Hard credit inquiries are a part of determining your creditworthiness. A single inquiry is no big deal — expect a drop of around 5 points — but multiple hard credit inquiries can cause real damage to your credit score. Also, if you’re trying to build your credit or seeking a loan, even the smallest changes to your FICO score can make a big difference.
Noting that, it’s important to know when a hard inquiry of your credit is being carried out, and how long they remain on your credit report. More important is knowing if a hard credit check is legitimate. Erroneous hard inquiries or mistakes on your credit report could be signs of identity theft.
Hard credit inquiries, explained
When you apply for some form of credit (like a credit card, a loan, or anything involving borrowing money from a bank), a lender first must check your credit. To do this, they conduct a “hard pull” of your credit report — basically, a thorough review of your entire credit history.
This enables a lender to see where you’ve finished in front (keeping payments current); where you’ve faltered (missing payments); or where you’ve failed (going into default or sent to collections). Based on this hard credit check, they can make a determination if you’re creditworthy enough to borrow money. This is all a natural and necessary step in the pursuit of credit. And it’s required by law — the Fair Credit Reporting Act, to be exact — for the three major credit bureaus to report hard credit checks.
Don’t confuse this with a “soft” credit check, like reviewing your own credit, or getting pre-approved for a personal loan with SuperMoney’s comparison tools. For instance, you could check your rates with the following lenders without hurting your credit score. However, if you accept the loan offer, then you may get a hard credit inquiry on your report.
How do hard inquiries affect your credit?
The problem is, although hard credit inquiries are a normal, required step in the world of lending, they can ding the credit score you’ve worked hard to earn. And they show up on your credit report, too.
And this can seem a bit unfair. To put your excellent credit at risk just to prove to a lender that your credit is excellent seems like a bit of a paradox.
The truth is, a hard inquiry doesn’t affect your credit all that much. A single credit pull can ding your FICO score only about five points. However, if you’re monitoring your credit every month, with a goal of reaching the coveted 800 Club, every point counts. That credit score impact usually falls away after 12 months, and you can expect it to disappear from your credit report after about two years.
Find out how long it takes to improve your credit score.
Spot incorrect hard inquiries
The simple answer: check your credit report, and check it annually. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from one of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion).
Review your credit report carefully. Is there anything that looks incorrect, or unfamiliar to you? Are there credit accounts listed in your name that you didn’t open? A loan or credit card that’s completely foreign? Are there credit checks listed that you didn’t authorize? Or just something that looks amiss? Remember, you need to authorize a hard credit pull; a prospective lender can’t go about it without your authorization.
Here are some examples of what unfamiliar credit checks might look like, according to Experian:
- If you’ve ever provided your Social Security number to a business or vendor you might be financing with, they might have assumed you were giving permission to pull your credit.
- It’s not uncommon for mortgage or auto lenders to disperse your loan/credit application to several lenders. They’re only trying to help you land a favorable interest rate, but it could appear like multiple credit checks on your report.
- Times when a credit check, like that from applying for a store credit card, might seem unrecognizable on your credit report. While it may not be in error, it’s always worth contacting your credit bureau if it seems suspicious.
Then there are credit checks that could point to fraud or ID theft. If you feel it’s on account of your credit or Social Security information being stolen, report it. If and when you’ve identified any erroneous hard credit checks on your credit report, the good news is that you can dispute them with any of the credit bureaus. And, you can take the steps needed to remove them from record.
Remove hard inquiries from your credit report, organized by credit bureau
Whether it’s an incorrect or suspicious-looking credit check entry or any other false bit of information on your credit report, you can dispute it and get it removed. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus of your choosing by phone, email or snail mail: Dispute Errors With Experian
Online: Experian dispute online
Mail: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, Tx 75013
Online: Equifax online dispute
Mail: Equifax Information Services, LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta 30374
Online: TransUnion dispute
Mail: TransUnion Consumer Solutions, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016
- Hard inquiries are a normal part of checking your credit standing. If you’re looking to borrow money for a credit card, car or house, lenders need to review your credit. This can pose a small impact to your credit score and report, but it’ll resolve itself within one to two years.
- Not all credit checks are created equal. Some hard inquiries may be questionable, in error, or on account of fraudulent activity. Thankfully, there are actions you can take to identify these errors and dispute them with one of the official credit reporting agencies.
- Review your credit report. It’s available to you once a year, free of charge. Keeping an eye on your credit report gives you better awareness to your own credit activity, so you can closely identify if any hard credit inquiries are worth disputing. While your full credit report is available for free annually, sign up with a legitimate credit score site so you can check your score and report, updated regularly.
- Protect yourself from identity theft — SuperMoney
- How to get a free credit report — SuperMoney
- How to dispute credit errors through Experian — Experian
- How to dispute credit errors through Equifax — Equifax
- How to dispute credit errors through TransUnion — TransUnion
- New UltraFICO score model debuts — SuperMoney
- How many credit bureaus are there in the U.S.? — SuperMoney
- Fast credit scores fixes — SuperMoney
- 5 ways to start building credit — University of Cincinnati
- 3 student credit-building tips — Brigham Young University
- What’s a credit inquiry? — Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Everything about hard and soft credit inquiries — U.S. Small Business Administration
- Get your free credit score — Annual Credit Report