When a lender or financial institution accesses your credit report, it's called an inquiry. Credit reporting agencies classify inquiries as hard or soft, and record the credit inquiries on your report.
When you apply for credit like an auto loan, credit card, personal loan, or student loan, the lender must request permission to access your credit file. This type of inquiry will show as a hard inquiry on your credit report. If you have multiple hard inquiries, the lender may see you as a higher risk, and possibly deny your credit application. Hard inquiries may stay on your credit report for up to two years, and possibly lower your credit score, generally by a small amount.
In a soft inquiry, the lender does not review your credit file for the purpose of new credit. Businesses may access your credit file if they have an existing credit relationship with you. For example, a credit card company or bank may access your credit file when promoting a credit account offer or special rates on a product. This type of soft inquiry should not have an effect on your credit score.
As a consumer, you're able to request your credit report, called a "consumer file disclosure." These requests do not have a negative impact on credit scores. Transunion, Experian, and Equifax provide free credit reports to consumers every twelve months, upon request. Throughout the year, you can choose to view your report frequently to monitor any changes to your credit file.
How Can I Stop Hard Credit Report Inquiries?
Hard inquiries are unavoidable if you want to apply for a loan or new credit card. Before making a new loan application, follow these guidelines:
- Check credit reports for accuracy. Although Transunion, Experian, and Equifax share information, credit listings may differ from one bureau's report to another. Check your reports for duplicate entries, someone else's information on your report, and reporting errors. Inaccurate listings should be corrected before you apply for new credit. Here's how to dispute incorrect information on your credit report.
- Unauthorized credit pulls. If your credit files were accessed without authorization, write to the creditor, state that you did not authorize them to pull your report, and request that the hard inquiry be removed.
- Shop for credit, just as you would any new purchase. Prospective lenders view multiple credit checks from similar creditors as one inquiry if they happen within 14 - 45 days. Multiple inquiries for the same types of credit lines are indicators that the consumer is shopping for the best rate. Rate shopping should not impact your credit score negatively. Do not sign an authorization that allows a prospective lender, like a car dealer, to pull your credit report many times over an extended period. Be sure the credit authorization is limited to, perhaps, 3 credit pulls over one week's time.