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What is a soft credit search? The difference between soft and hard searches

author: Zubin Kavarana

By Zubin Kavarana

When you apply for credit, you’ll be subject to a hard or soft search on your credit file. Find out what the difference is and how it affects you.

When a lender searches your credit file, they’ll perform either a soft or hard search. A soft search is only visible to you and won't affect your credit score. However, a hard search can be seen by lenders when they search your file, and this type of search can affect your credit score. 

What is a soft search?

A soft search shows some of your basic information and helps to confirm your identity. These searches give the lender a basic overview of your financial situation and history. Eligibility checkers perform soft searches to give companies an idea of your creditworthiness. They also allow you to gauge how likely you would be to get accepted for a product.

What is a hard search?

A hard search is an in-depth look at your credit history. Lenders will be able to see the last six years of your financial history, including any defaults or County Court Judgments (CCJ). When you apply for any credit, i.e. a credit card, loan, overdraft, or a mobile phone contract, you'll have a hard search on your credit file. Even if you've gone through an eligibility checker that's done a soft search first, you'll always be subject to a hard search at some point if you choose to proceed.

Why does a hard search affect my credit score?

Certain hard searches can show that you’ve applied for credit in the past, and too many of them may be interpreted by lenders as a sign that you’re credit hungry or struggling. Particularly if lenders see that you’ve had multiple searches in a short space of time, they may consider you a higher risk.

How do I fix a hard search on my report?

You can’t remove a genuine hard search from your report. You’ll need to wait 12 months or more for it to disappear, although the older it gets, the less weight it'll have. You should minimise the number of hard searches on your credit file, especially if you know you want to apply for something important soon, such as a mortgage. That's why it's important to use soft search eligibility checkers before you apply for any form of credit. A good way to improve your chances of being accepted for credit is to keep an eye on your credit file.

What does a soft credit search show?

Soft searches will only show basic information such as your name, address, date of birth, and an overview of your financial commitments and history. If you check your file, you’ll be performing a soft credit search.

How do I know if it’s a soft or hard credit search?

If you’re unclear as to whether or not your enquiry for a product will leave a soft or hard search, the easiest thing to do is use an eligibility checker. The lender will usually state whether it impacts your credit rating or not. Most offer them these days, but if you’re unsure, give them a call to double-check first.

The eligibility checker will tell you if you’re likely to be accepted, just by putting in a few details.

  • If you get a ‘yes’, you can go ahead and apply with more confidence.
  • If you get a ‘no’, you can try elsewhere (just make sure it’s another soft search), without worrying about damaging your credit rating.

Why do lenders need to check my credit report?

Lenders use your report to try and figure out how much of a risk you are to lend to before they make a decision.

If you’ve paid everything back on time and all of your personal details are correct and up-to-date, it’s likely you have a good credit rating and aren’t very risky to lend to.

If you’ve missed payments in the past and have lots of debt, you may have a poor credit rating and could be seen as riskier to lend to. If this sounds like you, it’s particularly important to try and avoid getting any more marks on your report, so look out for those eligibility checkers.

Can I search my own report?

You can, and you should. It's important to know what's on your report so you can take steps to improve it if needs be. Checking your credit report also gives you the chance to spot anything that shouldn’t be there. You can search your credit file for free with each of the three agencies Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can check your Equifax credit report for free with our member-only platform, CredAbility.

Find out how credit utilisation can affect your credit score.  

Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

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