Inquiries into your credit history can be made for any “permissible purpose,” which includes the extension of credit, insurance underwriting, employment decisions and debt collection. Not all credit inquiries impact your credit standing, however. “Soft” inquiries – such as when you review your credit file on WalletHub, a creditor prescreens you for an offer or a potential employer performs a credit check – won’t have any bearing on your credit score. “Hard” inquiries, on the other hand, typically occur when you apply for credit, sign up for certain utility services or, in some cases, seek to rent a property. They can take a temporary toll on your score and usually require your direct approval.
It’s therefore understandable if you’re worried about a listing that you do not recognize, as a suspicious inquiry could be the first sign that your personal information has been compromised. However, there are a number of reasons why a newly-added inquiry might not jog your memory despite actually being legitimate:
- Retailers Partner With Banks For Store Credit Cards & Financing Offers: Most major retailers want to give their customers the option of financing a purchase and/or earning rewards, but they don’t want to handle the logistics of issuing and maintaining financial accounts. So they partner with financial institutions. That’s why you might see an inquiry from Example Bank USA listed on your credit report after you apply for the Sample Store Rewards Credit Card, for instance.
- Employers, Landlords & Utility Companies Often Contract-Out Credit Screening: There are companies and services that specialize in background checks, which often include a review of your credit history. So, if you moved or changed jobs recently, the inquiry that you’re seeing could be from such a contractor. Employment and housing-related inquiries can be either hard or soft, depending on how they’re processed.
- A Higher Credit Limit May Require A Credit Report Checkup: Credit card companies will typically perform an inquiry after you request a higher credit limit, which may explain an inquiry from one of your existing creditors that you do not recognize. Unlike the soft credit inquiries that creditors perform as part of regular account maintenance, consumer-initiated requests for a higher credit limit typically result in a hard inquiry being made.
- Authorized Third Parties Can Rate Shop On Your Behalf: In some cases, most notably with car dealers, a single request for a financing estimate can result in credit inquiries from a number of different lenders. For example, if you’re shopping for a new car and you ask the dealer about the loan terms you can expect, the dealer might seek preapproval from numerous lenders in order to present you with a competitive offer.
- Permission To Run A Credit Check Is Often Buried In Fine Print: If you’re wondering when you granted a particular company the right to poke around your credit report, don’t worry; it’s probably not your memory failing you. Oftentimes, language that allows a company (or one of its affiliates) to access your credit file is buried in the fine print of a related agreement that you might have signed, such as a rental or job application.
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge the possibility that this unrecognized credit report inquiry is fraudulent. A suspicious inquiry could be the first sign of an identity thief applying for credit in your name. If you believe this is the case, follow these steps.