If you want any kind of credit product like a credit card or a loan, you’ll need to find a lender who’ll provide it. Responsible lenders want to know that their borrowers will be able to repay their debts so that they can lend responsibly and with less risk of non-repayment. For this reason, lenders perform a credit check on the people who want to borrow from them.
When applying for credit it helps to know the difference between the two types of credit check. You might see hard credit check or soft credit check being mentioned when you’re thinking of applying for a credit product. Both have a different impact on your credit score so it’s important you are aware of the differences between the two.
In our guide we’ll help you understand how both soft and hard credit checks work, the main differences between the two and their impact on your credit score.
About credit checks
Credit checks are a simple idea. A lender looks at your credit report to understand your financial history and habits. They use this information to work out whether you’re good at managing money and debt, and this helps them decide whether to lend to you or not.
Lenders don’t need your permission to run a credit check, but they do need a legitimate reason for doing so. Usually this will be because you have applied for one of their financial products.
What is a soft credit check?
A soft credit check or soft credit search is when a lender checks your credit report for something specific. This could be whether you keep up to date with your loan repayments or other credit commitments. Soft searches are sometimes called a ‘quotation search’.
A soft credit check will show the following:
- Your payment history
- Loan or credit card details
- Current levels of credit or debt
Often, companies perform a soft search credit check to find out whether you would qualify for one of their products before you complete an application. This is known as checking your eligibility. If you complete an eligibility checker on a lender’s website, this will tell them and you whether it’s worth you applying for that product.
A soft search credit check will show up on your credit report, but it can only be seen by you. This means it doesn’t matter how many soft searches you do, as each lender will only know about their own search. When you check your own record this is also seen as a soft search. Your credit report may also be accessed to identify you.
What is a hard credit check?
A hard search credit check is more thorough and detailed than a soft credit search, and it gives the lender the chance to search your entire credit report, including all loans and credit products. Lenders might perform a hard check to find out if you’re someone who has a history of managing money and debt well, or whether your track record shows that you’re likely to be a high-risk borrower. Hard searches can sometimes also be called a ‘credit application check’.
Hard searches are recorded on your credit report, so it’s important not to apply for too many credit products in a short space of time if those applications will trigger a hard search. Try to remember that it’s not just lenders who might carry out a hard search as utility companies and mobile phone providers might too.
On a positive note, if you’re searching for a new mortgage and lots of lenders run a hard search on you in a very short space of time, credit agencies will notice this. They understand that this kind of sudden activity is perfectly normal, and that it doesn’t mean you’re in financial trouble or desperate for credit. For this reason, they’ll group together those credit searches and class them as one single hard search on your credit record.
The differences between soft and hard credit checks
The difference you really need to know about is that soft searches aren’t visible to companies, but hard searches definitely are. No matter how many soft searches are made on your credit report, it won’t damage your credit score.
Hard credit searches do show up to companies and can count against you by lowering your credit score. Lenders get nervous if they think that you apply for credit too often. This can suggest that you’re desperate for credit. Lots of hard searches on your credit report will make you look like a high-risk borrower and can damage your credit score. A lower credit score can limit the kinds of credit that you can apply for.
Here’s a quick summary of those differences:
Soft search checks
- Invisible to companies.
- Don’t affect your credit score.
- Used for eligibility checks, identity checks and checking your own credit report.
- Soft searches stay on your TransUnion record for 24 months from the date of the search.
Hard search checks
- Visible to companies.
- Stay on your Experian or Equifax record for 12 months from the date of the search.
- Hard searches stay on your TransUnion record for 24 months from the date of the search.
- Can lower your credit score.
- Used when you apply for credit, loans, mortgages, utilities or mobile phone contracts.
The impact of credit checks on your credit score
Hard search checks can stay on your credit report for up to two years and can lower your credit score. It’s important to remember that making too many credit applications in a short space of time may make you look desperate for credit. If lenders believe you are desperate for credit, they may believe that you don’t manage your money well. The bottom line is that this will put them off lending to you. With soft search checks, it’s much simpler: they don’t show up on your record, and so they don’t impact on your credit score.
We’ve covered the difference between soft and hard search credit checks here, to help you understand who carries them out and why. We’ve also talked about the crucial difference between the two kinds of check, and the impact they can have on your credit rating.
Points to remember
- Hard search credit checks will show on your credit report and can damage your credit score so you should always think hard before applying for products that involve a hard search.
- That doesn’t necessarily mean don’t make the application, but it does mean you should consider the impact of an application and how often you apply for credit.
- There is a difference between how long credit searches are visible on your credit report depending on which credit reference agency you use to access your credit report.