Hard Vs. Soft Credit Checks: What’s the Difference?

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If you’re planning on moving into a new apartment or renting for the first time, you’ve probably thought more than once about how a credit check by a prospective landlord would affect your chances of locking down the place you want. But in order to properly gauge that, you need to understand the difference between hard and soft credit checks, and how they’ll affect your life now and in the future.

Hard Credit Checks

These investigations, also called hard pulls, are typically conducted by lending institutions such as banks, mortgage companies, companies that specialize in auto or boat financing, or credit card companies. In most cases, you’ll have to agree to this type of inquiry with the prospective lender.

As the name implies, a hard inquiry may lower your credit score by several points or not affect it whatsoever. Multiple inquiries in a short period of time may be more damaging, so avoid approaching several institutions at once. Space out your applications instead, waiting a few months between submitting one or two. If you apply for multiple loans all at once, it raises a red flag that lenders often take to mean the applicant is either in dire need of lots of immediate cash or on the brink of going deep in debt — and neither of those are particularly good looks for you.

Hard Credit Check Examples

Major leases and purchases are the most common instances in which hard credit checks are conducted. They include auto loan applications, major credit card applications, mortgage applications, personal loan applications, and student loan applications. In other words, any time you’re borrowing to lease or buy a big-ticket item, a hard credit check will likely be conducted.

Soft Credit Checks

Soft credit checks, a.k.a soft pulls, are commonly part of background checks conducted by prospective employers or non-profit/charitable groups that want people onboard with good judgment and clean records. Credit cards issued by private retailers also commonly run soft credit checks when you apply for a store credit card.

This type of inquiry has no bearing on your credit score. You may be able to see it on your report, but it’s not visible to national credit reporting agencies.

Simply put, the distinction between a hard and soft inquiry normally comes down to whether or not you granted the lender consent to check your credit. If you did, there’s a possibility it may be reported as a hard inquiry. If you did not, the inquiry should be reported as a soft pull.

Soft Credit Check Examples

Credit applications with lower risk to lenders typically fall into the soft credit check category. They most often include apartment rental applications, employment verification (i.e. background check), “pre-qualified” credit card offers, and “pre-qualified” insurance quotes. The only instances in which a hard credit check would be done for an apartment rental would be if you were trying to lease a luxury apartment that had a five or six-figure rental fee.

Exceptions

In some cases, credit checks show up as hard inquiries when they don’t involve large sums of money. These commonly include checks by cell phone providers, cable and internet companies, and utility providers (electricity, gas, water,).

FAQs

Will checking my own credit scores show up as a hard inquiry on my credit report?

No. Personally checking your score is considered a soft inquiry and will not have any negative effects.

Where can I check my credit scores and reports?

There are many agencies that offer this service, some for nominal fees and some at no cost to consumers. Most are easily accessible online, though some restrictions apply, so read the fine print carefully before you commit to any one agency. Some newer companies will even let you check your scores as often as you like with no penalties.

If I find mistakes on my credit report, how can I fix them?

Hard inquiries conducted without your permission may be a sign of identity theft, so contact the reporting bureau immediately. You can also contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to resolve the problem. Just be sure to contact someone as soon as you become aware of it, as identity theft can disrupt your life for many, many years. Just be sure you didn’t give permission for the inquiries before you file a complaint.

I’m trying to make a major purchase, so there are many hard inquiries on my report. How do I decrease the harmful impact of those inquests?

When you’re buying a home or car, the best way to get the deal you want is to shop around for the lowest interest rates. FICO, the granddaddy of credit reporting agencies, gives you a 30-day grace period before specific types of loan inquiries are included in your FICO credit scores. There are also other companies popping up every day that follow the FICO model, so check them out, too.

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