Having your credit checked can sometimes reduce your score — but not always. Credit bureaus separate inquiries into two categories: hard pulls and soft pulls. Hard pulls generally lower a credit score, while soft pulls leave them unchanged.
Hard credit pulls generally affect credit scores for only six to 12 months; if done sparingly, they probably won’t make or break your chances of getting approved for a given line of credit. Still, if consumers aren’t cautious about how many hard pulls they’re allowing, it can be easy to lose sight of the overall combined effect. That’s why knowing the difference between a hard pull and a soft pull can mean maintaining precious points on your credit scores — and save you money in the long run.
This quiz about what constitutes a soft or hard pull illustrates the difference so you can better manage your credit scores.
1. Checking your own credit report
Answer: Soft. You’re likely to check your personal credit reports to see your credit-use habits. Most folks are simply trying to find ways to improve their score. For this reason, checking your own credit report is a soft pull and will not result in any damage to your score.
2. Applying for a car loan
Answer: Hard. Accessing your credit report when applying for credit (auto loans included) almost always results in a hard pull. Even so, credit rating agencies understand that customers who shop around for rates on car loans aren’t doing so with the intention of opening multiple accounts. A stream of pulls concentrated into a short time is generally treated as a single inquiry, and therefore has only a minimal impact on credit.
Nerd Tip: Don’t worry about third parties doing hard pulls on your credit without your consent. Lenders always have to receive permission from the borrower before initiating a pull that can negatively affect credit.
3. Getting preapproved for a mortgage
Answer: Soft. Good news for prospective homebuyers: Pulls associated with mortgage preapproval are considered soft. Applying for preapproval is often done to show sellers and agents that buyers are serious about making an offer on (and are capable of purchasing) a home. Rating agencies usually don’t view mortgage preapprovals as signs of added borrower risk, so there’s no negative impact.
4. Requesting a credit line increase on your card
Answer: Usually hard. Requesting several credit line increases may be viewed as a sign of desperation, so such requests are typically considered a hard pull.
This article updated July 6, 2016. It originally published April 23, 2015.