The Difference Between Hard and Soft Checks and What That Means for Your Credit Score

Your credit report is used by mortgage lenders to decide whether you’re a low-risk consideration for a mortgage. But so many different elements go into your credit report, it can be confusing to understand what parts matter and which parts you don’t need to worry about as much. How long do hard searches stay on your credit file? What is a soft credit check? And how does a credit check work?

If you’ve ever wondered the answers to these questions, or just want to understand more about the difference between hard and soft credit checks, we’re here to help! So let’s dive in.

What is a hard credit check?

A hard credit check, sometimes known as a hard search, is when a lender takes a full look at your entire credit report, and credit score. This will show a entire view of your financial history, including any money you’ve borrowed, any outstanding debts, and your repayments (including any late or missed)

Hard credit searches leave a ‘mark’ on your credit report, so other lenders will be able to see when you’ve applied for a mortgage and a full credit check has been done, and if you’ve been denied for previous applications. But how long do hard searches stay on your credit file?

Well, most hard checks will stay on your report for at least 12 months. There are other reasons outside of a mortgage application that a hard credit check may be performed, like applying for a credit card or loan. 

What is a soft credit check?

A soft credit check is much less invasive than a hard credit check, meaning a potential lender will be able to access certain information, but won’t get a view of your entire credit report. But does a soft search affect your credit score? The quick answer is no; soft credit checks don’t leave a mark on your report, so other potential lenders won’t see if someone else has performed a soft check and they don’t affect your score. However, if you apply for a copy of your own credit report, you’ll be able to see all soft checks that have been carried out. 

Often, lenders will perform an initial soft check at the early stages of your application to get an idea of your eligibility without having to perform a full hard credit check. 

What is the difference between hard and soft credit checks?

The key difference between hard and soft checks is that soft credit checks do not show up on your credit report, but hard checks do. Soft credit checks also have no impact on your credit report and score, whereas a hard check does and will stay on your report for about a year.

Examples of a soft credit check include:

  • You searching your own credit report (through tools like Clearscore and Experian)
  • An existing creditor checking your credit
  • Applying/opening a new account (like a phone contract or direct debit)
  • A lender checking if you qualify for pre-approval (but be careful as some lenders’ Agreements in Principle do involve a full hard check!)

Examples of a hard credit check include:

  • Applying for a mortgage, credit card or bank loan
  • Opening an account with a utility company (like gas, electric or water)
  • Applying for something on finance (like a car or tech)

How does a credit check work?

When you submit a mortgage application, the lender you’re applying with will run a hard credit check. They will have likely already run a soft credit check as part of the pre-approval process, but if you’re wondering ‘can you fail a soft credit check’, then the answer’s yes and no. This isn’t something you can ‘fail’ (in terms of having a denied/failed result shown on your credit report), however your credit score could be too low to pass the lender’s AIP assessment, so you could still be declined at this stage.

The lender will need to ask your permission before they’re allowed to run the hard credit check. Once you’ve approved, the lender will then proceed with the hard check.

What does a hard credit check show?

When a lender performs a full credit check on your credit report, they will be able to see:

  • Details like your full name and date of birth
  • Details about your current and previous addresses
  • Any and all open credit cards, loans, and mortgage accounts, including details around their start dates and how much each loan is for
  • If you’ve made any late payments
  • If any lenders have ever had to take any action against you to recover debts you haven’t been able to pay
  • Any accounts that have been closed in the last six years
  • Your current account overdraft
  • Details regarding any previous applications you’ve made for loans and/or mortgages, as well as any hard searches that have been done in the last year
  • Joint accounts (if you have an account with a spouse or partner)
  • Details regarding any missed repayments for any direct debits or loans, including how late and how frequently it happened
  • Your debt history, including any declarations of bankruptcy and CCJs (county court judgements)
  • Information about whether your identity has ever been used for fraud

We hope this has helped you better understand the difference between a hard and soft credit check, what these mean for your mortgage application and how your credit score will affect your chances of being accepted.

If you’re struggling with getting a mortgage application accepted, and would like support, we  can help. We believe our advice and service is world-class, which is why we offer two unique guarantees to all our customers!

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