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Hard credit checks explained

A hard credit check is a type of credit search lenders and companies carry out to see your financial history. Find out what hard searches involve, when they’re used and how they affect your credit score.

A hard credit check is a type of credit search lenders and companies carry out to see your financial history. Find out what hard searches involve, when they’re used and how they affect your credit score.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
Last Updated
14 SEPTEMBER 2023
4 min read
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What is a hard credit check?

When someone looks at information from your credit report, this is called a credit check, credit search or credit inquiry. A hard credit check is when a company takes an in-depth look at your credit report.

There are two types of credit search:

When you apply for credit, or enter into a contract with a service provider, the company will normally carry out a hard credit check. This is also known as a hard inquiry or hard pull.

With a hard credit check, the lender can see how much credit you’re juggling and how you’ve handled credit in the past. This helps them decide if you’re financially responsible and how likely you are to pay them back.

If your credit report suggests you may be higher risk, it could affect the credit products or interest rates you’re eligible for.

When is a hard credit check carried out?

A hard credit check usually takes place when you apply for a financial product. This might include a:

  • Credit card
  • Loan
  • Mortgage
  • Monthly mobile phone contract
  • Property rental
  • Car finance deal.

Prospective employers and utilities companies might also carry out hard credit searches.

What information is given on a hard credit search?

When a financial institution or other company carries out a hard inquiry on your credit score, they’ll be able to see your full credit report, including:

  • Personal details, like your name and date of birth
  • Your current and previous addresses
  • If you’re on the electoral roll
  • Details of any outstanding credit, including credit cards, loans and any debts you owe utility providers or other companies
  • Any late, missed or incomplete repayments from the past six years
  • Your current account provider and details of any overdrafts you hold (but not your bank balance)
  • If you’re financially linked to anyone – for example, someone you share a bank account or mortgage with
  • Public records information for the past six years on bankruptcies, house repossessions, County Court Judgments and individual voluntary arrangements.

What’s the difference between a hard credit check and a soft credit check?

One of the main differences is that a hard credit check leaves a mark on your credit history, which companies can see, while soft credit checks don’t.

This is true whether your application is successful or unsuccessful, or you decide not to go ahead with it.

This means that other companies and lenders can see if you’ve been applying for credit, and they can use this information to build a more complete picture of your financial health.

Hard credit checks could also impact your credit score – a rating used by lenders to assess the risk of lending to you – while soft credit checks don’t.

What impact does a hard search have on my credit score?

A single hard credit inquiry is unlikely to dramatically affect your credit score, though it may lower it by a few points. After all, applying for a new credit card doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in financial trouble.

But if your credit report shows a series of hard inquiries made within a short period, it could have a much greater impact on your score. For example, it could signal to lenders that you’re strapped for cash or racking up serious debt. This could make you seem a risky prospect for a new loan, and you could be turned down.

How long do hard searches stay on my credit file?

Most hard credit inquiries stay on your record for up to two years.

Can I avoid hard credit checks?

The only way to avoid hard credit checks is to not apply for credit.

Any credit application will result in a hard credit check. To minimise the number of hard searches on your credit report, you can use an eligibility checker before you apply for a loan or a credit card.

Eligibility checkers show you the credit cards and loans you’re likely be accepted for. They only use a soft credit check, which won’t show on your credit report.

How can you minimise the impact of hard inquiries on your credit score?

To limit the impact, try to space out hard enquiries as much as possible. If you have several hard credit checks within a short space of time, it’ll likely impact your credit rating.

How can I check my credit report?

You can get a free copy of your credit report from the three main credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Checking your own credit report involves a soft search, which won’t leave a mark.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for a hard search to appear on credit report?

How long it takes for a hard search to appear on your credit score will vary, depending on the credit reference agency. However, it could be anything between 14 and 45 days.

How many hard searches are too many in the UK?

It’s hard to say exactly how many hard searches are too many because they’re just one factor affecting your credit score.

One or two hard searches accrued while applying for a loan or credit card won’t make a huge difference. But a lot of recent hard inquiries on your credit report might have an impact as it could signal to lenders that you’re in financial trouble.

Do businesses need permission to check my credit?

For hard searches, yes – businesses need permission to check your credit report. Before carrying out a hard credit search, companies should always inform you and get your permission.

Companies you have an account with may do a soft credit search without asking your permission. An example is your bank or credit card provider checking your eligibility before marketing a new product to you.

Can I get hard searches removed from my credit report?

No, you can’t manually remove hard credit searches from your credit report.

If you find a hard search on your credit report that you don’t recognise, this could be a sign of fraud and/or identity theft. If that’s the case, you need to address it quickly.

What if I notice a search on my credit report that I didn’t authorise?

If you see an inquiry you don’t recognise, contact the company and ask why the search was made. You’ll find their contact information on the search record.

Unexplained hard searches could be a sign of fraudulent activity. That’s why it’s important to check your report and look out for anything suspicious.

If you find someone is using your information to apply for credit, report it to Action Fraud. You should also contact the credit agencies so they can investigate and put a fraud alert on your account.

Once the false inquiry is confirmed as fraudulent, it should be removed from your report.

What information can I see on my credit report about hard inquiries?

When a hard search is carried out, your credit report lists certain information about the institution or company that made the search.

This includes:

  • The name of the organisation
  • The type of company – for example, a bank or mobile phone provider
  • When the search was made
  • Who to contact if you don’t recognise the search and want to dispute it.

It’s a good idea to check what searches have been made on your credit report a few times a year. That way you can pick up on any that look suspicious.

The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.

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