Know the difference between hard vs. soft credit inquiries

man sitting at his kitchen table looking at his laptop checking his credit
July 25, 2017 | Maggie Jenkins

You’ve worked hard to get that essential three-digit number known as your credit score to where you want it, and now you want to keep it that way. And since you understand how your credit score is calculated, you know that credit inquiries (aka credit pulls) are one factor in determining it.

What exactly counts as a credit inquiry? What are the different types? And when can you expect each one to occur? Keep reading to find the answers to these important questions.

Hard vs. soft credit inquiries

Two kinds of inquiries can occur on your credit report, hard inquiries and soft inquiries. While both types enable a third party (i.e., your lender or employer) to view your credit report, only hard inquiries can negatively affect your credit score.

A hard credit inquiry occurs when a lender checks your credit report to make a lending decision. Hard pulls can slightly lower your credit score and typically stay on your credit report for two years.

A soft credit inquiry occurs when a person or company checks your credit report, like when you check your credit score – which you can do for free via Alliant Online Banking, with your VantageScore credit score updated quarterly – or a mortgage lender preapproves you for a loan. Although soft credit pulls can happen without your permission, they don’t affect your credit score.

Note: If you’re rate shopping for the best deal on a car loan or mortgage, be sure to stay consistent and work quickly. Credit bureaus can usually tell that you’re comparison shopping, and they’ll typically give you a short window to finish shopping before combining multiple similar inquiries into just one hit on your credit report.

Guide to hard vs. soft credit inquiries

This chart, based on Alliant’s practices, can help you figure out what type of inquiry will be placed on your report:

Hard credit inquiry Soft credit inquiry
Applying for credit card Preapproval for credit card, mortgage or loan
Applying for a mortgage Background check by an employer
Applying for an auto loan, business loan, student loan or personal loan Checking your own credit score
Requesting a credit limit increase Opening a checking or savings account
  Applying for an Alliant membership

Financial institutions’ practices can vary slightly, and other situations that might require a credit inquiry include applying to rent an apartment, opening a new cell phone contract or renting a car.

Bottom line: If you’re not sure whether an action will require a hard or soft inquiry, just ask! Your credit score could depend on it.

Maggie Jenkins is the PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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