Hard and soft inquiries, sometimes referred to as credit checks, are requests to view your credit report by lenders, landlords, employers and companies that are authorized to do so. Both hard and soft inquiries will show up on your credit report. However, only one type of inquiry impacts your credit score. Below are the important differences between the two you should know.

What is a soft credit check?

A soft inquiry can appear on your credit report when a company or person receives limited information to make a promotional offer or check your credit as a screening process. Only you can see soft inquiries on your credit report.

When are soft credit checks used?

Soft inquiries typically happen when a company receives information to make an offer of credit, like a pre-approved credit card or loan offer. When these promotional inquires happen, the company doesn’t receive your credit report.

Soft inquiries can also occur when an insurer pulls your credit for underwriting purposes, an employer verifies your credit or if a landlord screens you as a potential tenant. You may also see a soft credit check if you pull your own credit report for review.

What is a hard credit inquiry?

A hard inquiry will appear on your credit report when someone accessed your credit report in connection with an application for credit. Lenders can only access your credit report if they have a permissible purpose.

When are hard credit inquiries used?

Traditionally, you’ll see hard inquiries on your report after applying for traditional credit products like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. Generally speaking, if you fill out an application for a loan, it may require a hard inquiry.

Do credit inquiries affect your credit score?

Soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score. Hard inquiries can lower your credit score, thoughit’s one of the less influential credit score factors. The impact of hard inquiries on your credit score tends to lessen over time.

If you’re in need of a loan, bunching inquiries during a short time frame can help limit the negative impact to your credit score. For example, if you make several applications for a mortgage loan within a certain time frame, the scoring model will likely count all of them as a single inquiry. For lenders using the VantageScore 3.0® scoring model, that time frame is 14 days. This way, you can feel confident you’re getting the best rate while minimizing the impact on your credit score.

How long do credit inquiries stay on a credit report?

Both soft and hard inquiries can remain on your credit report for up to two years. Checking your credit report consistently is important. You want to make sure your credit report information is accurate. An unfamiliar hard inquiry could be a sign of fraud. If you see a hard inquiry you don’t recognize, a good first step is to contact the lender directly. Each company who requested your report will be listed, along with their contact information.

Hard vs soft pull: Key considerations

Generally speaking, hard inquiries show up on your credit report when you’ve filled out an application for credit and the company you authorized pulls your report to analyze your creditworthiness. Soft inquiries, which only you can see, appear for a variety of reasons, including promotional offers, employment verification and even you pulling your own report. Only hard inquiries affect your credit score, but all inquiries will stay on your credit report for two years.

Even though hard inquiries have a relatively minor impact on your score, they’re one of several important pieces of your credit report. To learn more about your credit report and how your credit report information can affect your credit, you can view this interactive credit report guide to help you understand each section.