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Does Applying for a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit?

Last Updated: June 30, 2022
5 min read

Let’s Learn About: How Applying for a Credit Card Can Affect Your Credit

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

  2. One hard inquiry won’t significantly affect your credit, but multiple inquiries can damage your credit score.

  3. Being approved for more credit will 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?

You may have heard that applying for a credit card brings a hard inquiry, but what is a hard inquiry? 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.

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. A bank will make a “soft inquiry” about your credit history when, for example, it is deciding whether you are eligible to receive a pre-screened credit card offer. That said, once you formally apply for your pre-screened offer, the hard inquiry will follow.

Soft inquiries will not 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 lower 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,1 but it’s best to avoid multiple hard inquiries in a short time-frame.

When you apply for a mortgage or auto loan, the credit bureaus recognize that you may be shopping for the best rates, and will group multiple applications within a short timeframe, such as 14 days, and count them as a single inquiry. This does not hold true for credit card applications, so you’ll want to limit the number of cards you apply for at once.

To better understand your chances of your credit being hurt by a hard inquiry, we need to go to the primary source.

FICO® Credit Score basics

  • Payment History: 35%
  • Amounts Owed: 30%
  • 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. Payment History is fairly obvious — being a responsible borrower and paying on time, all the time are the best practices. So what is Amounts Owed?

Amounts Owed includes what credit professionals call a credit utilization ratio. It calculates the degree to which you are 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 utilization ratio is 10 percent, which might be considered pretty good. However, if you owe $10,000, while your credit lines remain at $20,000, you are now utilizing a larger percentage of your available credit, 50 percent, which may be viewed by a lender as a higher risk.

It’s a good idea to check your credit report 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 inquiry actually hurt your credit? Hard inquiries are meant to keep track of how many loans or lines of credit you are applying for. If you try to take out a large number of loans or credit cards, you’ll become a riskier borrower and will become less likely to pay off your loans.

Banks and lenders like to know these details ahead of time so that 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 are being assessed for the riskiness of a loan, and that’s why multiple hard inquiries can hurt your credit score.

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

Applying for a new credit card generates a hard inquiry, and this affects the “new credit” category of your credit score. Note that this portion of your score only amounts to around 10 percent of the total scoring, but is still an important factor.

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 lower 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 line of $8,000. That’s a 25 percent utilization ratio. If you get approved for two new credit cards with a $2,000 line each, your total credit will increase to $12,000, and your utilization ratio will decrease to 17 percent. 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 apply for a credit card only to help your score. Only apply when you have a need and are able to manage new debt. If you are 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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