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What's the Difference Between Hard and Soft Credit Checks?

Dana George

Our Credit Cards Expert

Ashley Maready
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Credit scores don't tell our entire financial history. But they do give lenders, landlords, and potential employers a sense of how well we've managed our finances in the past. 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 asks your permission 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 when a hard credit check is conducted. 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:

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 if it sees 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. It wants to know the details of your financial history. So it conducts what's known as a "hard pull" or "hard credit check." This hard pull allows the credit union to take a deep dive into your credit file by ordering a copy from a credit reporting bureau.

The credit union learns which financial institution first granted you credit, your payment history, and your credit rating. Between your loan application and credit report, the credit union gets an outline of your financial past.

It also gets 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.


Getting approved for a credit card

Check credit score requirements before applying for a credit card. Some credit cards only approve people with excellent credit. Others are made especially for people with low or no credit. Here are our favorite credit cards organized by credit score requirements:

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 want to judge if 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.

In contrast to a hard check, the person or business conducting the soft credit check doesn't necessarily need to obtain your permission to do so. Whether they do depends on the nature of the check. For example, pre-approved credit card offers don't require permission, but your possible future employer does. This is mandated by law. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) stipulates that only entities with a "valid need" can access a copy of your report.

So don't worry about someone getting their hands on your report and broadcasting it to the world. Only those with a valid reason for taking a look should be able to cast their eyes on it.


  • Say a credit card company wants to know if it should invite you to apply for one of its cards. That company can run a soft credit check without your permission. However, if it wants to run a hard credit check, it must get your okay first.

  • Around seven years. However, that doesn't mean your credit score will suffer for seven years. As long as you take steps to boost your score by making regular on-time payments and keeping your debt load low, your score will recover.

  • By law, you have the right to order a free copy of your credit report annually, from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Making a request on the site allows you to order all three at once. It's important to go over each report carefully, looking for any mistakes. When you find an error, dispute it with the reporting agency in question (you can easily make a dispute through the reporting agency's website). The reporting agency has only 30 days to prove the information it has is correct or to remove it from your credit report.