What Is a Soft Credit Check?

Definition and Examples of a Soft Credit Check

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A soft credit check is a type of inquiry that doesn't affect your credit score. It happens when you check your own credit, or a lender pulls your credit when deciding whether to issue you a pre-approval offer. It can also occur when someone who is not offering you a loan, such as a potential employer, checks your credit with your permission.

Although these soft inquiries will show up on your credit report, they are different from hard inquiries, which are tied to loan or credit card applications. Learn what kinds of credit checks count as soft inquiries, how they differ from hard inquiries, and how they affect you.

What Is a Soft Credit Check?

Whenever a business checks your credit, an inquiry is placed on your report. Credit bureaus are required to track these inquiries in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which gives you the right to know who is looking at your credit history.

When you check your credit report, you will see a list of these inquiries toward the end of your report. While all fo the inquiries appear in a list together, they are actually divided into two types of credit checks: hard inquiries and soft inquiries.

A soft inquiry, sometimes referred to as a "soft pull," is made on your credit report whenever you check your credit report, a business checks your credit report for promotional purposes, or a business you already have an account with checks your credit report. Many soft inquiries are made without your permission. Fortunately, they do not affect your credit score, no matter how many of them appear.

  • Alternate names: Soft credit inquiry, soft credit pull

How a Soft Credit Check Works

Soft inquiries usually occur when someone checks your credit report for a reason that's unrelated to an application for new credit. For example, this could happen when you're applying for an apartment, if your landlord wants to make sure you have a reliable payment history. A credit card company might make a soft pull when it wants to pre-approve you for a new card offer. A new employer might ask permission to check your credit, because you'll be responsible for finances in the business. Each of these events would usually result in a soft inquiry.

Soft inquiries get these companies the information they need, but they can't be used to give you official approval for a loan. For that, they'll need to make a hard credit check.

Soft Inquires vs. Hard Inquiries

Credit bureaus place hard inquiries on your credit report whenever a business checks your credit report to approve your application for a credit card, loan, or another credit-based service. Along with new credit accounts, hard inquiries count for 10% of your credit score. While they will stay on your credit report for two years, their impact on your score gradually declines.

Credit bureaus usually count multiple hard inquiries for loans within a short time period as one inquiry. That makes it possible for consumers to shop for the best loan without dinging their credit score multiple times.

Occasionally, a business will check your credit report for reasons other than to grant you credit. For example, rental car companies sometimes check credit if you are not using a major credit card. If you have questions about whether an inquiry will be hard or soft, you can ask the company that is pulling your credit report.

If you are trying to maintain a good credit score—and especially if you are planning to apply for a major loan soon—it's best to minimize hard credit inquiries.

How Soft Inquiries Affect You

Not only do soft inquiries not affect your credit score, they're not even visible to lenders when they check your report. They're only visible to you when you pull your own credit report.

Keep in mind, though, that if you pull a copy of your credit report and provide it to a business to review, the soft inquiries will appear, since it is your version of your credit report.

Key Takeaways

  • A soft credit check is a type of inquiry that does not hurt your credit score.
  • These credit inquiries are usually unrelated to a loan or credit application.
  • Common soft inquiries include credit card pre-approvals, employers, landlords, and any time you pull your own credit report.