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Soft credit checks explained

A soft credit check lets you or a company check your credit score, without it showing up to other companies on your credit history or affecting your credit score. Read our guide to soft credit searches and use our free credit report tool.

A soft credit check lets you or a company check your credit score, without it showing up to other companies on your credit history or affecting your credit score. Read our guide to soft credit searches and use our free credit report tool.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Consumer expert on money and utilities
Last Updated
11 JANUARY 2024
5 min read
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What are soft credit checks?

When you, a company or a lender look up your credit score, it’s called a credit search or inquiry. These credit searches can either be hard or soft.

When you complete an application for credit – whether that’s for a personal loan, a new pay monthly mobile deal, a new credit card or a mortgage – your potential lender will normally carry out a ‘hard’ credit check. They take an in-depth look at your credit score and use the information on your credit history to decide whether you’re a good candidate for credit. Basically, they assess whether you’re likely to pay them back.

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

When a potential lender runs a hard credit search, it leaves a visible mark or ‘footprint’ on your credit history that other lenders can see.

A soft credit search is when you check your own credit score and history. Soft credit searches, also called soft inquiries or soft credit pulls, are also done by companies when they want to check your identity or credit score.

Here’s a breakdown of when a soft credit check is used versus a hard credit check:

  Soft credit check Hard credit check
Visible to you on your credit report imagecz4km.png
Visible to lenders on your credit report imager7gju.png
Recorded when you check your report image7s85.png imaged114ib.png
Recorded when using an eligibility checker image5vgnq.png image6d5c.png
Recorded when you apply for credit image5zxya.png imagem00u.png
Recorded for an identity check imagerjdt.png imageoogy.png
Visible on your credit report for... 12 months 12 months

It’s not always cut and dried. Like landlords and letting agents, utility companies and other service providers may carry out either hard or soft credit searches depending on the circumstances. If it’s not clear, then it’s best to ask the company or individual in question. But a hard search can't be carried out without your permission.

Does a soft credit search affect my credit score?

The beauty of soft credit searches is that they don’t affect your credit score or reduce your chance of getting credit. That’s because they’re invisible to everyone but you.

You alone can see soft inquiries on your credit report, so you can keep an eye on who’s looking into your credit history. Soft searches aren’t visible to other lenders.

If you’re looking for a credit card, rather than applying for several cards at once, you’re better off using an eligibility checker (a soft search) to see what you’ll likely be approved for and compare rates before you start an application.

When you compare with Compare the Market, you can do just that. We’ll show you the cards and loans you’re most likely to be accepted for, so you can compare without damaging your credit score.

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What does a credit check show?

A soft credit check includes all the information you can see when you look up your own credit score. It’s a snapshot of your financial history, including:

  • Personal details like your name, home address and date of birth
  • A list of any types of credit you currently have, including any bank accounts, loans and credit card accounts, and any outstanding debts
  • Details of your repayment history, including any missed or late payments
  • Details of anyone you’re financially linked to, for example a spouse or partner that you have joint credit with
  • Public record information on any County Court Judgements, bankruptcies, and individual voluntary agreements over the past six years

That might seem like a frightening amount of personal information, but a hard search is even more in-depth. Hard checks will show a complete picture of your credit history.

What do lenders see on your credit report?

With a hard credit check, lenders will be able see your borrowing history and your ability to repay credit you’ve been provided previously. If you’ve missed payments, been late repaying or had debt collected, this could be visible for several years.

They will also be able to check if you’ve been successful for other credit applications. If you apply for credit several times over a short period, this will be visible and could suggest to lenders that something is wrong.

Frequently asked questions

Do businesses need permission to check my credit?

Companies should always get your permission before doing a hard credit search, as this could affect your credit.

If you’re filling out an application for a loan or credit card or similar, you’ll normally have to tick a box giving your permission for that company to perform a credit search, before you can proceed with the application.  
But certain companies that you already have an account with may do a soft credit search without asking your permission first. For example, your bank or credit card provider may do a soft enquiry before marketing a new credit card or product to you. This soft credit search won’t affect your credit score.

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

If you see an inquiry you don’t recognise, the first step is to contact the creditor to check why the search was made.

It may be as simple as you not recognising the name of the creditor, particularly if they’re working with a lending partner. You can get their contact information from the credit report.  
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 – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They can put a fraud alert on your account and look into the matter. Once it’s been confirmed as fraudulent, the inquiry should be removed from your report.  
Find out more about credit card fraud.

If I check my credit report, will it lower my score?

No, checking your own credit score and report is a ‘soft’ credit search. That means it won’t lower your credit score or affect your chances of getting credit.  
It’s important to keep an eye on your credit score and check it regularly. Knowing your credit score will give you an accurate picture of your financial health and can alert you to any credit card fraud carried out in your name.  

If I check my eligibility for a credit card or loan, will it affect my credit score?

No, eligibility checks are soft searches, which means they won’t show up to other lenders when they check your credit score.

So, for example, when you use our credit card eligibility checker to see what credit cards you’ll qualify for and compare rates, it won’t affect your credit score.

How long does a CCJ stay on your credit report?

A CCJ (County Court Judgment) will stay on your credit report for six years.

Having a CCJ on your credit report could negatively affect your credit rating, making it harder to borrow money.

How long does bankruptcy stay on your credit report?

Once the order is made, bankruptcy will appear on your credit report for six years.

Can you pass a credit check with an IVA?

Yes, it is possible to pass a credit check with an IVA. However, it could be much more difficult.

An IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement) is a legal agreement between someone and their creditors to pay back outstanding debts.

Therefore, having an IVA on your credit file is a signal to potential lenders that you’ve missed payments in the past. This makes you a higher risk.

An IVA will appear on your credit report for six years.

What do estate agents check when doing a credit check?

An estate agent, letting agent or landlord may want to run a credit check on you to see if you’ve had any problems paying bills in the past. It’s like a financial background check that will help them decide whether you’d make a good tenant.

Private landlords may skip a credit check, because they take time and can delay the whole process.

If they’d like to run a credit check on you, they must get your permission.

What can employers see on a credit check?

A potential employer will use a credit check to do several things. They can be used to confirm your identity and address, as well as find any CCJs, bankruptcy or other court orders.

Looking for a credit card?

Compare credit cards quickly and easily. Use our eligibility checker to find a credit card deal that suits you – and find out if you’re likely to be approved without it affecting your credit score.

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Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni

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