Our credit scores don’t tell our entire financial history. But they do give lenders, landlords, and potential employers a sense of how well we manage our finances. Here, we’ll discuss some reasons why parties check our credit bureau scores and the difference between hard vs. soft credit checks.
Hard vs. soft credit checks
If a person or business wants to conduct a credit pull, find out if it will be a hard credit inquiry or a soft credit inquiry before agreeing. Here’s why: A hard credit pull has an impact on your credit score, while a soft credit pull does not.
Whether you’re applying for a credit card offer, an auto loan, or meeting with a prospective employer, you get to decide if you want to have your credit score checked. Once you understand the difference between a hard vs. soft credit check, you’ll be in a better position to decide what’s in your best interest.
What is a hard credit check?
A hard credit check is when a creditor does a deep dive into your credit history. This happens when you apply for something requiring a decision, such as a loan or credit card.
Each time a hard pull is conducted, there’s a ding to your credit score. The good news is these dings aren’t very significant. According to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus (along with TransUnion and Equifax), a FICO® Score usually drops five points or less for a hard credit check. These hard checks stay on your report for two years.
Many events generate hard credit checks. For example, a hard credit pull is conducted when you:
- Apply for a mortgage loan
- Apply for a credit card
- Apply for a business loan
- Apply for a personal loan
Avoiding multiple hard credit checks
Each time a hard credit check is pulled, a notation is added to your credit report. A creditor may get nervous when they see multiple recent credit inquiries on your credit report.
One way to avoid multiple credit inquiries is to apply for multiple loans (of the same type) within a short period of time. The credit reporting agencies know that you’re probably going to shop around for the best loan, so they count multiple credit inquiries for the same type of loan as one inquiry — provided they are conducted within a given period of time.
The time varies by the credit scoring model but ranges from 14-45 days. If you plan to shop around for the best loan, play it safe by having all hard credit checks run within two weeks.
An example of a hard credit check: Let’s say you want a new rewards credit card and learn that your credit union offers a card with nice perks. You fill out a credit application and tell the card issuer a bit about yourself, including your name, address, where you work, and how much you earn. Those are all crucial factors, but the card issuer really wants a peek behind the curtain. They want to know the details of your financial history. So they conduct what’s known as a “hard pull” or “hard credit check.” This hard pull allows them to take a deep dive into your credit file by ordering a copy from a credit reporting bureau.
The credit card company learns which financial institution first granted you credit, your payment history, and your credit rating. Between your loan application and credit report, the credit card company gets an outline of your financial past.
They also get an idea of how well you’ve managed credit by pulling either a VantageScore or FICO® Score. While FICO is the most commonly used credit scoring model, both are three-digit numbers designed to provide a snapshot of your financial behavior. The higher the three-digit number, the better your financial reputation.
What is a soft credit check?
A soft credit check is a review of your credit report. For a variety of reasons, individuals or organizations just want to gauge your creditworthiness. Since you’re not actually applying for anything that requires a decision, a soft credit pull has no impact on your credit score.
There are many reasons for conducting a soft credit check. Some of the people and businesses that may perform one include:
Landlords: To judge your ability to pay rent on time, landlords may do a soft or hard credit check.
Potential employers: Before hiring you, an employer may want to determine your financial responsibility and general money-management skills.
Credit card issuers: Always on the hunt for new customers, these purveyors of plastic may want to soft-check your profile to determine if you’d be a safe risk for one of their cards. In the credit card sphere, this is called “pre-approval.” This is not to be confused with what happens after you fill out a credit card application. Pre-approval leads to a soft credit pull. Once you confirm your interest, the credit card issuer conducts a hard credit pull.
Insurance providers: Similar to credit card issuers, they may have judged that you’re fiscally responsible enough to be pre-approved for one or more of their products.
You: When you self-check your credit profile, it is always considered a soft inquiry.