Hard Credit Search vs. Soft Credit Search: What’s the Difference?

Lenders perform two types of credit checks in order to learn about your financial history: hard searches and soft searches (also called “quotation searches”). The results of these searches are used to decide whether or not the lender will offer you credit. Hard searches have a bit of a reputation, as they leave a footprint on your credit record that other lenders can see. Lenders are wary of a record with lots of recent hard searches, since they can indicate you are desperately in need of credit and therefore a risky profile.

What is a Hard Credit Search?

Hard searches are initiated when you make a formal application to a credit product, like a credit card, loan, or mortgage. Hard searches provide the lender with full access to your credit report so they can make an informed decision regarding your application. Each formal credit application you make will initiate a hard search that will show on your credit report for a year. Too many of these marks in a short period of time can reduce your credit score and scare off potential lenders, as too many credit applications in a short period of time may be a sign you are struggling financially.

What is a Soft Credit Search?

Soft searches are less robust, returning just an overall picture of your financial health. The lender will see your credit score but not all of the nitty-gritty details (e.g., payment history, outstanding debt levels, CCJs, etc.). A prospective employer may perform soft searches, for instance, to give them an indication of your level of responsibility and alert them to any financial strain you may be facing. Or a potential lender may perform a soft search if you ask for a quotation (vs. making an application), e.g., on a loan or insurance. When making enquiries, be sure to ask if the lender will perform a hard or a soft search of your credit record.

Credit Cards that Offer Soft Searches

It is possible to find for a suitable credit card without negatively impacting your credit score with too many hard searches. It’s becoming more popular for lenders to offer a “soft search” before you formally apply to a credit product. Soft searches are often embedded in an “eligibility checker” on the lender’s product pages on their website. Eligibility checks using a soft search will generally give an indication, not a guarantee, or your application success. Once you are given a strong indication of your likelihood of success, you can then decide if you want to apply. These soft search eligibility checks should not negatively impact your credit rating, nor can other lenders see them. (You, however, can see these “soft searches” when you check your own credit report.) Below is a list of companies that offer a soft search service, so you can test your eligibility before formally applying and leaving a footprint on your credit record:

Credit Card Companies that Perform Soft SearchesName of Soft Search System
Capital OneQuickCheck
MBNAEligibility Search
BarclaycardEligibility Checker
RBSCredit Card Eligibility Checker
NatWestCredit Card Eligibility Checker
Virgin MoneyCard Checker
HalifaxEligibility Checker
thinkmoneyCheck Now
AsdaQuick Eligibility Check

Of the eligibility checkers listed above, only one virtually guarantees their tool will tell you if you are approved before you apply: Capital One’s QuickCheck. The only circumstances under which a "yes" from QuickCheck will not turn into a "yes" on your application is if the subsequent hard search (performed only when you formally apply for the card) returns certain information from fraud prevention databases or your identity can’t be verified. (Remember to register on your electoral roll—this helps verify your identity!)

Whether you're after a credit-builder card for poor credit or a rewards card for those with a strong credit rating, it can be a good idea to use a card's eligibility checker to avoid applications that may be declined.

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