Do Credit Checks Always Hurt Your Credit Score?
By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
December 15, 2009
Every time someone applies for a credit card, mortgage, or auto loan, the card issuer or bank do a credit check as part of evaluating the application. These inquiries show up on the credit report as credit inquiries. The number of credit inquiries over the past twelve months makes up about 10% of FICO scores. This is why it’s best not to apply for credit cards or loans too often, as it may hurt your credit score.
But what about other types of credit checks? When you apply for a job or are looking to rent an apartment or house, prospective employers or landlords often check the applicant’s credit. Similarly, many insurers or wireless companies will also pull your credit report when considering an application. Do these credit inquiries hurt your credit score as well?
It depends. There are two types of credit pulls, referred to as a “hard pull” and a “soft pull” or “hard credit check” and “soft credit check.” If you are the one who indirectly initiate the credit inquiry, because you’re applying for a loan or credit card, it’s a “hard pull”. A hard pull is a voluntary inquiry, which is done with your consent, and it will count towards your credit score.
A soft pull, on the other hand, is an involuntary inquiry, which is done without your consent and in most cases even without your knowledge. For example, when credit card companies send out pre-approved credit card applications, they may do a soft pull to find consumers whose score falls within a certain range. Similarly, the credit card companies with which you have one or more credit cards may occasionally pull your credit report to evaluate your continued credit worthiness as a customer.
Your FICO score is only affected by the voluntary inquiries, i.e. hard pulls, listed on your credit report, and only from the past twelve months. A single inquiry impacts the FICO score minimally, but multiple inquiries, particularly within a small period of time will affect it. It is generally taken as a sign that you need credit badly, and therefore may be facing financial hardship.
Here is a list of the different types of pulls:
- Potential employers pulling your credit report as a part of a background check
- Your current credit card companies reviewing your continued credit worthiness
- Mortgage companies pre-approving you for a loan
- Banks with whom you are applying to open an account may do a soft pull to verify that you are who you say you are
- Your own checks of your credit report, which you can do for free once a year
- Banks and credit card companies do a hard pull when you apply for a mortgage, auto loan, or a new credit card
- Retailers do a hard credit check when you apply for a store credit card. (Consider this next time you’re tempted by that 10% discount on purchases. Is it really worth the effect on your credit score?)
- Some banks may do a hard pull if you are opening a checking or savings account; check your potential bank’s policy.
- Cell phone providers often do a hard pull before approving you for a wireless phone
- Some insurance companies will do a hard pull when you apply for insurance
- When starting up utilities, such as telephone service, gas or electric, the companies may do a hard pull.
If you’re concerned about someone doing a hard credit check without your knowledge, keep in mind that the company typically will alert you that they are going to run a credit check on you. If they ask for your Social Security number, it’s a sure indication that they will be pulling your credit report.
If you’re concerned about hard pulls, check this comprehensive list at FatWallet.com of companies that tend to do a hard credit check.