If you recently applied for a loan, you may have heard the term “credit inquiry” get brought up. Before a creditor or lender approves or denies your loan application, they will request a copy of your credit file to determine your riskiness as a borrower. A credit inquiry is a record of that request.
While a “hard pull,” or hard inquiry, will likely not affect your chances of getting approved for new credit products, your credit scores can take a minor hit. If you are trying to build up your credit, you must pay attention to these changes and correct any credit reporting mistakes, such as inaccurate hard inquiries, on your credit reports.
If you want to know how to flag instances of unauthorized hard inquiries, here is everything you need to know about hard inquiries, including what they are, how they impact your credit, and how you can dispute errors on your credit reports.
- A hard inquiry occurs when you apply for new credit products. A creditor or lender will request information from your credit file to determine your riskiness as a borrower.
- To dispute a hard inquiry, you need to contact the creditor or credit bureaus where you found the inaccurate information through mail, fax, or phone. When submitting your claim, you will get asked to provide additional information and documentation.
- You are entitled to at least one free credit report every 12 months. If you find inaccurate or incomplete information on your credit reports, you can file a dispute with the creditors or credit bureaus.
What Is a Hard Inquiry?
When you apply for a new loan or credit card account, the lender will check your credit reports through a process called a hard inquiry. Their goal is to understand your risk as a potential borrower and your credit history. Though hard inquiries will only cause a minor drop in your credit score of up to five points, they will stay on your credit report for two years and impact your score for one.
On the other hand, soft inquiries have no impact on your credit score. They usually occur when you check your credit or when lenders and credit card providers send you preapproval offers. For example, when I first applied for the Uber credit card, I felt that the credit line I got approved for was too low. So, I requested a soft pull during my approval process to raise my credit line.
A key differentiator to note is that the more hard inquiries you have on your credit reports, the riskier you will appear to lenders. That is because applying for too many types of credit in a short period could indicate financial instability in the eyes of lenders.
The Importance of Removing Inaccurate Hard Inquiries
If you spot any hard inquiries on your credit reports that you do not recognize, you must get them removed or corrected. Not only are you being unfairly penalized, but there is also a possibility that you are a victim of credit fraud.
Should You Remove Hard Inquiries?
Disputing a genuine hard inquiry, such as a credit card application you submitted, will likely not be worth the effort. But if you find unauthorized inquiries, whether from reporting errors or fraud, getting those removed will be crucial for your finances. For example, if you believe that an identity thief has accessed and used your information to open a new line of credit under your name, you need to report that immediately.
Additionally, if you have had several hard inquires recently or other serious issues impacting your credit scores, it may become harder for you to get approved for new loans or credit cards under favorable conditions.
Not All Suspicious Inquiries are Fraudulent
Some inquiries may seem suspicious but do not necessarily indicate an error or fraud. There can be situations where you do not recognize the company’s name that did the hard pull, forget that you applied for a loan, or see more inquiries than expected.
Sometimes the company listed does not always match the company you did business with. Retailers will often partner up with banks to manage their credit card programs, so you would need to verify the information on your own or contact the retailers. For example, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card gets managed by Citi, so if you applied for the Costco card, the inquiry could come from Citi, not Costco.
If you went to a car dealership recently and needed financing, they may have sent your loan application to several lenders to find the best rates for you. That can also lead to multiple inquiries during that period, though if it is all done within a few weeks, they will get considered as rate shopping and only count them once.
Likewise, if you hire a loan broker to help you find the best interest rates on your loan, each application the broker submits on your behalf could lead to a hard inquiry. Or, if you shopped around for the best mortgage rates, your application may have gotten sent to several lenders.
Disputing Inaccurate Hard Inquiries
The main reasons for requesting to remove hard inquires from your credit reports are:
- You did not apply for any new credit products;
- You did not authorize the credit inquiries;
- There were more inquiries than expected;
- The hard inquiries occurred without your knowledge.
Act Fast if You Suspect Fraud
If you suspect that someone else used your information to apply for credit, your identity may have gotten stolen. In that case, you need to act quickly to prevent them from continuing to use your identity. Some actions you can take include: putting a fraud alert on your credit reports, filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), filing a police report, or freezing your credit.
If you see an unauthorized inquiry, keep checking your credit reports and contact the creditor to close the fraudulent account. If your credit got pulled without your permission, it could still hurt your credit until you get it removed.
File a Dispute if Necessary
Regularly checking your credit reports will help ensure that all the data is accurate. If you notice a mistake on your credit reports, file a dispute with each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Federal law allows you to dispute inaccurate information at no cost. If the credit bureaus cannot confirm the legitimacy of the inquiries, they are required to remove them.
If you need additional guidance on how to dispute errors, go to the FTC’s website, where you will get a step-by-step guide. If you were a victim of credit fraud, the FTC also helps you create a recovery plan.
Information Needed From You
There are three main ways to get rid of a hard inquiry – either through mailing, faxing, or calling the creditor and credit bureaus. Typically they will need your full name, Social Security number, date of birth, current address, and your addresses from the past two years. Depending on how you submit your dispute, you may also be required to provide your email, a copy of a government-issued ID, and a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, or insurance statement.
When submitting your dispute, list out each item on your credit report that you have identified as incorrect, including the creditor details, account number, and your reasoning. If you have additional documents, such as police reports, FTC Identity Theft reports, bankruptcy schedules, canceled checks, etc., submit those as well to back up your claims.
Submitting Your Dispute
To submit a dispute, contact the credit reporting company where you found the inaccurate data on your credit report using one of the three methods we discussed earlier.
Disputing Errors Online
Each of the three bureaus has its own dispute pages:
Disputing Errors by Mail
The addresses to send your dispute to for each bureau are:
- Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 9701, Allen, Tx 75013
- Equifax: Equifax Information Services, LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta 30374
- TransUnion: TransUnion Consumer Solutions, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016
Dispute Errors by Phone
To dispute errors by phone, contact the credit bureau and speak to an agent:
- Experian: (888) 397-3742 or the phone number listed on your credit report
- Equifax: (886) 349-5191
- TransUnion: (800) 916-8800
When submitting additional documents to support your dispute, make sure to submit copies and not originals. That is because the documents will not get returned to you when the investigation is complete.
Typically, the investigation will take up to 30 days. If the company finds an error, they will remove the inquiry. If not, they will directly send you an explanation why.
What Happens Next?
Once you submit your dispute, the credit reporting companies must investigate your dispute, forward all required documents to the furnisher for accuracy, and report the results directly back to you. But, if your claim is deemed frivolous, they can choose not to investigate as long as they send you a notice within five days.
If the furnisher finds inaccurate information, they need to notify the credit reporting companies that they sent that information to and tell them to make corrections. If the information is determined to be accurate, you can request additional details from the credit reporting company.
Steps to Take If You Do Not Get the Results You Want
If the investigation resulting from the dispute process does not go your way, you have several options:
- You can dispute directly with the creditor that reported the inaccurate information, including getting documentation or written verification.
- You can submit additional documents to the credit reporting company.
- You can request a brief statement related to your dispute to get added to your credit report.
- You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or reach out to your state’s Attorney General’s office.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Finding inaccurate information on your credit report does not happen often, but it’s not impossible. To avoid letting erroneous information or fraud go unchecked, check your credit reports regularly. You are entitled to at least one free credit report every twelve months from the three major credit bureaus, which you can request at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Additionally, keep an eye on your credit score. If you use online banking, some banks will send monthly updates on your FICO Score for free. You can also use a platform like Credit Karma to get regular updates. Always watch out for anything you do not recognize or sudden drops in your score. Though preventing identity theft is difficult, you can put yourself in a better position by actively tracking your credit history and verifying correct information.
Each credit bureau may display its information differently. To check for inaccurate hard inquiries, look for any sections labeled “inquiries.” Depending on the bureau, they can get labeled as credit inquiries, hard inquiries, regular inquiries, or requests viewed by orders.
The Bottom Line
Although legitimate hard inquiries can cause a temporary drop in your credit score, the impact will typically blow over after a month or two. Usually, that is because you either did not add additional debt, so the risk is limited, or you opened a new account, and it got incorporated into other credit factors.
Some companies may allow you to remove any inquires, legitimate or not, from your report for a small fee, but we recommend against that. At a high level, other factors play a much larger role in determining your credit scores, such as your ability to pay your bills on time, credit history, and credit utilization. For the most part, hard inquiries alone will not be the deciding factor for why your application for credit gets denied.