An inquiry in your credit file (credit inquiries) is a record of any application for credit that you made.
For example, if you seek a mortgage, student loan or car loan, or even if you apply for a credit card or perhaps request an increase in your current credit card limit, any of these actions can result in an inquiry on your Equifax, Experian or TransUnion credit files.
Credit Hunters and Shopaholics: Watch Out For Excessive Inquiries in Your Credit Reports
Other business-related transactions can also produce inquiries: Among them: signing a cell phone contract, launching new service with a utility provider (like a local gas or electric company), filling out an apartment rental application, and – as I described in a previous chapter – using a debit card to reserve or pay for a car rental.
All of these activities generate inquiries that are known as “hard” pulls. By contrast, when you examine your own credit report, or when an existing creditor does a review of your credit files, those are called “soft” pulls, and they do not impact your credit score.
Credit scoring firms typically describe inquiries as having a “modest” impact on your credit score. But what’s so modest about a drop of up to 35 points in your FICO score?
That’s what the American Bankers Association says a single inquiry can cost you. According to the formula used by Fair Isaac Corporation (the company that created FICO credit scores), inquiries account for 10% of your score.
So think about it this way: If your FICO score is 680 points, inquiries account for 68 of those points. Obviously it’s not that simple, because different elements of FICO’s formula are weighted differently, based on a slew of considerations.
And inquiries can have a greater or lesser impact on your score depending on the length of your credit history and other factors.
Nevertheless, to minimize the impact of inquiries on your credit rating, only apply for credit when you truly need it. And if you have to shop around – say, for a mortgage or a new car loan – do so within a concentrated period of time.
FICO executives say that multiple inquiries for auto financing or home loans are treated as a single inquiry, so long as the inquiries all occur within a 14-day period.
The idea, according to FICO, is for them to avoid penalizing consumers for shopping around for the best rate. Inquiries generally stay on your credit report for two years, and they count against you, for the purposes of calculating your FICO scores, for one year.