Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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If you’ve ever applied for a loan, credit card, or other types of credit, you’ve likely been the subject of a credit inquiry. Typically, whenever you’re applying for credit or borrowing funds, the lender or creditor involved will want to obtain specific financial information from you. This is usually done via a credit inquiry.
But having too many credit inquiries could actually end up negatively impacting your credit report and credit score. So it’s important to know how credit inquiries work, and how you may be able to remove inaccurate or unauthorized inquiries from your credit information.
What Is a Credit Inquiry?
A credit inquiry takes place when a bank, lender, or other credit-issuing institution views your credit report before offering you a loan or credit card.
There are other instances where a credit inquiry may also be used, which can include:
- A landlord or property management company checking your credit before approving you for an apartment lease
- A cell phone company inquiring about your credit before approving you for a contract
- A potential employer who wants to make sure your credit is in favorable standing before offering you a job
Hot Tip: While some situations will require that you actually apply for a product or service before they can check your credit, there are other instances where you don’t have to give your approval for a credit check.
Different Types of Credit Inquiries
There are different types of credit inquiries that can take place on your credit report, including hard credit inquiries and soft credit inquiries. A hard credit inquiry can be a primary component of the underwriting process for all types of credit.
Soft credit inquiries, however, are often used more for marketing purposes — not just during a loan or credit approval process. It’s important to understand the differences between hard and soft credit inquiries because some inquiries can impact your credit report and credit score.
Hard Credit Inquiries
A hard credit inquiry (sometimes referred to as a “hard pull”) takes place when a company or entity has a legitimate business reason to look into your credit. In this case, the lender or creditor is seeking information about whether or not you will be reliable in paying the money back.
Your credit report will provide the lender or creditor with a “report card” of sorts in terms of your payback history, as well as other information such as how much credit you already have and what type of credit you carry (mortgages, auto loans, and/or credit card balances).
There are a number of lenders and creditors that will typically use hard credit inquiries. These can include:
- Mortgage companies
- Auto financing firms
- Student loan companies
- Lenders (personal and business)
- Credit card companies
When conducting a hard credit inquiry, the information that the lender or creditor has access to via your credit report can include the following:
- The number of accounts you’ve recently opened
- The proportion of accounts that you’ve opened recently (as opposed to longer-standing accounts)
- The number of recent credit inquiries that you have had
- The time that elapsed since any past credit inquiries
Soft Credit Inquiries
A soft credit inquiry may be requested for a number of different reasons. One way that creditors often use soft inquiries is for marketing to potential customers.
For example, a credit card company may want to send an offer to a list of people who meet specific credit-related characteristics, like having a credit score above a certain threshold.
Credit aggregating services may also use soft credit inquiries to help borrowers find a loan. These platforms will typically require information about a potential borrower, such as their Social Security number.
There are many reasons why a creditor or lender may conduct a soft credit pull:
- Credit card companies verifying a pre-approval offer to customers
- A company checking into your background as a new employee
- A landlord or property management company checking into an application you have made for an apartment rental
- Financial companies (such as banks, credit unions, or brokerage firms) verifying your identity
- Car rental agencies where you may be leasing a vehicle
- Utility, phone, and internet companies that are considering you as a new customer
In addition, your current creditors may also conduct a soft credit inquiry if you are applying for additional services from them, such as a new loan, or even an increase in a current line of credit.
You can also check your credit report and credit score, which counts as a soft credit inquiry as well. There are several ways to check your credit report and score for free, such as going through Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
Once each year, consumers are allowed to receive their credit report for free from all 3 of the big credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can access this free credit report by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Hot Tip: Unlike a hard credit inquiry that requires your authorization, a soft credit inquiry can take place without your permission. Even though a soft inquiry will be noted in your credit report, these types of inquiries will not negatively affect your credit score.
A Comparison of Hard Versus Soft Credit Inquiries
While creditors and other entities can check your credit report and score through either a hard or a soft credit inquiry, there are some key differences between these types of credit “pulls.”
First, different information may be shown in a hard versus soft credit inquiry. For example, a creditor or other entity performing a soft credit pull for promotional or marketing purposes will only be able to view a limited report. To obtain your full credit file, they’d have to use a hard credit inquiry.
Also, hard credit inquiries can have a negative effect on your credit by lowering your credit score. Even though soft inquiries are still noted on your credit report, these cannot lower your credit score — nor do they show up as a negative on your credit report.
Finally, for a lender or a creditor to conduct a hard inquiry, you must first have granted them permission to do so. Therefore, if you discover a hard credit inquiry was conducted without your knowledge or permission, you can often dispute it.
Why Credit Inquiries Could Hurt Your Credit Score
The type of credit inquiries you have could impact your credit report and credit score. For example, a hard credit inquiry could reflect negatively, and may even bring your overall credit score down.
This is because those who have recently applied for a new loan and/or additional credit can be viewed as a more risky borrower. This is particularly the case if you already carry large loans or credit balances.
Hot Tip: In most instances, a hard credit inquiry will remain on your credit report for up to 2 years. However, there are instances where negative information may remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years.
Are You Affected by Credit Inquiries as a Co-Signer?
It could be that you are (or are considering being) a co-signer on another person’s loan or credit application. In this case, your own credit report and score can be affected. This is because, as a co-signer, you are accepting full responsibility for the debt if the borrower does not pay back the borrowed funds as agreed.
In the case of co-signing for someone else, the information about the loan or account will actually show up on both your and the other person’s credit report. So it’s important to make sure the person you are co-signing for is financially responsible, and that they will make all their required payments on time.
Can You Remove Inquiries From Your Credit Report?
When compared to other items that impact your credit score — such as late or missed payments — credit inquiries are the least important item to remove. However, there can still be some very good reasons for disputing and ultimately removing such an inquiry.
As an example, if you don’t recognize a credit inquiry on your credit report, you could have been a victim of identity theft. In this case, it would be important to get the information removed, especially if it’s having a negative impact on your credit score.
Before you do so, though, remember that only hard credit inquiries conducted without your permission can be disputed. Therefore, if you willingly applied for a loan or credit and the corresponding inquiry has shown up on your report, you likely won’t be able to have that particular credit inquiry removed.
If an item can be disputed, there are a couple of ways you can proceed. One way is to go directly to the creditor by sending them a certified letter in the mail. In your letter, be sure to point out which inquiry (or inquiries) were not authorized, and then request that those inquiries be removed.
You could also contact the 3 big credit bureaus where the unauthorized inquiry has shown up. Because not all lenders and creditors report all information to all 3 of the bureaus, it’s possible that a particular inquiry will only show up on 1 or 2 of your credit reports.
In any case, make sure to keep copies of any correspondence and supporting documents that you send to the creditor(s) and/or credit bureau(s).
Credit Removal Letter Template
When submitting a dispute for an inquiry on your credit report, you’ll need to include some specific information. The following credit inquiry removal letter template will help you organize your correspondence to a specific creditor:
<Your Phone Number>
<Name and Address of the Creditor>
Re: Unauthorized Credit Inquiry
Dear Sir / Madam (or the name of a specific individual, if you know it):
I recently obtained a copy of my credit report from <name of the credit bureau — Equifax, Experian, and/or TransUnion>. It indicated that a credit inquiry was made by your company. However, this inquiry was not authorized by me. Therefore, I am writing to dispute this inquiry and have it removed from my credit report.
Please have this inquiry removed from my credit report, as it is having a negative effect on my loan applications and my acquisition of credit.
I have sent this letter via certified mail as it requires your prompt attention and response. Please forward any documentation that you may have in regards to the removal of this credit inquiry.
Conversely, should you find that I am remiss and my authorization was in fact obtained for making this credit inquiry, I would appreciate any such documentation of that as well.
Thank you for your prompt assistance.
In addition to sending a letter to the lender or creditor, it can be beneficial if you also include a copy of the page on your credit report where the incorrect/unauthorized inquiry shows up. This can serve as additional proof for your dispute case.
How To Prevent Unauthorized Credit Inquiries
There are also ways you can prevent an unauthorized credit inquiry from even taking place, which means you hopefully won’t have to remove an unauthorized inquiry in the future. One strategy is to make your credit report inaccessible to lenders and creditors with a credit freeze.
A credit freeze (often referred to as a security freeze) will place a “lock” on your credit report. This means that a lender or creditor will not be able to access your credit report in order to view your information. Implementing a credit freeze can also help keep hackers and identity thieves from opening new credit and/or applying for loans in your name.
Hot Tip: It is important to note that when you have a credit freeze in place, it can hinder your own ability to obtain new credit. For this reason, you can temporarily (or permanently) lift a credit freeze. All 3 of the big credit bureaus have programs available for putting a freeze on your credit.
Having good credit is essential if you want to get the best interest rates on loans and credit cards — or in some cases, to even be approved at all. That’s why it’s important to ensure that all the information on your credit report is up-to-date and accurate. You can accomplish this by regularly reviewing your credit report and credit score.
While checking your own credit and other soft inquiries won’t negatively affect your credit score, remember that hard credit inquiries will. With that in mind, be sure you only apply for loans and credit cards that are necessary for making big purchases, and that you’re always in a financial position to repay.
Likewise, it makes sense to only apply for credit when you need it. That means going with credit options that fit your specific objectives and goals. The best way to do this when applying for credit cards is to review and compare cards that offer an ample amount of credit, as well as rewards like travel or points you can benefit from.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Typically, a hard credit inquiry will remain on your credit report for 2 years. However, in most cases, this type of credit inquiry will only have an effect on your credit score for the first year.
You can attempt to remove inquiries from your credit report. However, in order to do so, the inquiries must not have been authorized by you. If you did authorize the credit inquiry, it is unlikely that you will be able to dispute it or have it removed.
New credit — which includes any new credit accounts and credit inquiries — only makes up 10% of the overall metrics that are considered when determining your credit score. The other categories include:
- Payment history — 35%
- Amount owed — 30%
- Length of credit history — 15%
- Type(s) of credit utilized — 10%
With that in mind, an individual credit inquiry will typically not impact your overall credit score by very much — in most cases, just a few points.
Even though your credit score will continue to include account history from all closed and open accounts that remain on your credit report, the 3 big credit bureaus will typically remove closed accounts that were in good standing after about 10 years.
Removing a closed account yourself can only be done in certain situations. For example, if an account is actually open but incorrectly reported as closed, you could go through the dispute process to have it properly listed as open.
You may also be able to use a “goodwill letter” to request that a creditor remove a closed account from your credit report. While a creditor is not obligated to do so, there are some situations where they will end up removing the information from your report.
If you have an account that is closed with a balance remaining, there is a strategy referred to as “pay for delete” that could help you remove the account from your credit report.
Pay for delete can be a good option if you have a debt that can’t be disputed because you still owe on it. In this case, as its name implies, you can ask the creditor to remove the account from your credit report in return for you paying off the balance.
Although soft credit inquiries do not harm your credit score, hard inquiries can. One of the primary reasons for this is because looking for credit — especially if you have multiple inquiries — can mean you’re a higher credit risk.
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About Susan Wright
While writing about finance and insurance isn’t something that keeps most people awake at night, it is what Susan Wright has focused on for more than 25 years. As a financial copywriter, Susan has an eye for money-related details such as credit and savings, and she loves to pass along helpful information to consumers. Susan holds 11 financial industry designations (including CLU, ChFC, RHU, REBC, ADPA, CITRMS, CIPA) as well as several licenses.
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