If you’re wondering how to remove a credit inquiry from your credit report, there are a few points to think about before you start the process.
First, it helps to know there are two types of credit inquiries: hard and soft. Both types of inquiries will appear on your credit report, but hard and soft inquiries are different: Only hard inquiries can affect your credit score; soft inquiries don’t.
So, when you want to remove an inquiry from your credit report, it’s the hard credit inquiries you’ll be focused on.
You’ll be looking for issues like credit reporting errors or an unauthorized hard inquiry — which can indicate an identity thief has used your Social Security number or other personal I.D. — to determine if you can remove inquiries from your report and whether it’s worth doing so. (More on that below.)
You can seek to remove inaccurate hard inquiries from your credit report by filing a dispute or a credit inquiry removal letter with the three major credit bureaus.
But you can’t remove hard inquiries from your credit report if they’re accurate. In these cases, you’ll have to wait for any accurate information about hard inquiries to fall off your credit report, which usually occurs automatically after two years.
You can find out if anyone has conducted a hard inquiry — also known as a hard pull or hard credit check — on your credit history by viewing a copy of your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re entitled to a free credit report (visit annualcreditreport.com), and you can use it to determine if a creditor has made a hard inquiry.
The (FCRA) also dictates that credit bureaus must inform consumers when a creditor completes a hard inquiry by noting it on their credit report.
If, while looking at your credit report, you notice a hard inquiry that you didn’t initiate by seeking a line of credit, such an inquiry could be the result of identity theft.
To challenge the accuracy of a hard inquiry on your credit report, you can write a dispute letter to a credit bureau, file a dispute online or call the bureau directly. Before you do, plan to have a copy of any supporting documentation that shows why you believe an error has been made.
However, keep in mind credit bureaus will only be at liberty to remove a hard inquiry from your credit report if you can prove it was reported inaccurately or the result of identity theft. Everything on your credit report that looks suspicious might not actually be fraud.
For instance, the name of a bank may not seem familiar because it’s tied to a store credit card: The bank name — not the store — will appear on the report. You know you bought an item at Banana Republic, Belk or Old Navy, but you probably won’t recognize the name Synchrony Bank, which is the bank behind these branded credit cards and scores of others. Comenity Bank provides a similar service.
If you still suspect a hard inquiry has occurred in error, contact the lender and confirm the account information listed on your report. If it turns out there is indeed an error, ask the lender to contact the credit bureaus and have them remove the item from your reports.
It’s also a good idea to report any fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, which has an online guide with steps to recover from identity theft and will provide you with a personal recovery plan in response. Being prepared for fraud and reporting it are ways to protect your own credit.
And to ensure it doesn’t happen again, contact one of the three credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. (The credit bureau you contact will share the credit information with the other two credit reporting agencies.)
In addition to the possibility of freezing your credit, a fraud alert will let creditors know they should use additional measures to verify your identity to guard against fraud. It won't impact your credit score or hinder you from applying for credit — and it’s free.
Your credit report is a detailed history of your credit compiled by one of three credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your credit score, by contrast, is a number designed to gauge the quality of your credit. That number is based on one of two credit scoring models, produced by different companies: FICO® (the Fair Isaac Corporation) and VantageScore.
Hard inquiries generally take place after you apply for a credit card or a personal, car or student loan. Would-be lenders conduct a hard pull to determine if you meet their standards for granting a loan: for example, having a good enough credit score to buy a car.
As you can see, you’re largely in control of hard inquiries — at least under normal circumstances when no identity theft or reporting errors have occurred. This is good news because repeated hard inquiries can damage your credit, so if you see one in your credit file that you didn’t initiate, it may be worth following up.
A soft inquiry, on the other hand, simply means someone has run a credit check on you. You can even perform a soft credit inquiry yourself without applying for a loan just by checking your credit score or by asking a bureau for a copy of your credit report.
But whether you or someone else performs a soft credit inquiry, the important point to remember is that it won’t impact your credit score because soft credit inquiries are unrelated to applying for credit.
You won’t be penalized for a soft inquiry because it doesn’t mean anything negative about you or your personal finances. Repeated hard inquiries, on the other hand, can indicate financial instability and damage your good credit.
Repeated hard inquiries in a short timespan can indicate you’ve been unsuccessful in securing a loan because of a bad credit score, or you are applying for more credit than you can afford to repay. In short, potential lenders see you as a financial risk, and your FICO score or VantageScore will reflect that belief.
That said, hard inquiries don’t always hurt your credit score significantly. If you’re shopping around for a mortgage or auto loan, different mortgage finance companies or auto dealerships may conduct hard pulls on your credit in a brief time period. As long as they all occur roughly within a 14-day window, they’ll only appear on your credit score as a single inquiry.
Other hard inquiries that won’t affect your credit score include credit checks conducted by utility companies, auto insurers and credit card companies to determine:
Sometimes, companies may approach you indicating you’ve been pre-qualified for a loan. (You may have seen credit card offers of this sort in the mail.) But being pre-qualified isn’t the same as pre-approval. It’s a less rigorous review that indicates you’re a candidate for a loan, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get approved with the credit card issuer once you submit the actual application.
In fact, applying for a credit card can affect your credit because it's generally a hard inquiry. If you suspect you might be rejected or don’t need the credit, it may be wise not to apply — not just to avoid the hard pull, but because opening too many new credit accounts can hurt your credit, too.
Something else that counts as a hard inquiry: requesting a credit limit increase.
Overall, hard inquiries aren’t too detrimental to your credit score. They may negatively impact your credit score by a few points per hard inquiry, but creditors don’t weigh these inquiries very heavily compared to other factors like delinquencies and loans that have been listed as a charge-off on your credit report and gone into collections.
Usually, even if you have an incorrect hard inquiry on your credit report, disputing it might be a waste of time because your credit score is unlikely to change — and even if it does, the difference won’t be significant.
Hard inquiries aren’t like other negative items on your credit history. Not only do they have less of an impact on your credit score, but they also don’t remain on your history as long as major negative items, such as loans that have gone into collections or bankruptcies.
In contrast with late payments past 30 days overdue, for instance, which stay on your credit report for seven years, hard inquiries will only remain on your credit profile for two years. In addition, they will typically impact your credit score no longer than 12 months before becoming irrelevant and outdated.
It’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports for any sign of suspicious activity. Credit monitoring will help ensure you won’t be surprised by any potential errors you might find.
It’s also helpful to know your credit score before you apply for credit, so you can compare it to what lenders typically consider creditworthy. For instance, FICO credit scores are broken down as follows: 
The lower your credit score, the higher the interest rate you can expect to pay. But if your score is too low, many lenders will decline your loan application altogether. Your credit application will keep getting rejected, and any records of hard inquiries will go into your credit file.
For example, you’ll typically need a minimum FICO score of 620 to qualify for a mortgage (or 500 for an FHA loan).
The recommended credit score for buying a car is 660, which will secure around a 7.5% interest rate. You can get a non-prime or subprime loan with a lower credit score but expect to pay significantly more in interest. The recommended score when applying for a personal loan is 670 to 739. While you can receive a personal loan with a lower credit score, fewer lenders will likely approve you and, again, your interest rate may be higher.
The upshot is, if you know your score is good enough to qualify for a loan, you can fill out the application. But, if you are new to credit or have a less appealing credit history, consider using other credit building methods like getting a credit builder loan.
Conversely, you can avoid multiple rejections while rate shopping — and multiple hard inquiries that could damage your credit — if you’re aware ahead of time that your score likely won’t qualify as creditworthy in the eyes of most lenders. Shopping for the best rate when you know your credit score is relatively low can result in multiple hard pulls that will lower that score even more.
Knowing how hard inquiries can affect your credit score and your options if you believe you may have been the victim of fraud are two important ways to ensure you have the best credit possible moving forward.
Lauren Bringle is an Accredited Financial Counselor® with Self Financial – a financial technology company with a mission to increase economic inclusion by helping people build credit and savings so they can build their dreams.
Our goal at Self is to provide readers with current and unbiased information on credit, financial health, and related topics. This content is based on research and other related articles from trusted sources. All content at Self is written by experienced contributors in the finance industry and reviewed by an accredited person(s).