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Disputing hard inquiries on your credit report involves working with the credit reporting agencies and possibly the creditor that made the inquiry. Hard inquiries can't be removed, however, unless they're the result of identity theft. Otherwise, they'll have to fall off naturally, which happens after two years.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to inform consumers when a creditor or other business entity performs a hard inquiry, or "hard pull," on your credit report. They do this by noting the inquiry in your credit file.
Here's what you need to know about hard inquiries, how they affect your credit score and how to dispute one in your credit report.
What Is a Hard Inquiry?
A hard inquiry occurs when you apply for a new loan or credit card. It involves the lender checking one or more credit reports to determine whether you meet its creditworthiness criteria. This is also sometimes called a hard credit check or hard pull.
Hard inquiries differ from soft inquiries in two major ways. First, hard inquiries occur when you apply for a loan, credit card or other financing.
Soft inquiries, on the other hand, can happen upon your request—such as when you want to check your credit report—or even without your knowledge, which happens when lenders check your credit before sending you a preapproval offer.
Second, soft inquiries don't affect your credit score at all, while each hard inquiry typically knocks a few points off your credit score. The more hard inquiries you have on your reports, the riskier you'll be viewed by prospective lenders. Why? Because applying for different types of credit relatively often could indicate financial instability, and that translates to risk in a lender's eyes.
Hard inquiries stay on your credit reports for two years before they fall off naturally. If you have legitimate hard inquiries, you'll likely need to wait until the 24-month period is over to see them disappear.
Not all hard inquiries impact credit scores. When you're rate shopping for an auto loan or mortgage, you may have several hard inquiries, as lenders check your credit to determine what terms and rate to offer. As long as you apply for the loans within a 14-day period (or sometimes slightly longer), credit scoring models will consider them as one inquiry.
Should You Remove Hard Inquiries?
The idea of removing hard inquiries from your credit report to improve your credit score may sound appealing. But disputing a genuine hard inquiry on your credit report will likely not result in any change to your scores.
You can, however, dispute ones that are a result of fraud. This can happen when an identity thief uses your Social Security number and other personally identifiable information to open a new account in your name.
For most people, that one extra hard inquiry may drop your credit score by just a few points temporarily, but new lenders likely aren't going to decline your application for credit just because you have hard inquiries on your credit report. While hard inquiries take two years to fall off your credit report, typically their impact to credit scores lasts just a few months.
However, if you already have several hard inquiries on your credit report from the past couple of years or you have other, more serious, issues that are hurting your credit, one new inquiry could make it more difficult to get approved for a loan or credit card with favorable terms.
Disputing Inaccurate Hard Inquiries Yourself
It's important to check your credit reports regularly for accuracy. If, while doing this, you've noticed a hard inquiry on your credit report that you believe is the result of identity theft, you can file a dispute with each of the three national credit reporting agencies and petition to have them update the inaccurate information.
The first step is to review your Experian credit report through our Dispute Center and verify your information. Next, confirm that the inquiry was not a result of identity theft.
There may be situations where you don't recognize the name of a company that checked your credit or you don't remember applying for a loan with a company you do recognize. Here are a few scenarios when inquiries you don't recognize may be legitimate:
- You may have solicited a home repair and provided your Social Security number to the vendor, and they may have taken that as an authorization to check your credit for financing reasons.
- If you sought financing when you were shopping for a car, a dealership may have sent your loan application to multiple lenders to find you the most favorable interest rates. Multiple inquiries with company names that you don't recognize could show up from that time period. If they all fell within a window of a few weeks, they will be considered rate shopping and will only count as a single inquiry in credit score calculations.
- The same scenario could happen with mortgage applications. For example, you may have solicited mortgage rates online, where a website sent your application to multiple lenders to find you the best rate. Also, you may have worked with mortgage servicer who sent your application to a lender, and that lender may have checked your credit on behalf of the mortgage servicer.
- Another example when a hard inquiry may look like fraud involves store credit cards. National retail stores may use financial services companies for their store cards, and when inquiries are made, they may show up with company names you don't recognize. For example, if you apply for credit at Kay Jewelers, you may see an inquiry from "Comenity Bank/Kay" on your credit report.
If you don't recognize the company name that performed the hard inquiry, contact the company for more information. When you check your credit report through the Experian Dispute Center, the hard inquiry will be accompanied by the company name and typically the mailing address and a phone number.
If you have verified that the hard inquiry is due to identity theft, then the dispute would be handled over the phone with Experian specialists. You can visit our Dispute Center to find out support options. There is no charge to use this service.
Once you submit the request, you can track your progress through the Dispute Center. Generally, the dispute process will be done within 30 days. If the inquiry was found to be valid, it will not be removed from your credit report. However, if the investigation shows the inquiry was a result of identity theft, it will be removed from your report.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
It isn't common to find inaccurate information on your credit report, but it can happen. To avoid letting fraudulent and other erroneous information go unchecked, make it a goal to check your credit report regularly. Review what's listed and watch out for anything you don't recognize.
Also keep an eye on your credit score (you can check your FICO® Score☉ for free with Experian), and watch out for sudden drops that could indicate fraudulent activity, such as a bogus account opened in your name that's gone unpaid.
It's not always possible to prevent identity theft, but as you keep track of your credit history, you'll be in a better position to stop a difficult situation from getting much worse.