The Difference Between a Soft Inquiry vs Hard Inquiry on Your Credit Report

Advertiser Disclosure

Last updated on August 11th, 2023

Applying for a credit card typically results in an inquiry on your credit report. Whether this inquiry – or credit pull – is “hard” or “soft” can mean the difference between your credit score goin down when applying or escaping without a change. Here is how to tell the difference between a soft inquiry vs a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Soft Inquiry vs Hard Inquiry

Many major actions involving your personal finances will also tie in your credit score and credit report – be it applying for a credit card, financing a car, or applying for a mortgage. For the most part, requesting a line of credit or a loan will compel the creditor or lender to fully review your credit history, and that evaluation will become part of said record. This action is known as a hard inquiry. However, entities can also look at your credit information for reference purposes without substantial consequences for you. These light inspections are called soft inquiries.

The primary difference between soft and hard inquiries is the impact each has on your credit report and credit score. In short, hard inquiries will be documented in your credit report and knock a few points off your credit score, while soft inquiries will not. But there’s slightly more to it than that. Read on to get the full dose of knowledge on these routine reviews.

Here is a quick breakdown of the differences between hard and soft credit inquiries:

Differences Between Hard & Soft Credit Inquiries
Hard Pull Soft Pull
Cause Credit checks when applying for a loan, such as a credit card, mortgage, or auto loan. Credit checks to review your credit file for things unrelated to credit, like rental agreements or background checks.
Impact Lowers score slightly, though multiple pulls don’t look good on your credit report or score No harm to your score
Length 2 years 2 years (not visible)

What Is a Hard Inquiry?

Hard inquiries, or a “hard pull,” occur when a lender or creditor checks your full credit report as a part of a formal credit application process. The lender pulls the information from credit bureaus’ records so they can review it before deciding on the application for a new credit card, loan, mortgage, or any other form of credit.

Hard inquiries allow any requesting party to view your full credit history – as well as your credit score – which will include open accounts, debt currently owed, employer information, and any adverse actions that have been taken against you (such as bankruptcies or debt that’s gone into collections).

Hard inquiries are reported in your credit report and will remain there for about two years. A hard pull can slightly lower your credit score, typically by a few points, but the impact of these inquiries dissipates quickly.

While a single hard inquiry may only cause a minor drop in your credit score, multiple hard inquiries can have a more significant negative impact in a short period. This is because numerous hard inquiries can suggest that you’re in a financial bind or taking on more debt than you can handle. It’s essential to be cautious about the number of credit applications you submit within a short timeframe.

It’s worth noting that inquiries are a smaller factor influencing your credit score. Payment history and credit utilization ratio are by far the most influential aspects. Provided you remain responsible with your finances, your credit score should recover quickly after a hard pull or two.

Another thing worth touching upon is that not all hard inquiries have the same effects on your credit health. For example, multiple inquiries from different mortgage lenders within a 30-day period for the purpose of finding the best rate are usually counted as a single inquiry for scoring purposes. Credit scoring models are usually pretty smart at understanding when you’re comparison shopping vs when you’re intentionally opening multiple lines of credit.

What is a Soft Inquiry?

Soft inquiries, or a “soft pull,” occur when a person or entity checks your credit report for non-lending purposes, such as background checks, pre-approved credit card offers, employment screenings, and when you check your own credit score through sites like Credit Karma or Experian. These pulls have no effect on your credit score and will not be recorded in your credit report.

It’s important to note that, unlike hard inquiries, soft inquiries do not require your consent – or even your knowledge. Credit card issuers often take information about people that they have purchased from the reporting bureaus and perform soft inquiries to narrow down potential customers they can target offers to.

Similarly, if you decide to check whether you prequalify for a credit card, issuers will make a soft inquiry on you to give you a quick decision. Whenever you check your credit report, you also perform a soft pull. Soft pulls are visible to you on your credit report but not to others (except for insurance companies, which may be able to see soft inquiries by other insurance companies).

Tips to Minimize Hard Inquiries

It’s nearly impossible to avoid hard inquiries without completely eliminating the need for credit in your life. Despite that, there are practical steps you can take to help limit the negative effects of hard pulls on your credit report:

  • Review Offers Carefully: Always ensure you are fully informed about any credit card you want before applying. Be cautious about unsolicited credit card offers in the mail and online. Thoroughly read the terms and conditions before applying to understand any potential hidden fees, penalty interest rates, or introductory offers the card features.
  • Consolidate Applications: When shopping for credit cards, try to do it within a relatively short period (around two weeks to a month) so that multiple inquiries for the same purpose are treated as a single inquiry for credit scoring purposes.
  • Use Pre-Approval: Many credit card companies offer pre-approval or pre-qualifying checks that use soft inquiries to see if you will likely be approved for their cards. These services can help you avoid unnecessary hard inquiries.
  • Limit Credit Applications: The easiest way to avoid the negative impacts of hard credit pulls is by reducing the number of credit applications you submit. Apply for new credit only when you genuinely need it and you believe you have a good chance of approval based on your credit profile.

Related ArticleWhat Are the Easiest Credit Cards to Get with Bad Credit?

Other Things to Know about Credit Inquiries

If you’re considering applying for any type of credit or loan or are planning to submit an application that may lead to your financial background being looked at, it’s wise to ask the other party if and how your credit history will be impacted. It’s never wrong to inquire about a potential inquiry, and the people on the other side of the table must give you an answer. You should also get in the habit of occasionally checking your own credit report to ensure there isn’t anything you can’t explain. 

You’re entitled by law to one free report per year from each of the three credit reporting companies so that you can space them out evenly. If you see a hard inquiry that you don’t recognize or did not consent to, you can dispute it with the bureau that provided the report. It’s possible that it was just an error, but it could just as likely be an attempt to steal your identity. On a related note, soft inquiries are not disputable. Although you should avoid too many hard inquiries at a time, an exception can be made if you’re rate shopping or searching for the best available deal on a loan or credit card. Generally, if you compare related offers – say, mortgages – within a 30- to 45-day span, credit scoring models may only count the ensuing hard inquiries as one. This isn’t standard, though, as issuers and scoring models vary in their practices.

Summing It Up

Understanding the differences between different credit checks and managing your credit applications responsibly can help you maintain a healthy credit score and financial well-being. Hard pulls and soft pulls of your credit report serve different purposes and have distinct impacts on your credit score.

Here’s a quick refresher on the key differences between these types of credit pulls:

Type Credit impact Examples
Hard inquiry Requires your consent and can impact your credit score
  • Applying for an installment loan
  • Credit card applications
  • Collection agency tracing of late payments and collections (skip tracing)
  • Applying for a mortgage
Soft inquiry Doesn’t require your consent and won’t harm your credit score
  • Checking credit scores with free apps
  • Employment credit checks
  • Insurance credit checks
  • Credit card pre-approval offers

Related Article: What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

Featured photo by jarmoluk / PixaBay

Editorial Disclosure – The opinions expressed on's reviews, articles, and all other content on or relating to the website are solely those of the content’s author(s). These opinions do not reflect those of any card issuer or financial institution, and editorial content on our site has not been reviewed or approved by these entities unless noted otherwise. Further, lists credit card offers that are frequently updated with information believed to be accurate to the best of our team's knowledge. However, please review the information provided directly by the credit card issuer or related financial institution for full details.

About: Cory Santos
Cory Santos

Cory is the senior credit card editor at BestCards, specializing in everything credit card-related. He’s worked extensively with credit cards and other personal finance topics, including nearly five years at BestCards. Cory’s extensive knowledge is an essential part of the BestCards experience, helping readers to live their best financial lives with up-to-date insights and comprehensive coverage of all facets of the credit card space, including market trends, rewards guides, credit advice, and comprehensive credit card reviews.

Advertiser Disclosure

BestCards is an independent, Florida-based credit card comparison platform. Many of the card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which BestCards receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). BestCards does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.