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Does Applying for a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit?

Last Updated: December 20, 2023
1 min read

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Key points about: How applying for a credit card can hurt your credit

  1. When you apply for a credit card, your credit card issuer will conduct a “hard inquiry” into your credit.

  2. One hard inquiry might not significantly affect your credit, but multiple inquiries can have a larger impact on your credit score.

  3. Getting more credit may lower your credit utilization, which could help your credit score, but make sure to use your new credit wisely.

Generally, credit card applications trigger “hard” inquiries on your credit report, which, unlike “soft” inquiries, can affect your credit score. That said, some scores go unaffected. This guide can help you get a better sense of the potential implications of a new credit card application on your score.

How does a hard inquiry affect your credit score?

When you apply for a credit card, it causes a hard inquiry. But what is a hard inquiry? According to CFPB, whenever you apply for a mortgage, credit card, auto loan, or any other type of credit, your lender will send a request to receive your credit score and credit report from a credit bureau. This request is called a “hard inquiry,” or “hard pull,” and it will be noted in your credit report.

A hard inquiry affects the “new credit” category of your credit score. Note that this portion of your score only amounts to around 10% of the total score, but it’s still an important factor.

But a hard inquiry is not the only kind of credit inquiry. A soft inquiry means that you or someone else is looking at your credit report, but you haven’t actually applied for new credit. For example, a bank will make a “soft inquiry” about your credit history when it’s deciding whether you’re eligible to receive a pre-screened credit card offer. That said, once you formally apply for your pre-screened offer, a hard inquiry will follow.

Soft inquiries won’t affect your credit score in any way.

A hard inquiry might affect your credit score, but only in certain cases. For some people, it might negatively impact their score while others’ scores may be unaffected. Generally, a single hard inquiry isn’t likely to have a big impact on your credit score, but it’s best to avoid multiple hard inquiries in a short timeframe.

When you apply for a mortgage or auto loan, the credit scoring model may recognize that you’re shopping for the best rates, and typically will group multiple applications within a short timeframe and count them as a single inquiry, according to FICO. This doesn’t hold true for credit card applications, so you’ll want to limit the number of cards you apply for at once.

See if you’re pre-approved

To better understand your chances of your credit being hurt by a hard inquiry, it helps to learn the factors that affect your score. While there are different types of credit scores, 90% of top lenders use FICO® Credit Scores, including Discover.1

FICO® Credit Score basics

The factors that make up a FICO® Score and how much they’re weighed include:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Amounts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • Credit mix: 10%
  • New credit: 10%

The importance of these categories may vary for different credit profiles.

As you can see, the first two categories, “payment history” and “amounts owed,” typically have the greatest impact. The best practices for payment history are to pay on time, all the time.

Amounts owed is what credit professionals call a credit utilization ratio. It calculates the degree to which you’re using your available credit. For example, if all your credit card lines amount to $20,000 and your debt across all of them is $2,000, your credit utilization ratio is 10%, which might be considered pretty good. However, if you owe $10,000 with a credit limit of $20,000, you’re now utilizing a larger percentage of your available credit–50%–which may be viewed by a lender as a higher risk.

It’s also a good idea to check your credit report regularly to see whether it’s accurate and to dispute any errors with the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). You can request your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Why applying for a new credit card can hurt your score

So, why can a hard credit inquiry hurt your credit? Hard inquiries are meant to keep track of how many loans or lines of credit you’re applying for. If you try to take out many loans or credit cards, you’ll become a riskier borrower and will become less likely to pay off your loans.

Lenders like to know these details ahead of time so they can assess how risky of a borrower you are. They also like to know how many loans or credit cards you’ve applied for in the past. That’s why they use hard inquiries whenever you’re being assessed for the riskiness of a loan, and that’s why multiple hard inquiries can hurt your credit score.

Did you know?

You can compare Discover credit cards to other industry-leading cards to find the best fit for your financial needs. And you can see if you’re pre-approved with no harm to your credit score.2

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When applying for a new credit card can help your credit score

If you have a short credit history, you should be careful not to open too many new accounts too fast, because multiple hard inquiries will likely affect your credit score.

However, if you have a long and established credit history, your FICO® Score may be affected differently. It doesn’t mean that a hard inquiry can’t affect your score, but there are other factors in play. Since you have already established your payment history and length of credit history, opening new accounts might help your credit score by changing your credit utilization ratio. How?

Say you owe $2,000 across three credit cards with a total credit limit of $8,000. That’s a 25% utilization ratio. If you get approved for two new credit cards with a $2,000 line each, your total available credit will increase to $12,000, and your utilization ratio will decrease to 17%–assuming you keep your spending the same. While it may sound like a good idea, just remember that responsible spending under these credit limits is important for overall credit health.

Apply for credit when you really need credit

Most credit and financial professionals are very clear on one thing—don’t apply for credit that you aren’t going to use. That means don’t submit a credit card application only to help your score. Only apply when you have a need and are able to manage new debt. If you’re a responsible borrower with an established credit history who pays your bills on time, the rest will take care of itself.

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