If you're thinking about buying a home, getting a credit checkup is an important first step. Knowing your price range is about more than just your monthly budget, it's also about what risk level a mortgage company will consider you. Fortunately, there are ways to change that if it turns out to be too high to afford the type of home you want, but you'll want to handle the research carefully because to many credit pulls can itself affect your credit.
When you get a copy of your credit report, you'll see more than just your current and historical credit accounts. You'll see your payment history, including any payments made more than 30, 60 and 90 days past the due date, along with your account balances and credit limits. You'll also see credit inquiries.
A credit inquiry is simply an instance where you or a third party has looked at your credit report. Some credit inquiries can have an impact on your overall credit scores, but not all inquiries are so consequential. There are two types of credit inquiries – a hard and a soft inquiry.
Soft inquiries are common and somewhat frequent. The most common type of soft inquiry is one where a creditor is curious about offering you a new credit account, so they check your score to make sure you qualify. If you've ever received an offer for a credit card that's preapproved, that company has done a soft inquiry on your report.
Other types of soft inquiries include potential employers checking your credit, or when you check on your own score. It's important to understand that soft inquiries have no impact on your credit, but they will be noted on your report and can be done without your consent.
Hard inquiries occur when you apply for a loan, credit card, or mortgage and you've given written consent to a creditor to check your scores. Several hard inquiries in a row for a credit card can negatively impact your score, as this type of action may give the impression you're scrambling for credit ahead of some financial hardship. Multiple hard inquiries in a row from an auto, mortgage, or student loan lender are less likely to have a negative impact. In these instances, reporting agencies are more likely to assume you're “rate shopping,” and the multiple inquiries are viewed as a single inquiry.
Hard inquiries stop impacting your score after a year's time, but they will remain on your credit report for 24 months. While inquiries do play a part in assessing an individual's credit, they represent only about 10% of what goes into a credit score. Things like making payments on time and your overall debt burden have a far greater impact on the health of your credit reputation.