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Your Credit Report: Hard Inquiry vs. Soft Inquiry – What’s the Difference?

Finances | By Ron Hancock

When it comes to your credit, you may have heard the terms “hard credit check” or “soft credit check” – but what do they mean?

Soft Credit Check

When potential creditors request your credit report, they may use a soft check or inquiry. This type of inquiry provides a basic check of your credit score. A soft credit check will not have a negative impact on your credit score. Creditors don’t need your explicit permission to request this information, as it just shows what you would see on your own credit report.

For an example of a soft inquiry, say you received an application for student loan refinancing in the mail from a company like U-fi. Before you received those offers, the lender likely pre-screened your credit with a soft check. U-fi uses soft credit checks to see if you meet the minimum criteria for refinancing and find out what rates you qualify for. Getting your rate with U-fi won’t impact your credit score and it won’t cost you a cent.

Soft checks of your credit score are typically done by employers, insurance companies, landlords, and utility companies. They do soft checks on your credit report to understand how responsible you are with your finances. These organizations use your credit score and history to determine the likelihood that you’ll pay on time. This type of information can sometimes factor into whether you’ll have to pay a deposit for utility services.

Hard Credit Check

A hard credit check or inquiry is different than a soft check as it does have an impact on your credit score.  Because a hard credit check will affect your credit, it does require your permission.

A hard credit check is usually triggered by your active request (i.e., application) for a loan or extension of credit. When you apply for a student loan or another type of loan, the creditor checks your credit report to evaluate your eligibility. With a hard credit inquiry, the lender looks at your credit report in much more depth to determine your creditworthiness before granting or denying you that loan.

Hard credit checks are often done by mortgage lenders, auto lenders, and credit card companies. These types of credit checks do have an impact on your credit score because they show you are actively seeking new credit. While a hard check usually has a limited impact on your credit score, its impact depends on your individual circumstances. You may still want to minimize the number of hard inquiries on your credit report just to be safe, since a high number of hard checks in a short time shows potential lenders that you might need a lot of money. This can be seen as a bad indicator if you are looking for a student loan.

If you’re considering refinancing your student loans, U-fi can identify the best rate you qualify for using a soft credit check and we’ll only trigger a hard check when you’re ready to accept the loan.

Credit Score Tip: When you’re looking for a loan pre-qualification or a rate quote, make sure to read the fine print to find out what type of initial check the lender will make on your credit report. Just remember that once you formally apply for the loan, the creditor needs to make a hard credit inquiry and review your credit score and history in much greater detail.

If you need to borrow private loans to help pay for college, be smart about it. That’s what U-fi is here for, and we’ll only use a soft inquiry to check the rates you qualify for. Get started with U-fi today.

Ron Hancock

Written By:

Ron Hancock is the Regional Director for U‑fi Student Loans and is an expert in many aspects of financial aid, student loans, and debt management. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Ron has worked in a number of areas of higher education finance, including positions in a college financial aid office, training and development for a state agency, and most recently as National Manager for Nelnet’s Partner Solutions team. Ron has spoken at numerous financial aid conferences all across the United States.

View all posts by Ron Hancock