Will Removing a Hard Inquiry Improve Your Credit Score?
Jason Mikula learned the hard way how to remove inquiries from credit reports — after he had become a victim of identity theft.[*] The financial technology professional battled unrelenting identity thieves throughout 2021 after noticing two unauthorized hard inquiries on his credit report.
As Mikula worked with authorities to close fraudulent accounts and rebuild his creditworthiness, one thing became clear.
It's far too easy for identity thieves to open new credit accounts in your name and tank your credit score. Victims grappling with the aftermath of identity theft have a long and grueling remediation process ahead of them.
While removing inquiries doesn’t guarantee an improvement in your credit score, leaving suspicious credit pulls or errors undisputed on your report can be problematic.
What is a hard inquiry on your credit report?
A hard inquiry is recorded when someone requests to review your credit report as part of a credit application process. Also known as a hard credit check or hard pull, these requests from an authorized lender can shave up to five points off your FICO score.[*]
While hard inquiries stay on your file for two years, their lingering effects on your credit score last for one year. You can find these checks on your credit report in the section called Hard Inquiries.
How is it different from a soft credit check?
Soft inquiries are made when you pull your own credit report or receive a pre-approved offer from a lender. These types of inquiries don't negatively impact your credit score.
It's best to avoid too many hard credit inquiries in a short period. Prospective lenders may interpret this as a sign of making irresponsible credit applications or your inability to pay them back.
What to know if you’re comparison shopping
If you’re rate shopping for various types of credit accounts — the best credit card, personal finance options, or an auto loan — you might trigger a flurry of hard checks. Credit scoring models can, however, group similar credit checks and allow you to comparison-shop for the best interest rates.
This rate shopping window varies from model to model:
- FICO: 14 days to 45 days, depending on the FICO scoring formula used
- VantageScore: 14-day span
3 Reasons Why There Are Hard Inquiries on Your Credit Report
There are a few different reasons for a hard inquiry. Since not all inquiries may be legitimate, it’s critical to stay vigilant and flag anything that looks amiss.
Checks from an authorized lender
Any authorized lender that reports information to the credit reporting agencies is also known as a data furnisher.
Credit card companies, banks, loan companies, and even your landlord are examples. When you apply for a new line of credit, the furnisher will want to probe into your credit history first.
Consequently, you'll have to give permission for the lender to access a copy of your credit report. For example, a credit check will be essential before you can pursue an auto loan application.
Sometimes, the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — make erroneous entries on your file. Common types of credit reporting errors include:
Identity mismatches or mixed files
- Mistakes with your personally identifiable information (PII) — like an incorrect name, address, or phone number
- Jumbled account information that was confused with someone who has the same name, or a similar name, to yours
- The same debt listed multiple times with different names
- Incorrect account information as a result of identity theft
- Incorrect dates (e.g., opening date, last payment date, or date of first delinquency)
- Inaccurate reports of late payments or delinquencies
- Authorized users reported as the account owner
- Closed accounts marked as open (or vice versa)
Balance and data management errors
- Incorrect current balance or credit limit
- Reinsertion of incorrect information even after rectification
- Multiple instances of the same accounts listed with different creditors
Potential identity theft
If you stumble upon an unfamiliar inquiry, it might be an honest mistake by a lender. However, it could indicate fraud — so, always contact the data furnisher if in doubt.
In the case of a bogus credit check, here are some quick actions you can take to prevent financial fraud:
Place a fraud alert or credit freeze:
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) to place a fraud alert. (That bureau will contact the other two.)
- Contact each of the three credit bureaus separately to place credit freezes.
- Provide two forms of identifying documentation, such as your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, or Social Security card.
Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
- Visit IdentityTheft.gov.
- File an identity theft report with the full details of the suspected fraud.
- Obtain a recovery plan and follow the FTC’s guidelines to protect yourself.
📚 Related: Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze: Which Can Protect You More? →
How Do You Dispute (and Remove) Unauthorized Inquiries?
If you think you’ve found reporting errors or fraudulent hard pulls, you should take action to protect your credit score and identity. Here’s how the credit inquiry removal process works.
1. Obtain free copies of your credit report
You can order free credit reports once a year from each bureau. The three bureaus often record the same information. But sometimes, there are differences; so it's essential to check all three reports carefully for signs of identity theft.
What to do:
- Get into the habit of checking your credit every few months to safeguard against fraud.
- Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to order your free credit report.
- Order a credit report from all three bureaus every year — each bureau version includes your credit score.
📚 Related: Are Free Credit Reports Safe? How To Avoid Credit Score Scams →
2. Flag any inaccurate hard inquiries
Sometimes the company that made the hard credit check is listed under different names on each credit report. Verify any unfamiliar activity to ensure that it’s not fraud.
What to do:
- Check the Hard Inquiries section of your credit report.
- Make sure you recognize all credit checks as legitimate hard inquiries.
- Note the details of any unrecognized credit inquiries.
📚 Related: LifeLock vs. Experian IdentityWorks vs. Aura: 2023 Showdown →
3. Contact the original lender
You may be able to avoid a formal dispute over a hard inquiry by making direct contact with the furnisher (such as the credit card issuer or car dealership).
What to do:
- Contact the creditor responsible for the hard inquiry. You should be able to find their contact details on their official website or social media page.
- Explain that you believe there is an error on your credit report and request that they remove the inquiry.
- Share accurate details about the incorrect hard inquiry, such as the date of the credit check.
📚 Related: 14 New Ways Scammers Can Steal Your Credit Card Numbers →
4. Start an official dispute
Sometimes, your efforts to resolve the matter yourself may not succeed. If the furnisher doesn't know how to remove inquiries from credit reports — or ignores or rejects your request — you should file a formal dispute.
What to do:
- Decide if you will file your dispute online or with a written letter.
- Remember to keep a copy if you send a dispute letter by mail. It’s good to have a record in case you pursue legal action later.
- Avoid filing disputes over the phone. While that’s a quick way to report issues and get advice from authorities, it’s difficult to maintain a paper trail.
5. Include all essential information
When you write your dispute letter, make sure to include the following items:
- Name, address, and date of birth
- Social Security number (SSN)
- The date of writing the letter
- Dates of disputed information and the company that provided that information
- The credit bureau that recorded the disputed hard inquiry
- Your official request for an inquiry removal along with reasons why you believe authorities should remove the inquiry
- Any relevant supporting documents that will help authorities with their investigation — for example, an FTC identity theft report, bank statements, or evidence from the creditor
Make sure to send copies of any supporting documents — but not the originals, as you won’t get them back. If you want to make this process easier, the FTC provides a dispute letter template.
6. Submit your dispute
It’s important to raise any questionable inquiries with the same bureau that lists them on your credit report. As mentioned, keeping track of the documentation is a good idea in case of a legal investigation. So, submitting your credit dispute online or in writing is the best approach.
Dispute hard inquiry errors by phone:
- Equifax: 886-349-5191
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 800-916-8800
Dispute hard inquiry errors online:
- Equifax: online dispute page →
- Experian: online dispute portal →
- TransUnion: online dispute page →
Send a dispute letter by certified mail:
- Equifax: Equifax Information Services, LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: TransUnion Consumer Solutions, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016
📚 Related: How To Dispute a Credit Card Charge (2023 Guide) →
7. Wait for a verdict
After lodging your official dispute, the credit reporting agencies must resolve the matter within 30 to 45 days. The bureau will contact the furnisher to determine if the credit check was a mistake.
Companies that provide information to credit reporting agencies have a duty to investigate disputes, in line with The Fair Credit Reporting Act.[*]
If the bureau can't verify the inquiry, they will likely remove it from your credit report. However, the bureau may reject the claim if the furnisher asserts that the hard inquiry is a legitimate credit check.
What to do:
- Request the bureaus to include a statement — a 100-word note — on your credit file that explains the dispute. This statement will be available to any lenders who make hard pulls on your credit report in the future.
- Seek further assistance from a nonprofit credit counseling company. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) helps people resolve credit issues for free and restore their credit scores. Consider speaking to an NFCC credit counselor before you approach a credit repair company.
📚 Related: Don't Fall For These Clever Credit Repair Scams →
Not All Incorrect Inquiries Indicate Fraud. Aura Can Help
While not every unfamiliar credit check is fraudulent, even honest credit reporting mistakes can harm your credit score — which can then lead to your being denied a credit card, car loan, or student loan.
Order your free credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Remember, the free credit reports don't include your credit score — you may need to pay to get that information from one of the three bureaus.
You can save a lot of time and hassle when you use an identity theft protection service that monitors your credit 24/7 for signs of fraud.
With Aura, you’ll get:
- Rapid credit monitoring and fraud alerts — Receive alerts for suspicious activity on all your bank and credit accounts and credit reports. Aura alerts you to any issues 4x faster than any competing digital security provider.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) with malware protection — Keep all your devices safe from hackers by browsing with Wi-Fi protection and military-grade encryption.
- Instantly lock your credit report — Prevent unauthorized credit report inquiries with our one-click credit lock feature.
- Dark Web scanning — Check your personal data exposure to ensure that your SSN or credit card numbers are not at risk.
- $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy — Get comprehensive coverage for eligible losses resulting from identity theft.