Soft credit searches 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.

Anelda Knoesen
From the Money team
4
minute read
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Posted 9 AUGUST 2021

What is a soft credit search?

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.   
 
When they do these hard credit searches, it leaves a visible mark or ‘footprint’ on your credit history that other lenders can see.  

If you’ve applied for a lot of credit in a short period of time, lenders might assume that you’re in financial difficulties and that they have less chance of getting their money back.  
 
‘Soft’ credit searches, on the other hand, are not visible to other lenders – only you can see them. 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.  
 
Reasons for soft credit searches could include: 

  • Reviewing your own credit score 
  • A potential employer who wants to confirm your identity and see if you’re financially responsible. Law and finance firms are required by law to carry out soft credit checks on potential employees for certain roles 
  • Using an eligibility checker to see if you’re eligible for certain loans or credit cards before you apply 
  • A current credit provider checking how you’re managing your repayments 
  • A landlord or letting agency who wants to perform a background check before they rent to you (though some landlords may do a hard search instead) 

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.  

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.  
 
A hard search will normally reduce your credit score temporarily (although usually not by more than a few points) because if you’re applying for credit, it raises the question of how financially stable you are. The score will normally return to what it was before, once you prove you’re handling that new debt responsibly. But it will stay on your credit history as an inquiry for one to two years.  
 
If you have a lot of hard searches from credit card providers within a short period of time, it could eat into your credit score significantly and signal to potential lenders that you’re a risky prospect.  

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 information is available on a soft credit search?

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

  • Personal details like your name, home address and date of birth 
  • A list of any credit you currently have, including any bank accounts, loans and credit card accounts, and any outstanding debts
  • Details of your payment 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. A hard credit search will show a complete picture of your credit history, including if you’ve been turned down for loans or credit cards in the past.  
 
For more information, read our guide to hard credit searches. 

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?

It’s a good idea to check your credit score at least once a year and keep an eye out for any hard enquiries you don’t recognise. Unexplained hard searches may lower your credit score, but worse, they could also be a sign of fraud.  
 
Read our guide to checking your credit score for free 
 
You can check your credit report for free using our handy tool. 

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.  

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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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