Your credit scores can fluctuate monthly depending on your credit usage and payment history. While your credit scores are mostly tied to how you manage credit, there are situations where you may encounter errors on your credit reports that are out of your control, such as hard inquiries you do not recognize.
If you want to improve your credit, one step you can take is to remove any inaccurate or fraudulent inquiries from your credit reports. A credit inquiry is a record of when someone, such as a lender, has looked at your credit report. Hard inquiries can stay on your reports for up to two years and could negatively hurt your score.
While one or two hard inquiries will only dock your credit by a few points, it’s still crucial to pay attention to them, especially if you are trying to build credit or apply for additional loans in the future. Staying proactive about removing inaccurate hard inquiries can ensure that you keep your credit in good shape. We will walk you through what hard inquiries are, how they impact your credit score, and how to remove an unauthorized credit inquiry from your credit report.
- Your credit score is a major component of your financial health and well-being. It affects the types of financial products you qualify for and the terms and conditions of those offerings.
- If you see a credit inquiry on your credit reports that you do not recognize, you have the right to dispute it with the corresponding credit bureau.
- You dispute a credit inquiry in 4 easy steps.
Hard vs. Soft Inquiries
There are two types of credit inquiries. A hard inquiry, or credit pull, is when a lender or creditor checks your credit in response to an application for new credit, such as a loan or credit card. Lenders pull hard inquiries to check your creditworthiness and potential risk as a borrower. Before doing business with you, they want to know that you are a responsible borrower and have the means to pay off your debts.
When a lender does a credit pull, that can ding your credit score by up to five points. Hard inquiries will also impact your credit for one year and stay on your credit reports for two years before they naturally get removed. If you have a legitimate credit inquiry, you will likely need to wait until two years pass by before the inquiry disappears.
Not all hard inquiries will impact your credit scores. If you are shopping around for rates for an auto loan or mortgage, for example, you may have several hard credit inquiries. As long as you apply for the loans within 14 days, the credit scoring models will consider them as a single inquiry instead of multiple inquiries.
On the other hand, a soft inquiry is when someone checks your credit for non-credit purposes, like employment verification or insurance quotes. Unlike hard inquiries, soft inquiries do not impact your score at all. If you check your credit, that is also considered a soft inquiry and will not show in your reports or hurt your score.
The key difference is that the more hard inquiries you have on your reports, the riskier you will appear to lenders. If you have multiple hard inquiries in a short period, that could compound the damage done to your credit, as lenders may think you’re desperately trying to obtain new lines of credit.
The Impact of Credit Inquiries on Your Credit Score
A credit score is a number that represents your creditworthiness in the U.S. financial system. Lenders use your credit score to determine whether they should give you a loan and what terms to offer you. A high credit score means you are a low-risk borrower, which could lead to lower interest rates, better loan terms, and more product offerings.
Many factors go into your credit score, including your payment history, the amount of debt you have, the length of your credit history, and more. You can get free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® — which will give you an idea of where you stand financially. Alternatively, you can use a resource like Credit Karma to see your credit score.
If you have a low credit score, there are several steps you can take to improve it over time. These include making all payments on time, paying down debts so your credit usage stays low, and keeping your oldest credit accounts open even if you do not use them often.
Hard inquiries fall under new credit, which accounts for 10% of your credit score. Another factor to pay close attention to is your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of available revolving credit you’re using divided by the total amount of revolving credit you have access to. Financial experts recommend keeping your utilization ratio below 30%, though I typically keep mine below 10-15%. A high utilization ratio signals to lenders that you may be overextended and at risk of defaulting on future payments.
Disputing Inaccurate Hard Inquiries in 4 Steps
If you see a hard inquiry you do not recognize on your credit reports, it may be because:
- Someone committed credit card fraud using your personal information
- A creditor pulled your credit without your permission
- The credit bureau accidentally added the inquiry to your credit report
Closely monitor your credit reports to see if a fraudulent account appears following an unauthorized credit inquiry. If that happens, contact the creditor to close the account immediately. If a creditor pulls your credit without asking you or a credit bureau mistakenly adds a credit inquiry to your report, you need to take action because that could cause your credit score to dip.
Regardless of how the inquiry got there, you will want to file a dispute with any of the three major consumer credit bureaus and request that the bureau remove it. When you dispute errors in your credit reports, the credit bureaus are required to investigate the issue and correct any incorrect information.
While there are a few steps involved in the dispute process, it’s not as difficult as you would think. Here’s how you can dispute inaccurate inquiries:
1. Notify Your Lender
If you spot an unauthorized account on your credit reports, contact the lender immediately to close the account. Make sure you have all your personal information ready, including your address, account number (if applicable), etc. You will also want to have a statement prepared to notify them that you are disputing their inquiry. Additionally, request proof of authorization for each inquiry made under your name to verify them.
2. Send a Credit Inquiry Removal Letter
When sending a credit inquiry removal letter, include your full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. You will also need to include the date of the hard inquiry and the name of the company that made the inquiry. In your letter, state that you are requesting that the hard inquiry be removed from your credit report and provide any evidence to support your case.
Send your letter via certified mail so you can have proof that it was received. It may take time for the company to process your request, but if they do not remove the hard inquiries from your credit report within 30 days, you can file a dispute with The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
3. Send a Copy of Your Credit Report
Before you send out your credit inquiry removal letter via certified mail, attach a copy of the credit report with the unauthorized hard inquiries to help the bureaus reference your case easier. While the credit reporting agencies have access to your report, sending it with your request will make things easier for them.
4. Send the Letter to the Appropriate Credit Bureau
It is crucial to send the credit inquiry removal letter to the corresponding credit bureau with the record of the hard inquiry you want to remove. Below is the information for the three bureaus:
Dispute Errors with Equifax
Equifax Information Services
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
(886) 349 – 5191
Online: Equifax’s Dispute Page
Dispute Errors with Experian
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
(888) 397 – 3742
Online: Experian’s Dispute Page
Dispute Errors with TransUnion
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
(800) 916 – 8800
Online: TransUnion’s Dispute Page
Once you submit your request, you can track your progress through the bureau’s Dispute Center. Usually, the dispute process takes about 30 days. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to respond to disputes in writing within 30 days.
If the reviewer finds the dispute valid, it will remain on your credit report. But, if the investigation reveals that the inquiry resulted from identity theft or was erroneous, it will get immediately removed from your credit report. If the results are unfavorable, you can always try to re-initiate a dispute with additional documentation.
Sometimes, the reviewer may find your dispute frivolous and decide not to investigate it. In those cases, they will have five days to respond to you. Here are a few reasons why that may happen:
- You do not have enough evidence to support your claim.
- You raised the claim several times.
- You included false information.
- You filed a dispute against your overall credit report rather than the specific inquiry.
Note that simply disputing an inquiry because you do not like it is not enough to have the dispute upheld. You must provide some evidence to back up your claim.
When filing a credit dispute, it is crucial to take some additional precautions to ensure the process goes smoothly. Keep all documentation related to the dispute in one place. That includes any correspondence with the credit bureau or creditor and supporting documentation such as receipts or bills. You should also make copies of everything before sending it off so you have a record for your own files.
If the unauthorized credit inquiry resulted from someone else using your information to apply for credit, that’s a sign of identity theft. In that case, there are several additional steps you should take to protect yourself.
Put a fraud alert on your credit reports and send an identity theft complaint to lenders and banks. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a police report. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may want to freeze or lock your credit. You may also want to consider using identity theft insurance and restoration services as an additional precaution.
3 Reasons to Remove Hard Inquiries From Your Credit Report
There are a few valid scenarios where you can get a hard credit inquiry removed from your credit report. The main thing to note is that if you did not approve the inquiry, you have the right to ask to remove it. You can remove a hard inquiry if:
- You did not authorize the credit inquiry
- You did not know about the inquiry
- The number of inquiries is more than expected
Sometimes, there may be situations where you do not recognize the name of a company that pulled your credit, or you do not remember applying for a loan with a company, but you recognize the name. Here are a few scenarios where the credit inquiries may be legitimate:
- If you recently solicited a home repair from a vendor and provided your Social Security number to them, they may have pulled a hard inquiry on your credit report. Since home repairs can be costly, they want to confirm that you have the financial means to pay for their services. A hard inquiry can give vendors an idea of your payment history and how likely you are to default on any payments owed. They may also use the information from the inquiry to help them decide whether or not to extend credit to you for repairs.
- If you were in the market for a new car recently, the dealership may have sent out your loan application to multiple lenders to help you secure the best interest rates. That could lead to several inquiries with company names you don’t recognize showing up on your credit reports. If they occurred within a short window, they will get bundled together and be considered rate shopping, meaning they will only count as one inquiry.
- Rate shopping also applies to mortgage applications. For example, if you solicited mortgage rates online, the website may send your application to various lenders to find you the lowest rates. If you are working with a mortgage servicer, they may send your application to a lender who will check your credit on the mortgage servicer’s behalf.
- National retail stores sometimes use financial service companies for their store cards, which leads to company names you do not recognize when inquiries are made. For example, if you have a store credit card from Macy’s, the issuer of your card is actually Citibank.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Your credit report is a record of your credit history and activity. It includes information about your accounts, loans, and payments. It also includes public records, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, or liens.
You should check your credit report from each bureau regularly to confirm that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Sometimes different credit bureaus may have varying information on your reports, so check all three to be safe. There are three main reasons to check your credit file regularly:
- Ensure accuracy. Even small errors can significantly impact your score. If you find an error on your report, you should dispute it with the relevant lender or bureau.
- Catch identity theft early. If someone has stolen your identity and opened new accounts in your name, they could rack up a lot of debt before you even realize what’s happening.
- Track your progress over time. This can help you see how far you’ve come in repairing or rebuilding your credit — and how much further you still have to go.
While it’s uncommon to find inaccurate information in your reports, it can happen. Letting mistakes or fraudulent activity go unchecked can devastate your credit.
The Bottom Line
Credit inquiry removal can be a difficult and time-consuming process. There are a few things you can do to help make the process go smoothly and reduce your stress levels.
Make sure you have all of the necessary documentation before beginning the process. This includes any correspondence between you and the creditor, as well as any documentation from the credit bureau regarding the inquiry. Having everything in order will help keep you organized and focused during what can be a very confusing and frustrating time.
Take some time to research your rights and options before beginning negotiations with creditors or credit bureaus. Knowing your rights will give you confidence when dealing with them and help keep your stress levels down. Additionally, understanding what options are available to you will allow you to make informed decisions about how best to proceed with removing inquiries from your report.
Remember that this process is just one part of maintaining good credit health overall. Even if it takes some time and effort to remove an inquiry from your report now, taking care of your credit long-term will pay off in lower interest rates and better borrowing opportunities down the road!