my credit took a 16 point fall. So I am worried that my response has to be more aggressive than wait and see.

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31 Ryan Guina

Mike, I don’t think there is just cause for suing, nor do I think this a worthwhile event for suing. A 16 point drop in your credit score when you already have an 800+ score is minimal at most. I don’t think there is any harm to your score, and all things being equal, your score should recover nicely in a short time period.

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32 Haley Mefferd

I applied for a mortgage loan with a local bank. Obviously a hard pull was done for the loan and a week later, another one was done for same bank by CBC/Innovis for credit granting. Why two within such a short time by the same bank? I never even spoke to a loan officer there so I am not sure what is going on. Any ideas?
Thanks!

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33 geniece

I have a question. I am a member of freecreditreport.com and they use the PLUS SCORE MOdel.
My credit score was 711 it dropped 23 points because I aspplied for a for new home buyers loan at brand mortgage. When i pulled open my account with free credit it said my score dropped 23 points because of a hard inquiry which was for the home loan that seems very high is there anything i can do about it.

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34 Ryan Guina

It is common to see your score drop a few points when there is a hard credit pull. Your score should typically improve within a few weeks, or a couple months, provided nothing else changes with your credit profile. If you do get the mortgage, it may affect your credit score a little bit. However, mortgage debt is generally considered better debt than other kinds of unsecured debt, such as personal loans, credit cards, etc. My recommendation is to monitor your score over the next couple weeks and months, then look for more detail if your score doesn’t bounce back. Best of luck!

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