Hard inquiries are an ever-present aspect of credit and credit reporting. Though the impact of a hard inquiry will differ from person to person, too many hard inquiries can lead to trouble. Hard inquiries can even pose potential issues for major financial transactions, such as buying a home.
By understanding how inquiries work, and how to request them strategically, you can steer yourself away from the pitfalls of hard credit inquiries.
A hard credit inquiry is a request for credit information during the application process for a credit account. This includes a new line of credit or a loan. Your creditor will request to look at your credit file to see how much risk you pose as a borrower. Because this inquiry affects the lending decision, hard inquiries will affect your credit score. One inquiry can lower a credit score up to five points.
Scenarios that generate a hard inquiry include:
Hard inquiries are in-depth and look at multiple facets of a person’s credit history. But these aren’t the only inquiries that can be made. Soft inquiries, also known as soft credit pulls, occur when non-lenders view your credit information. These will not affect your credit score. They aren’t attached to a specific application for credit, and they are not meant to determine a credit qualification.
Specific instances that generate a soft inquiry include:
Soft inquiries do not have a negative impact on your credit score.
Experts recommended checking your credit report for inaccuracies and errors throughout the year. Each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — are required to provide one free copy of your credit report each year. You may also obtain your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.
In general, six or more hard inquiries are often seen as too many. Based on the data, this number corresponds to being eight times more likely than average to declare bankruptcy. This heightened credit risk can damage a person’s credit options and lower one’s credit score.
Hard inquiries are listed on your credit report for 24 months. However, they are used to determine a FICO score for only 12 months. Therefore, several hard credit inquiries within 12 months or less can impact your score. The impact will be more pronounced for individuals with a short credit history or those deemed as being higher credit risks.
Soft inquiries don’t drop your credit score, so there isn’t a number that could be considered too much.
Since multiple hard inquiries can negatively impact credit, how can anyone shop around for favorable rates? Fear not — there is a specific use of hard inquiries just for this situation. It is known as rate shopping.
Rate shopping refers to checking the offerings of several different lenders when you need to borrow money. Whether you’re planning on taking out a loan or applying for a mortgage, rate shopping helps you narrow down which lender works best for you, and it helps you save money.
This is true for all forms of loans and credit. Being curious about better deals, agents, or lenders is not penalized. Some lenders will only require a soft inquiry, anyway.
Most major credit scoring models group all hard inquiries within a 14-45 day window as the same inquiry. It is also generally advisable to shop within similar types of credit. Multiple car loan inquiries will fall under one inquiry, but a mortgage loan inquiry will count as a different inquiry.
In other words, focus on one credit need at a time.
Because hard inquiries are also listed as new credit accounts, having too many can lead to issues. Applying for too many credit accounts in a short time is generally an unwise credit practice.
To lenders, this behavior indicates a potential overdependence on credit accounts. In other words, too many hard inquiries make it appear as if you are routinely seeking financial help.
Sometimes, errors and even identity theft can lead to hard inquiries appearing on a credit report. These occurrences may not be noticed until the number adds up. This highlights the importance of routine credit report monitoring.
It is also worth noting that if a hard inquiry is legitimate, it can’t be removed. However, if you feel there are erroneous inquiries on your credit history, there are ways to deal with them. Follow these steps to remove a credit inquiry:
Keep in mind: You must prove that a hard inquiry is a fraud for it to be removed. Some inquiries will show up under a different name from the entity that handled the business. It is up to you, the customer, to perform your due diligence before reporting an issue.
Hard credit inquiries are a part of the credit process. And when used responsibly, hard inquiries and other uses of credit can highlight strong credit health to lenders.
There are five major factors that affect your credit score. A clean payment history that shows you pay your debts on time is the most important one.
However, you must also keep your total amount of debt relatively low. In other words, don’t max out any of your credit lines. Try to keep your oldest credit account open. And strive for a healthy mix of credit accounts, including new accounts.
Since hard inquiries count as new accounts, they have their place, but it is best to plan a favorable time to have them impact your credit, especially if you’ll be shopping around. When it’s time for your next credit need, here are some tips to help further minimize the impact of hard inquiries on your credit score:
Even with responsible use, hard inquiries will still impact your score. For major credit events, such as buying a house, try to avoid other hard inquiries a year prior as that could affect the specifics of a mortgage loan.
Everyone from the new card user to the successful CEO will have hard inquiries on their credit report. They are one of the many pieces of your credit history, and potential lenders like to see a strong history when assessing your creditworthiness.
Know that hard inquiries do impact your credit score. Normally, each hard inquiry will take around five points off a credit score. However, all hard inquiries of the same credit type within a short period of time are counted as a single inquiry. Think carefully before applying for multiple types of credit at the same time.
Too many hard inquiries can showcase poor credit skills that are unfavorable in the eyes of creditors. Luckily, maintaining healthy credit habits will help offset the damage of hard inquiries.
Jeff Smith is the VP of Marketing at Self Financial. See his profile on LinkedIn.
Ana Gonzalez-Ribeiro, MBA, AFC® is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and a Bilingual Personal Finance Writer and Educator dedicated to helping populations that need financial literacy and counseling. Her informative articles have been published in various news outlets and websites including Huffington Post, Fidelity, Fox Business News, MSN and Yahoo Finance. She also founded the personal financial and motivational site www.AcetheJourney.com and translated into Spanish the book, Financial Advice for Blue Collar America by Kathryn B. Hauer, CFP. Ana teaches Spanish or English personal finance courses on behalf of the W!SE (Working In Support of Education) program has taught workshops for nonprofits in NYC.