If you’ve applied for credit recently – maybe for a store card over the holidays – you may have come across the term “inquiry.” Even if you’re not familiar with credit inquiries, it’s critical to understand what they are, how different ones work, and what they mean. Fortunately, we have answers to your credit-inquiry questions here.
What’s a credit inquiry?
A credit inquiry is a credit check. It’s a request to view your credit by lenders — retailers, financial institutions and others who are legally allowed to see your credit report.
Types of inquiries: hard and soft.
A hard inquiry happens when a potential lender looks at your credit report and uses that information to decide whether to offer you credit and what the terms of the offer might be. Think of hard inquiries as the types of credit checks that happen when you apply for credit, whether it be a credit card, mortgage, car loan or other type of financing. Hard inquiries must be made with your permission and in connection with specific transactions.
A soft inquiry, on the other hand, is more of a routine credit check that doesn’t need to be done with your permission. Importantly, soft inquiries won’t show up on the credit reports potential lenders request to evaluate your creditworthiness. Soft inquiries can happen for a variety of reasons. One example is when potential lenders check your credit report to determine whether to make you eligible for any pre-approved offers. Another happens when one of your existing creditors checks your credit to make sure you’re still creditworthy. A soft inquiry is also triggered every time you check your credit.
One other thing to note: if you would like to see credit reports listing all your inquiries, soft and hard, check your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why inquiries matter.
The first thing you should know is the kinds of credit reports potential lenders see will only list hard inquiries, not soft ones. In that sense, hard inquiries are the ones that “count.” That’s because credit scoring models usually factor in the number of hard inquiries you have when they’re calculating your credit score. Generally, credit scoring models tend to associate a high number of hard inquiries, especially if they’re made within a relatively short period of time, with a high credit risk. It’s important to watch the number of hard inquiries you make because too many of them may affect your ability to get credit at the lowest-available rates.
Do inquiries remain on your credit report forever?
In short, no. They are automatically removed 2 years from the date they first show up on your credit report. As with other aspects of credit, the more time that passes, the less effect hard inquiries may have.
Loan shopping and inquiries.
Let’s say you’re shopping for a mortgage or car loan and want to find one with a good rate and other terms that work best for you. After all, especially with big purchases, you want to make sure you get the best financing you can. But every time you apply for credit, a hard inquiry happens. Does that mean you shouldn’t shop around for a loan?
Fortunately, no. Credit scoring models tend to account for this kind of activity. Generally, credit scoring will count several inquiries made over a relatively short period of time, like 45 days, as one single inquiry. That way, you won’t necessarily get penalized for causing several hard inquiries while shopping for one loan.
Inquiries are a key, and often misunderstood, part of credit. But they aren’t everything. While you want to pay attention to how frequently you apply for credit, credit health encompasses much more than just hard inquiries. Keep an eye on your hard inquiries, but don’t lose sleep over them, especially if you’re paying your bills on time, not using too much of your available credit, and otherwise practicing healthy credit habits. In other words, keeping your hard inquiries in check should be just part of a healthy-credit new year’s resolution!