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Soft inquiry vs hard inquiry

Last Updated: March 7, 2024
4 min read

Key points about: the differences between hard and soft credit inquiries

  1. Hard credit inquiries typically occur when you apply for new credit, such as applying for a new credit card.

  2. Soft credit inquiries are usually part of a background check or prequalification process.

  3. While a hard inquiry can negatively impact your credit score, a soft inquiry will not affect your credit score.

There are two types of credit inquiries, a hard inquiry, and a soft inquiry. But what does each one mean, and what are the main differences of a soft inquiry vs. a hard inquiry?

What is a soft inquiry?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), soft inquiries (also referred to as “soft credit checks” or “soft credit pulls”), occur when you review your credit report, or when a company reviews your report as part of a background check or pre-qualification for a credit card, for example.

A soft credit pull is not used for the purpose of approving new credit. Instead, a soft credit check allows a lender to review your account to get an overview of how you manage your credit. This information can help them decide if they want to offer you a pre-approval or promotional offer. For instance, your current credit card company might perform a soft pull to pre-qualify you for a new credit card or send a promotional offer.

See if you're pre-approved

With no harm to your credit score 1

A potential employer might request to run a soft credit inquiry as part of their background check, according to information from the CFPB.

Another example of a soft inquiry is when you check your own credit report. You can do this by contacting one of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax®, Experian®, or TransUnion®. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can also visit AnnualCreditReport.com for a copy of your free credit report.

Does a soft inquiry affect your credit score?

A soft credit inquiry does not affect your credit score. A soft inquiry can reflect a review of your credit file by your existing lenders, prospective lenders looking to prescreen you, and your own reviews of your credit report.  

What is a hard inquiry?

Hard credit inquiries (also referred to as a “hard credit check” or “hard credit pull”) occur when a company or financial institution reviews your credit report as part of an application process for new credit.

A hard credit check is typically triggered by credit applications for a new credit card, mortgage, cell phone contract, personal loan, student loan, or auto loan. A request for a hard inquiry might also occur when applying for a new apartment rental, or if you ask for an increase in your credit limit.

Your credit card issuer may request a hard pull to review your credit report and evaluate your credit history as a potential borrower. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), your credit report contains information about the type of credit you have, when you opened the credit account, your credit limits, payment history, current balances, as well as previous hard inquiries. Public record information, including overdue debt that has gone to collections and any bankruptcies, can also show up on your credit file.

To a potential lender, this is all valuable information they can use to determine if they want to extend you new credit.

Does a hard inquiry impact your credit score?

Yes, a hard inquiry can impact your credit score. Exactly how much your credit score is affected will depend on other factors like the length of your credit history.

A single credit inquiry can stay on your report for up to two years according to information from the Small Business Administration (SBA). However, the impact of a credit inquiry may begin to decrease within a few months.

How do multiple hard inquiries affect your credit score?

While a single hard credit inquiry can affect your credit score, multiple hard credit checks in a short amount of time can have a larger impact, according to the SBA.

When a hard inquiry shows up on your credit report it demonstrates that you’re looking for credit. When you have multiple hard inquiries listed in a short period of time, this may represent a greater amount of risk to lenders.

In sum, when comparing hard vs. soft inquiries, remember that they differ in purpose and how they impact your credit score. According to the CFPB, a hard inquiry is typically required when you apply for a new credit card or a loan and can impact your credit score. A soft inquiry is used as part of a background check or to pre-qualify for credit. Checking your own credit score is also considered a soft credit pull and will not impact your credit score. 

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  1. There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.