So, here’s the short story: the main difference between the two types of credit inquiries (or pulls) is that soft credit inquiries will not impact your credit score, while a hard credit inquiry could. Pretty simple, right? Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s dive into the details of both soft and hard credit inquiries below.

What is a Soft Credit Inquiry or “Soft Credit Pull”?

As we mentioned, soft credit inquiries/pulls have no impact on your credit score. If there are soft inquiries listed on your report, keep in mind that they’re only visible to you – lenders won’t be able to see these inquiries, so they’ll have no influence on your perceived creditworthiness from their point of view.

There are two types of soft credit checks:

Marketing pre-screen credit checks

  • Pre-approval letters for loans or credit cards you receive in the mail

Consumer-initiated inquiries

  • Checking your credit score through Equifax, Experian, or Transunion
  • Opting in to “check your rate” or “see if you pre-qualify” processes

Pro tip: If you’re unfamiliar with some of the company names you see on your credit report, it may be the result of the marketing pre-screen credit checks companies use to pre-approve you for their products.

Common Soft Credit Inquiry triggers may include:

  • Employment verifications
  • Background checks
  • Using a third party to check your credit history/report
  • Promotional mail-in offers
  • Insurance quotes

What is a Hard Credit Inquiry or “Hard Credit Pull”?

You’ll mainly come across hard credit inquiries/pulls when you submit an application for a line of credit or loan and when a lender pulls your credit report to determine if you qualify for said line of credit or loan.

As a reminder, these are the types of inquiries that may have an impact on your credit score.

While a single hard inquiry may only decrease your credit score a few points (at the most), having multiple hard inquiries within a short period of time could have a significant impact on your score. Avoid making many inquiries at one time at all costs – lenders may consider this to be a sign that you could be struggling financially, and as a result, consider you a high-risk customer.

Common Hard Credit Inquiry triggers may include:

  • Applying for a mortgage
  • Applying for a credit card
  • Applying for a loan (student, business, personal, or auto)

To help you keep track of hard inquiries, be sure to check your credit score once a year – take advantage of the free consumer credit reports that Equifax, Experian, and Transunion offer annually to ensure that your credit score is what you expect it to be and that the inquiries listed are accurate. It’s a wise move to check your standing with the bureaus on a revolving basis – if you request your free credit report from a different bureau every four months, you’ll have a good idea of the state of your credit throughout the year.

A Brief Review

Here’s a simple graphic detailing when you should expect to encounter hard inquiries, in addition to times when only a soft pull is the norm; Feel free to study it here or take it for the road.