Hard credit searches explained

A hard search is a type of credit check that lenders and companies carry out to take a detailed look at your financial history. Read our guide to find out what hard searches involve, when they’re used and how they affect your credit score.

A hard search is a type of credit check that lenders and companies carry out to take a detailed look at your financial history. Read our guide to find out what hard searches involve, when they’re used and how they affect your credit score.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Last Updated
4 JANUARY 2023
7 min read
Share article

What is a hard credit check?

When someone looks at your credit score, it’s called a credit search, a credit check or a credit inquiry. There are two types of credit search: a hard credit check and a soft credit check. 

When you apply for credit or a loan, or if you’re entering into a contract with a service provider, like a mobile phone company, for example, the company will normally carry out a hard credit check on your credit report. It’s also known as a hard inquiry or a hard pull.

This hard credit check gives an in-depth look at your credit history so the lender can see how much credit you’re currently 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 score suggests you may be a higher risk, it could affect the credit products or interest rates you’re eligible for.

A hard credit check is normally used when you make credit applications for financial products, such as: 

  • a credit card
  • a loan
  • a mortgage
  • a monthly mobile phone contract
  • to rent a property
  • car finance 

Every time someone carries out a hard check on your credit score, it appears as a visible mark on your credit history – even if you’re not successful with your credit application 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. The outcome of the credit search (either a successful application or a declined application) is not visible to anyone.

What is a soft credit check?

When you check your own credit score this is called a soft search. Soft searches might also be carried out by prospective employers, landlords or other companies as a way of checking you are who you say you are.

A soft search is also done when you use an eligibility checker to see if you’re likely to be approved for a loan, credit card or mortgage before you apply.

Soft checks don’t show as much in-depth information about your credit history and, unlike hard credit searches, other lenders can’t see them when they check your credit score. Only you can see them.

Find out more about soft 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 register. 
  • A list of any outstanding credit you have, including credit card accounts, loans, and any debts you owe to utility providers or other companies. 
  • Any late, missed, or incomplete repayments from the last six years. 
  • Your current account provider and details of any overdrafts you hold (but not details of your bank balance). 
  • If you’re linked to anyone financially, for example someone you share a bank account or mortgage with. 
  • Public records information for the past six years on things like bankruptcies, house repossessions, County Court Judgments and individual voluntary arrangements. 
  • If you’ve committed fraud or been a victim of fraud. 

Anyone who performs a hard credit search will also be able to see any other hard inquiries made on your account over the past 12 months, or in the case of debt collection checks, up to two years. That means lenders will be able to see if you’re applying for credit elsewhere too and this may affect your ability to get credit.  

How does a hard credit search affect my credit score?

A single hard credit inquiry may lower your credit score by a few points but it’s unlikely to affect your credit score dramatically. After all, applying for a new credit card doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in any financial trouble.  
But if a series of hard inquiries are made on your credit report in a short period of time, it could have a much greater impact on your score and signal to lenders that you’re strapped for cash or racking up a serious amount of debt. In this case you may seem like a risky prospect for a new loan, and you could be turned down.   

Can I avoid hard credit checks?

The only way to avoid hard credit checks is to not apply for credit. Any application for credit will result in a hard credit check, so, to minimise the number of hard searches on your credit report, you should make as few credit applications as possible. This means being smart with your applications and taking advantage of eligibility checkers like ours, which only involve a soft credit check. Using an eligibility checker will show you the types of credit cards and loans that you’ll likely be accepted for, which could reduce the number of hard credit checks you’ll need to face when applying.

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

If you’re looking for a new credit card or personal loan, don’t submit your loan application without taking advantage of eligibility checkers. Eligibility checkers use soft credit searches so you can see which credit cards you’re likely to be approved for, before you apply. That way you can avoid any hard inquiries for loans or credit that you’d be unlikely to be approved for in the first place.

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid making hard enquiries. After all, it’s not just loans and credit cards – mobile phone providers and utility companies will also usually carry out a hard search before they commit to a contract with you. 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.

You can check your own credit score for free and it won’t affect your score, so it’s wise to review it regularly to see how you’re doing and look for any areas of improvement. Also, it’s helpful to see who’s been looking at your credit score and why. Keep an eye out for any hard inquiries you don’t recognise. It could just be that the lender is using a name you don’t recognise, but it could also be a sign of fraud.

How can I check my credit score?

You can check your credit score with any of the credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. All of these CRAs offer a free credit score service, but, if you’d like to see your full credit file, you may need to pay a fee.

How can you improve your credit score?

Improving your credit score could help you access more offers, lower interest rates and higher credit limits.

Here are five tips that could help you build up your credit score:

  • Register to vote: This helps credit providers confirm your identity and address. It’s one of the first steps in building your credit history. Register to vote here
  • Before you apply for credit, check your credit report is accurate. Make sure your details are correct, any old accounts have been closed and look out for any suspicious activity, like credit you didn’t take out or hard searches you didn’t authorise. 
  • Get bills put under your name. If you’re paying bills regularly and on time, it can help to build your credit score by having your name on them. So if you’re sharing accommodation, don’t leave everything to your housemates, make sure at least one utility bill is in your name.  
  • Pay your bills on time. A missed payment can leave a mark on your credit history for up to six years. But if you pay your bills in full and on time it lets lenders know you’re reliable. Set up direct debits for your phone bill, utilities, and credit card to make sure you don’t miss a payment.  
  • It seems obvious but don’t borrow more than you can afford to pay back and if you have credit cards, try not to use more than 25% of your overall limit at any one time.  

Read our handy guide for more tips on building your credit score.  

Frequently asked questions

Do businesses need permission to check my credit?

For hard searches, yes, they do. Companies should always inform you and get your express permission first, before carrying out a hard credit search, as it could lower your credit score.  
But companies that you already have an account with may do a soft credit search without asking your permission first. A common example is your bank or credit card provider checking your eligibility before marketing a new product to you.  

How long does a hard credit search stay on your credit history?

Most hard credit inquiries will stay on your record for at least 12 months, but debt collection checks can stay on there for two years.  

Can I get hard searches removed from my credit report?

No, you can’t remove hard credit searches from your credit report manually. However, most hard credit searches will be automatically removed from your credit file after 12 months.

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. In this case, you need to address this quickly.

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

Unexplained hard searches not only lower your credit score, but they could also be a sign of fraudulent activity. So, it’s important to check your report at least a couple of times a year and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. 

Read our guide to checking your credit score for free.
If you see an inquiry you don’t recognise, the first step is to contact the company to check why the search was made. Their contact information will be shown as part of the hard search record.  
If, after looking into it, you confirm that someone is using your information to apply for credit, report it to Action Fraud and contact the credit reporting agencies so they can put a fraud alert on your account and look into the matter. Once it has been confirmed as fraudulent, the false inquiry should be removed from your report.  
Find out more about credit card fraud

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

When a hard search is carried out, the following information is recorded on your credit report about the institution or company that made the search:

  • 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 double check what searches have been made on your credit report a few times a year, so you can keep an eye out for any that look suspicious or that you don’t remember authorising.

Looking for a credit card?

Compare credit cards quickly and easily

Compare now
Compare credit cards now Find a card