Will Multiple Loan Applications Hurt My Credit Score?

Couple signing loan documents
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When you're shopping for a new home or auto loan, you'll probably apply for several loans to get the best interest rate. Or, perhaps you're shopping around to find a lender who you know will approve your application. What you may not know is that a mortgage broker or auto salesman may make the applications for you, so you may not be completely aware that multiple applications have been made for you until you see them on your credit report. Once you understand that credit inquiries have a negative impact on your credit score, you may become worried that rate shopping will hurt your credit score.

Here's what you need to know.

What Are Hard Inquiries?

Loan inquiries are "hard" inquiries, meaning they're the result of an application you've made. These are the kinds of inquiries that can hurt your credit score. Inquiries are 10 percent of your credit score and remain on your credit report for two years. Only the inquiries from the past 12 months are included in your credit score.

What Rate Shopping Means for Your Credit

Many credit scoring calculations are forgiving when it comes to boworroers who are rate shopping—they don't treat all inquiries the same. In fact, mortgage, auto, and student loan inquiries receive special treatment because credit scorers realize that you are looking for the best rate—not trying to apply for several mortgages, auto, or student loans. The exact impact of multiple loan inquiries all depends on the credit scoring model that's used.

First, inquiries from these lenders aren't included in your credit score at all for the first 30 days after they are made. Your credit score won't drop because of the loan application and it won't make it harder for you to get approved.

The 45-Day Window

Thirty days after you've made the first application, all the applications made within a period of time are treated as a single inquiry in your credit score. That time period varies from 14 to 45 days depending on the credit scoring model that's used to pull your credit score. The newest credit scoring models use a 45-day window for rate shopping. So, whether you make 5 or 15 applications, they'll count as just one inquiry for your credit score—depending on the type of credit score, of course.

Always Proceed With Caution

It's worth noting that the rate shopping exception for multiple inquiries only applies to mortgage, auto, and loan applications. If you're making multiple credit card applications, for example, each inquiry is treated as a single inquiry no matter how many you make and the time period you make them. Your credit score can potentially drop with each new credit card application.

While multiple loan applications can be treated as a single inquiry in your credit score, even that single inquiry can cause your credit score to drop. However, the impact to your credit score should be the same as if you'd applied for just one loan. Also, it will decrease over time as you minimize your future applications and make all your payments on time.

Should I Still Rate Shop?

While you need to be smart (and cautious), don't let the fear of what could happen to your credit score keep you from shopping around for the best terms. Comparative shopping is always the wisest move to make, especially when you're financing a major purchase like a home or car.