Hard and soft searches - what's the difference?

Hard and soft searches - what's the difference?

author: HaylexCox

By HaylexCox

Are credit searches leaving you in a muddle? What’s the difference between a soft search and a hard search?

And what about phrases like “hard footprint” and “soft footprint” that get bandied about? What does it all mean?

We’re here to make things simple. Read on to get to the bottom of it!

Hard, soft and applying for credit

Here’s the major difference between a soft search and a hard search: a soft search does not affect your credit history by leaving a mark that lenders can see. A hard search does.

A hard search provides lenders with an in-depth look at your credit history. Through this, they can see not only what credit agreements you’ve made in the last six years, but also how you’ve managed them.

If you’ve made a payment late, missed it altogether or been subject to a formal debt solution, lenders will know when they check your credit history. They’ll also be able to see when you’ve applied for any credit – but more on this later.


This hard search provides the information a lender needs to paint a picture of you as a borrower.

If you appear to be a responsible borrower who makes their payments on time, this could sway a lender towards accepting your application for credit. But if they see that you’re guilty of irresponsible borrowing behaviour, the opposite may be true.

A soft search, on the other hand, provides just an outline of your credit history. Rather than going in-depth, it can provide enough of a glimpse of your finances for a lender to make an educated guess about the type of borrower you are.

And as we said before, a hard search leaves behind a hard footprint, which any future lenders searching your credit history can see. A soft search is not visible to anyone but you.


When is each search used?

If you’re using a price comparison site to look for deals on insurance, credit cards, loans or mortgages, it will carry out a soft search. This is done to narrow down the list of deals for which you could be eligible.

"Unlike a soft search, a hard search should only ever be carried out with your knowledge."

A soft search might also be carried out by an employer when you apply for a new job, or a landlord when you sign a tenancy agreement on a new home. Again, this is done to provide a snapshot of your finances.

Soft searches can even be carried out without you knowing about them. For example, if a lender sends you a letter promoting their new credit card offer, they may have already carried out a soft search to check that you’re eligible for it.

A hard search, on the other hand, is carried out when you make a formal application for credit. You could be applying for a credit card, a loan, car finance or a mortgage – whatever you apply for, a hard search will almost certainly be carried out.

Unlike a soft search, a hard search should only ever be carried out with your knowledge – for example, because you’re intentionally applying for credit. This is because it does affect your credit history and leave behind a footprint.

A soft search does not leave a mark on your credit history.

Why does this matter?

Because a soft search does not leave a mark on your credit history, it can’t influence lenders. This means that if you or another party carried out a soft search of your finances, you don’t have to worry about it having an effect on your ability to borrow in the future.

However, a hard search does leave behind a mark. If you apply for credit, it doesn’t matter if your application is accepted or rejected – it will still leave a mark.

The odd mark every three months or more is unlikely to have an effect on lenders. But lots of hard footprints in a short space of time could.

Let’s say you’ve applied for a loan, been turned down, applied to a different lender, been turned down, and applied to two more – all within the space of a month.

The latest lender you apply to will see all of these footprints appearing within a very small window and could jump to one of the following conclusions: that you’re the victim of fraud or that you’re desperate to get your hands on cash quickly. Both of these conclusions are likely to be red flags to a lender.

It doesn’t matter what your exact reason is for making so many applications for credit so quickly, the outcome will be the same – a cautious lender. As a result, they may reject your application purely because there have been so many hard credit searches performed on you.


 What can I do?

It is possible to keep hard credit searches to a minimum until you really need them. To start with, before you apply for credit, make sure you’re in the best position to be accepted. Use a loan calculator or mortgage calculator to check you can afford the repayments on the finance you want, and follow our tips for improving your credit history.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, make soft searches work in your favour. You can use a credit reference agency or price comparison site to search for the products that you’re eligible for. They do this by performing a soft search to filter out any deals your credit history makes you unsuitable for.

Some lenders also provide soft search tools that let you find out whether you’re eligible for their products before you apply. Again, these won’t leave a mark on your credit history.

By giving yourself the best chance possible of being accepted, you narrow the number of hard searches performed on your credit history. After all, if your first application is accepted, you shouldn’t need to make another.

After a few months, the hard footprint this leaves behind won’t have so great an effect on your credit history. So, if you need to apply for a different credit product, you can do so without worrying.

To learn more about how your credit history can affect your ability to borrow, read this blog.

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: HaylexCox

By HaylexCox