Hard vs Soft credit checks : what is the difference?

By Natasha Culzac

Credit checks come in different styles - they can be hard or soft. Find out how they affect your credit score.

If a hard credit check was a holiday to Las Vegas, leaving a solid financial dent and blip on your reputation, then a soft one would be a jaunt to the seaside arcades to splurge on the 2 pence coin machines.

So, what’s it all about?

A hard credit check is performed when you’ve formally applied for a product such as a loan. The lender has to take a scalpel and look deep into your financial history by referring to your report, to decide whether to approve you or not. The very fact that they did this check is negatively recorded on your file basically saying ‘oh, they did that’.


If you’ve been hard credit checked once or twice, here or there, it isn’t too much of a problem and shouldn’t affect your credit score too much. However, if you’ve been credit checked multiple times in the space of a week, because you’ve just rabidly applied for loads of credit cards, those little black spots on your file soon form a massive splodge. The fact you’ve been credit checked loads can scream of financial desperation and the more you apply for credit, the more you’re going to be rejected for it. To know more about the impact of a hard credit check - click here.


It’s not actually that fair and is something that some people are railing against. Hard credit checks are anti-shopping around. You might apply for 10 credit cards to see which one gives you the best deal, but the 10th lender will see that you’ve just applied for nine others and get a bit wary.

What you also need to know is that whether you got rejected or approved for credit is not recorded on your credit report, only the simple fact that you applied for it. This information is kept on your file for a year before being wiped.

So what is a soft credit check?

This is, as suggested by its name, a lighter version of the check. If someone performs a soft credit check on you it is not recorded on your report and does not negatively affect you in any way. It’s just a snapshot of your report and does not leave a footprint.

A soft check can be a background or ID check done by an employer, or is sometimes used by financial firms to pre-approve you for credit. This pre-approval shows key pieces of information about you, so that lenders can get a general sense of your creditworthiness and can pretty much say yes before going deeper into your file. Sadly not as many companies do soft checks as you’d hope, though it appears that a lot of peer-to-peer lenders do. Be aware that after pre-approval, if you subsequently go ahead and take out the credit offered to you, this will be recorded on your file.  

If you’re wanting to improve your credit score with a loan or credit card, it might be worth having a pop at MoneySupermarket’s online eligibility calculators. Using a soft check, this feature lets you know the chance of you being accepted for a product without leaving a footprint on your record.

What if I check my own credit report?

If you sign up to a credit reference agency like Experian, Equifax or Noddle, you’ll be able to check your own report. This is a soft check, so doesn’t harm you and it isn’t recorded on your file. The benefit of monitoring your report is that you’ll get an idea of how attractive you look to lenders. You’ll also see if your record has any errors, which you’ll need to fix asap.

Top Takeaway

It’s good to be aware of what a hard credit check is, when one might be performed on you and what its effects are. A hard check will stay on your report for a year and it is imperative that you don’t apply for loads of lines of credit within a short space of time, because it can not only affect your credit score but also your chances of being approved. It might be worth sourcing lenders who use soft checks instead, so that you can shop around.

By Natasha Culzac

Thanks to a journalistic career history and a childhood at Sylvia Young Theatre School, Natasha has her fingers in a few professional pies, doing her best impression of a model and actor as well as personal finance writer. Outside of work she compulsively watches BBC period dramas and constantly lies to herself that this year will be the year she learns French, once and for all.

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