Inquiries can appear on your credit report for several reasons. Inquiries, sometimes referred to as “pulls,” are requests to view your credit history. There are two types of inquiries that will appear on your credit report—hard and soft.
A soft inquiry will often show up if you pull your own credit report using a monitoring service or get it directly from the credit reporting agency. Sometimes a company you already have a business relationship with will pull your report before they make a marketing offer to you, resulting in a soft inquiry. If a potential employer checks your credit when you apply for a job, that would also be a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries do not impact your credit score and can stay on your credit report for two years.
Hard inquiries happen when you’re actively trying to get credit through an application process. Credit cards, mortgages, car loans and even some utility and cell phone accounts will trigger a hard inquiry. Because hard inquiries show that you’re potentially looking for new credit, they do impact your credit score. How much of an impact they have varies depending on your individual credit health and the scoring model used. Hard inquiries usually have less influence on your score than other categories like payment history and credit utilization.
Why do I have inquiries I didn’t know about?
An inquiry you didn’t expect may have resulted from a marketing offer made through a process called prescreening. Have you ever received a credit card offer in the mail that you didn’t request? It was likely because a lender made you a prescreened offer. Credit reporting agencies can give your name to lenders if you meet certain criteria for credit offers they may want to provide. Prescreening lets lenders pursue consumers for certain products. Anytime you’re prescreened for a credit offer, a soft inquiry will appear on your report. You can opt out of prescreening by filling out a form at OptOutPrescreen.com.
Unexpected inquiries can also occur if you requested an increase to a credit line you already had. The lender likely ran your credit history before they approved the increase. This is an easy one to forget about because the inquiry didn’t result in a brand new account.
Sometimes, the simplest reason might be the explanation—it’s easy to forget that you applied for a new account. It may have not been a credit card, but if you moved and changed utility companies or switched phone carriers, a hard inquiry may appear on your credit report.
If you’re sure you didn’t approve a specific hard inquiry on your credit report and are concerned that an inquiry you don’t recognize may be the result of fraud or identity theft, you should contact the lender directly. They should be able to investigate whether an application using your identifying information was fraudulent. If the inquiry was made in error, ask the lender to instruct each credit reporting agency that lists the inquiry to have it removed. If the inquiry was because of fraud, read our blog post "What to Do if You Don’t Recognize an Inquiry on your Credit Report". Steps include adding a fraud alert, placing a security freeze, contacting creditors directly to report potential fraud, signing up for a credit monitoring subscription and reporting the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission or your local law enforcement agency.