Hard And Soft Credit Inquiries, And How One Hurts Your Credit Score

Did you know that when a company checks out your credit report, it can damage your credit score temporarily? It depends on if the inquiry is “hard” or “soft.” Hard inquiries ding your score, soft don’t. If you’re going to get a mortgage or a car loan, a few points difference translates into a big chunk of change. So how do you know when an inquiry is going to be “soft” or “hard?”

A hard inquiry is when a person or organization requests your credit score and history and they intend to make a lending decision. Applying for a credit card? Hard inquiry. Getting approved for a car loan or mortgage loan? Hard inquiry. On your reports, each of the credit unions categorize these inquiries differently. TransUnion calls them “regular inquiries,” Experian calls them “requests viewed by others,” and Equifax calls them “Inquiries in the last 12 months.” Hard inquiries usually drop your score by a few points for six months, then their effect is removed. This is why it’s usually NOT a good idea to apply for credit cards before you get a mortgage loan.

A soft inquiry is everything else. They are often used by a person or organization when they don’t intend to make a lending decision, though there are exceptions from one institution to another. Landlords and prospective employers will use them to assess your financial risk. Banks often use soft inquiries to confirm your identity. Credit cards and mortgage lenders use them to decide whether to pre-approve you for a card or a loan. When you check your own credit history, that’s a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries have no effect on your score.

Sound simple? It’s not. Do you think a applying for a checking account would be a hard or soft inquiry? It’s actually a hard inquiry. To help you out the members of the Fatwallet forum have compiled a list of financial institutions that use hard inquiries when requesting your score and history for reasons other than credit card or loan approval.

(Scroll to bottom to see list of those that DON’T do hard pulls)

A

+ American Express Co. pulled Experian for a One Financial account without margin (combination brokerage/savings).
+ Ameriprise Insurance (division of American Express) – for car insurance quote (Equifax)
+ AT&T pulled Transunion for current customer moving from CA to OH initiating “new” landline
+ ATTWS – Equifax

B

+ Bank of America pulled Trans Union for a checking account.
+ Bank of America pulled Trans Union for a CD account opened online.(3/20/2007)
+ Bank of America pulled Experian for a checking account. (8/29/06)
+ Bank Of America – Pulled a hard enquiry after applying *only* for savings account.
+ Bank Of America – Pulled a hard enquiry on Experian for MM savings account 4/2007
+ Bank of Atlanta
+ Bank of New York pulled Experian for a checking account and a savings account.
+ BB&T pulled Equifax for a checking account.
+ Brookline Bank pulled Experian for a checking account.
+ Brown & Co. pulls a hard one for EACH account that you open with TransUnion.

C

+ Catholic Federal pulled TU for new membership and opening of new checking.
+ Charles Schwab Bank pulled Equifax for opening new checking and investor account (without margin option)
+ Charter One Bank pulled Equifax for a checking account under the name St. Paul Bank Corp.
+ Chase Manhattan Bank pulled Trans Union for a checking account.
+ Cingular Wireless pulled Equifax.
+ Citibank pulled Equifax (for opening 6-month CD)
+ Citibank pulled Trans Unions for a checking and savings account opened at the same time.
+ Citibank pulls hard inquiry for opening e-Savings account
+ Citizens – checking – Equifax
+ Clackamas Community Federal Credit Union – hard inquiry for savings and CD accounts
+ Comcast cable TV and HSI
+ ComED
+ Costco AMEX car insurance ran a Hard Inquiry on me
+ Countrywide (stopped pulling sometime in 2007)

D

+ DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union) pulls a hard inquiry from Equifax when applying for membership.
+ Directv
+ DishNetwork
+ Dollar RENT A CAR (see Thrifty below)

E

+ Ebank – checking – Equifax
+ Everbank – pulled Experian for a Money Market Account, as well as for a checking one.

F

+ Fidelity – LionBank (Not Fidelity Investments)
+ Financial Center Credit Union
+ Fifth Third – Opening Checking Account
+ Flagstar Bank – Checking – Pulls TU

G

+ GMAC Bank – pulled TU for their MM savings account

H

+ HARRIS BANK — CD

I

+ Indiana Members Credit Union
+ ING Direct – When you open Electric Orange checking account, they will hard pull Equifax to determine the overdraft credit line limit for you. No hard pull for opening Orange Savings account.

J

+ Johnson & Johnson by Yale & Associates on Experian- employment

L

+ Local gas & electric utility (We Energies – Wisconsin)
+ Local Honda dealer- check + 5K credit card
+ Local Nissan dealer (Coral Springs Nissan Auto Mall) pulled a HARD one when I browsed their inventory
+ Local Toyota dealership- cash transaction

M

+ Marquette National Bank — checking, savings, CD and safe deposit box
+ Meadows Credit Union pulled Trans Union for a checking account.
+ Mechanics Bank (sf) did hard pull from Equifax for a checking account.
+ Muriel Siebert & Co. pulled Experian for a brokerage account without margin.

N

+ National1St Credit Union – When opening an account/CD etc – Experian had pull
+ NASA Federal Credit Union – when applying for membership – Equifax hard pull

P

+ People’s Gas
+ Pentagon Federal Credit Union
+ Presidential Bank pulled Equifax for a checking account under the name Presidential Savings.
+ Principal Bank pulled Equifax for a checking account, also pulls for money market account according to CSR.
+ Provident Central Credit Union, Bay Area, CA – When opening an account – Experean hard pull

Q

+ Qwest

S

+ Salem Five – pulled Equifax for a checking account.
+ Schwab – hard pull on Equifax for a checking account.
+ SCOTTRADE – hard pull on Equifax
+ Sprint – Long Distance for having them as the LD provider on a home phone.
+ Suntrust – pulls an Equifax for opening of a checking account

T

+ T-Mobile for cell phone service on Transunion or Equifax
+ TD Waterhouse/Ameritrade pulled Equifax on an exisiting customer to open IRA
+ Thrifty RENT A CAR did hard pull prior to rental

U

+ UFBDirect.com – 3.30% on High Yield Money Market Savings
+ US Bank ( online / phone only. soft pull when opening in branch)

V

+ Verizon – landline, DSL, or VoIP (on Equifax or TransUnion). Also for new cellphone account.

W

+ Wachovia-Trans union (or Equifax in some cases) for opening a checking account
+ Wanigas CU – Pulls to become Member, Pulls for Checking – Experian
+ Wells Fargo (When ever you make any changes like adding additional account holder, change address on your account etc, their Credit department is making a hard enquiry on Experean, I fought with them to get it Re-Classified as a soft pull, be very careful with Wells Fargo). Add this also, i change my account from regular to all advantage account (have free bill pay, checks etc) and a hard pull.

—-—-—-—-—-—-—-—-—-—-—-
Banks that DO NOT pull hard credit inquiries

Amalgamated Bank
Countrywide Bank FSB
FNBO Direct
PNC Bank (for opening a free checking account), soft pull in Equifax
Valley National Bank of NJ
Washington Mutual
U.S. Bank (in-branch visits only)

Review that list, compiled from empirical data, to help you make your credit decisions. Note: This list is pulled from a Fatwallet group-edited post. Check the original post for the most up-to-date information.

Jim writes the blog Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. youbastid says:

    I applied for mortgage pre-qualification through B of A. Not pre-approval, just pre-qualification. Would that be hard or soft?

  2. Telekinesis123 says:

    How are you any less credit worthy when someone else checks whether your credit worthy or not? I swear, any excuse credit card companies and banks can get to lower your credit score they will. Lower score for you = an excuse for higher fees.

    It’s a complete scam, say someone checks your score then you apply for a large loan just them checking out your score (which is for their benefit financially and security wise) could cost you hundreds of dollars and nothing my even come out of it.

    • youbastid says:

      @Telekinesis123: One hard pull won’t make much of a difference, if any. Multiple hard pulls is when you start taking a hit. It sends a message to lenders that you’re “shopping for money”.

      • howie_in_az says:

        @youbastid: But why wouldn’t we as consumers want to “shop for money”? Suddenly we’re not able to get the best rates available because multiple inquiries will affect our credit scores?

    • downwithmonstercable says:

      @Telekinesis123: I’ve heard that the reason is because it looks like you are applying for lots of credit, which would flag you as a potential risk.

  3. SadSam says:

    When I bought a car this past fall I ended up with a hard inquiry and a ding to my credit. Sounds like normal procedure, but I bought the car with cash. The finance office at the dealership still dinged my credit because they made a decision to offer me a loan even though I hadn’t asked for one and told them I would be paying cash (after we came to terms on the terms).

    • Telekinesis123 says:

      @SadSam:

      Exactly the whole market is sloppy and unregulated and its the regular Joe’s like us who have to pay the tab.

    • opticnrv says:

      @SadSam: Somewhere along the line, you were asked (either verbally, or within printed terms and conditions that you signed) for you your approval to check your credit.
      Whenever I initiate a significant financial transaction, I make a point to communicate that I do not want a hard inquiry lodged against my credit score.
      Furthermore, any part of the transaction that seems to imply this might occur prompts me to remind the sales person of my wishes, and reconfirm that a hard inquiry will not be lodged.
      Take responsibility for performing a financial transaction in the free-market economic environment that is a fact of life here, in the United States, or move somewhere else where this situation does not occur.

      • SadSam says:

        @opticnrv:

        I’m sure you are correct, but I couldn’t figure out when I had signed something that gave them permission to pull my credit. I don’t give up my SS# freely and the only form I can recall that included my SS# was the Patriot Act forms that you have to fill out when making a $10,000+ cash transaction.

        Hence my surprise by the hard inquiry.

        • johnva says:

          @SadSam: It might have been illegal. Some car dealers are known to pull shady crap like pulling your credit report without asking. I would just dispute it on your credit report and request validation. Make them prove they were authorized.

        • GearheadGeek says:

          @SadSam: Patriot act… you mean you bought the vehicle with actual US currency over $10k, not with a cashier’s check or certified check?

      • johnva says:

        @opticnrv: Why do you assume they did ask? Car dealers are not the most ethical businesses out there.

      • Telekinesis123 says:

        @opticnrv: There should be a notice before you apply that “this could hurt your credit score”, and basically in the end *cost you money*. BOTH sides need to show responsibility and the credit card companies and banks purposefully try to keep people in the dark.

        So is your logic that our food shouldn’t be tested…you know we should be good little consumers and buy our own testing kits to see if it has melamine or lead in it?

  4. opticnrv says:

    “This is why it’s usually a good idea to apply for credit cards before you get a mortgage loan”?

    This train of thought seems counter-intuitive.

    Prior to this, you mention “If you’re going to get a mortgage or a car loan, a few points difference translates into a big chunk of change.”

    To me, this translates to 1) secure a mortgage 2) apply for credit cards. Why would you apply for credit cards PRIOR to applying for a mortgage loan, given the fact that the credit card applications will reduce your score by a few points, translating “into a big chunk of change” when you go to apply for a mortgage?

    • James Sumners says:

      @opticnrv:

      You apply for the card and wait for the ding to go away. Then you have more credit available to you which brings your score up. Since you now have a higher score than six(ish) months ago, you should be able to get an even better rate on the mortgage.

      If you apply for the credit card _after_ the mortgage, you have almost no chance of getting a good rate on the card. Also, your borrowing limit will be lower than if you did not have the mortgage (presumably).

      • johnva says:

        @James Sumners: Who care about the “rate” on your card? That only matters if you carry about a balance, which you shouldn’t do anyway.

      • opticnrv says:

        @James Sumners: I only ask because I was in a similar situation earlier this year.

        I had a good credit score, I wanted a mortgage, I wanted more credit cards (to furnish the home, and make improvements). I got the mortgage first, because the hard inquiries would have reduced my score. Then I applied for the credit cards. True, I didn’t get as high a borrowing limit, but the lending rate didn’t matter because I wanted to take advantage of the interest free periods these cards offered. Plus, I’m not convinced the additional cards would have improved my already excellent credit score had I applied for the cards BEFORE applying for the mortgage.
        I think this statement is too general to be of value. It doesn’t seem to apply in all situations (based on current credit score, the number of cards you currently have, and your plan of action and timing before and/or after a home purchase).

    • Bargaineering.com says:

      @opticnrv: That was a huge typo on my part, that should say you should NOT apply for cards before a mortgage.

  5. Corporate-Shill says:

    Somebody with an 780 score is going to be dinged how much for a single hard inquiry?

  6. t325 says:

    I was doing some comparison shopping for car insurance the other day, and Progressive wanted my SSN to give me the most accurate quote (I guess based on my credit) so I obliged and I assume they pulled my report. Would that be a hard or soft inquiry?

    • LatherRinseRepeat says:

      @t325:

      Soft inquiry. But that’s total bullshit. I have Progressive Auto Insurance. During the sign-up process, they ask for your SSN to “verify your identity”. But I’m pretty sure they perform a soft credit inquiry. Why? Apparently, people with good credit are better drivers and less risky to insure. I’ve got a pretty high credit score, so I’m not worried in that aspect. But I think they should be more honest about why they ask for your SSN.

      • supercereal says:

        @LatherRinseRepeat: Looks to me like they make it extremely clear why they want your SSN and credit information…numerous pages explaining it, which took all of 3 seconds to find, are right there on the application, :

        [www.progressive.com]

        • Johnyq1982 says:

          @supercereal:
          definetly a soft pull, I’ve seen it say so on my report.

          But progressive actually gives a you a graph of where you stand compared to their other customers, probably not a bad way of getting an idea of where you stand compared to other consumers (at least the bargain shopping insurance type).

          It also doesn’t effect you that much if you have a lower score, my brother has terrible credit, but similar driving record and our premiums are very close. It probably helps you get into a different tier if anything.

          • oneandone says:

            @Johnyq1982: GEICO did the same thing – soft pull for car+renter’s insurance. Interestingly, they suggested we get the renter’s insurance under the name of the roommate with the highest credit score, since it would be cheaper. We made extra sure that the policy covers property of both of the roommates, and went with the lower rate (about $20 cheaper per year – not much, but nice to have).

  7. xVAGUE says:

    The best way to make sure is to ask, then request a written response stating that it will either be a soft or hard inquiry (e.g transcript).

    This way if a company does do a hard pull even after they stated it would be soft, you can dispute it and ask the company to resolve it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I was house shopping in 2007 and got pre-approved for two mortgages–one from BOA and one from a local bank. When I applied for the first mortgage through BOA, my credit score came back as 800. When I applied for the second a month later, it came back as 730. I was dumbfounded.

    My agent did some research and found out that Bank of America ran three separate credit reports, which severely damaged my score. She said she would try to have the damage reversed, whatever that means, and that my score should go back to normal within a few months. I haven’t checked my score since then but will be checking it in January to make sure all is well.

    • snowburnt says:

      @DuncanHespera: It was my impression that if a single lender checked your credit repeatedly in a small amount of time, or even multiple ones within 30 days it only affected your score as though it was one hit

  9. maztec says:

    I had a credit card that dropped my overall score by nearly 200 points, because every week the company would do a hard check again. They swore they were not doing a hard check, that it was a soft check. But, it was showing up on my records as hard checks and my score had gone from near 800 down to 600 and some days less. I fought with them for almost two years before they fixed it. I should have saved myself the time and dropped them within the first three months of this problem. They would stop the checking for a few weeks, then resume it every complaint. But swear that it was all soft checks, not hard.

    This ruined my credit score for a long time and as a result every time I applied for something I would initially be denied. I would have to go in to whoever ran the check, ask them to look over the line items, and note that my credit card company was responsible for my low score due to their incessant hard checks.

    The credit card company even did this when I had a 0 balance. I honestly believe they were doing this for three reasons: 1) to keep me from swapping to another agency because my score was so low I couldn’t get a decent rate offer, 2) to check to see if I was using credit somewhere else, and 3) to get me to cancel the card because it was too good of a deal.

    I finally did solve the problem by closing my account with them. The problem? They kept doing credit checks for 6 more months until I reported them to every credit agency as harassing me. Once the agencies received my letter the checks mysteriously stopped.

    Now, it could be assumed that this was a cheap card. I admit, I had a great interest rate, air miles, and a very high limit. It was for all intents and purposes the best credit card I ever had. The one I have now does not stand up to it, except my credit score is nearly fully recovered. Thing is, it was a large, mainstream bank that had issued the card and was doing this.

    So, watch your credit card companies and make sure they are not making repeated hard checks. It is a nightmare and if you cannot get them to stop it immediately, drop them and do not look back. They will ruin your credit score for no reason at all.

    • elisa says:

      @maztec: What company was this, if you don’t mind my asking? That seems like a really sucky practice, I’d like to avoid them.

    • bwcbwc says:

      @maztec: I wonder what would’ve happened if you had reported them to the agencies as harassing you while you still held the card…

      I know that most banks will periodically run a soft check on your account, especially if they are giving you one of their promo rate offers. They can adjust the offer according to your score. But repeated hard-checks is (are) HARSH!

      I doubt this was malicious to get you to give up the card. They have other tools at their disposal for that. More likely it was a botched piece of code in their mailing software that flagged the account for a hard check rather than soft.

  10. websyndicate says:

    I work in there credit industry and I will tell you that there is a lot more to credit than you think and 2 honestly its such a joke. The credit system is broke. I will put it in terms really quick. It goes Banks–>Providers—>Company I work for–> Then we talk direct connect with FMAC, FMAY, TU, EXP, EFX ext.

  11. bohemian says:

    The last time I checked my credit I had a bunch of both hard and soft checks from companies with undecypherable names. I have no idea who they were or why they were checking my credit and the reporting agencies were zero help.

    This industry must be regulated and nobody should be allowed to check your credit in any manner without a signed form from you allowing it.

    Seeing how many providers like cell phones and other services that do this, changing providers to get a better deal obviously will hurt your credit.

  12. rekoil says:

    One thing that will ding your credit more than it should is moving, particularly across a state line, because of the number of new accounts you generally have to open up – one time when I moved, I wound up with inquiries from two landlords, the phone and power company, auto and renter insurance, and I’m sure there was one or two more…I wasn’t checking my credit closely, but when I applied for a mortgage the following year, my broker mentioned the flurry of inquiries that were on the report.

    • Telekinesis123 says:

      @rekoil: Yeah you horrible horrible person for living your life…your a credit risk now! You see the insanity of this system?

  13. Telekinesis123 says:

    I’m starting to think that credit reporting is not something that should be in control of private businesses…

    • bohemian says:

      @Telekinesis123: It should not be the secret unregulated domain of private business. People would lose their minds if the government was doing this kind of big brother monitoring and judging of people.

      But really should some private business be allowed to do this level of big brother monitoring of you without your consent either??? The entire concept of credit monitoring and reporting needs to be heavily regulated and the consumer needs to have the upper hand. FICO should be required by law to provide you with everything they have on you at any time for free and should be liable for inaccurate information. People also need more say in who can ding their credit reports, and ability to get things removed.

      • Telekinesis123 says:

        @bohemian:

        Exactly, in either case the whole operation by necessity of its nature needs to be “big brother”, it cant be escaped, but at least a govt agency would be more accountable in not only accuracy but serving the recipient of those reports needs and not big business who’s only desire seems to be any excuse to *lower* your score for their benefit.

    • windycitygirl68 says:

      @Telekinesis123: I’ve been saying this for years. As another thread alluded to, moving can be hell on credit. We’ve moved on average every 2 years for my husband’s job, and our credit has really suffered with all of the inquiries that needed to be made just for basic living needs like housing, a job for me, utilities and a checking account. Three private companies should not be in control of our financial lives. After our current economic crisis is under control, I’d like to see some action in Congress regarding the credit reporting agencies.

    • bwcbwc says:

      @Telekinesis123: I dunno. I think we have just as much to fear from a secretive government database of financial relationships (attention all you folks who “fudge” your taxes), as we do from a set of secretive private databases of financial relationships. Individual privacy is a pipe-dream at this point, so the best I think we can aim for is transparency: No trade secrets allowed, open source algorithms so we know how the scores are calculated. Government standards for when a hard vs. a soft inquiry can be requested.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the rule: if you apply for credit, that’s a hard inquiry. It reflects your behavior.

    If a bank pulls your credit report for prescreen (preapproved or invitation to apply), account management (say to increase your credit line automatically), or if an insurer pulls it for underwriting, that’s a soft inquiry. It doesn’t reflect your behavior or count against you, unless the model is poorly built.

    Much confusion on this point around USA, whether soft or hard, FIC has said publicly that inquiries are only about 10% of their score. Also if you shop multiple places for a mortgage or auto loan, they dedupe within a 2 week window.

    The system ain’t perfect, but it beats the heck out of the old judgmental lending system it largely replaced.

    • bwcbwc says:

      @SaiMedusa: That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but it seems that doesn’t work out that way in practice. Witness hard inquiries being performed when a person opens a checking account or rents an apartment (or applies for a job).

  15. ekistics22 says:

    To protect my credit score and to protect my identity data, many months ago I placed a Security Freeze on all 3 of my credit reports. I also opted out of pre-approved credit offers, which minimized both hard and soft inquiries. So, I do not worry about hard inquiries negatively affecting my credit scores because I have removed the causes.

    George
    Editor
    [ivebeenmugged.typepad.com]

    • Bargaineering.com says:

      @ekistics22: A credit freeze is a great idea and while it does cause some minor headaches, I think it’s well worth it if you’ve been having credit report related problems.

  16. deadspork says:

    I’d like to add that sometimes a credit line increase request can be a “hard” inquiry, so be aware.

  17. Quizzle says:

    Excellent article – you’re right – people often don’t know the difference between a hard and soft-pull, but it can make a real difference in how it affects your score (short term).

    Quizzle built a tool that for a free soft credit pull and allows users to see their credit report and score – it’s important to know what’s on your report so you can find fraud, dispute incorrect information, and improve your score.

    Quizzle has enjoyed your blog for quite some time. Keep the great articles coming. The most important think is being educated!

  18. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    + Countrywide (stopped pulling sometime in 2007)
    someone please make a crack about countrywide and their epic fail.

  19. bsacc says:

    i used to have really bad credit and a ton of inquires because i kept trying to get a loan and refinance, but wouldnt get qualified. i worked with Unified Credit Services and got a whole lot of my negative stuff cleaned up. They told me that the soft inquires weren’t that big of a deal, but the hard inquires could be potentially harmful. However, if the hard inquires were all done in a close time frame, then they would only be counted as one by the FICO scoring system. Link: [www.unifiedcreditservices.com]

  20. lakorai says:

    Add MIchigan Educational Credit Union to the list of those who check for credit.

    They pull Equifax (which is usually the lowest credit score for most people because they are the most expensive for banks to use) for a checking account even without bounce protection.

    I told the lady that it’s not fair to pull a hard inquiry because I am not applying for any form of credit. A checking account is NOT a form of credit. It should be illegal for a bank to check your credit report for just a savings or checking account.

    Now checking Chex Systems? Absolutely they should check that. If you screwed a bank then the new bank should be allowed to know that information.

    Hard inquiries for BOUNCE PROTECTION ONLY.