There are a number of misconceptions about how a credit score is determined, including the idea that a person's score automatically drops when a credit report is requested. The truth is that a credit score is determined by individual credit bureaus only after considering a laundry list of factors, such as payment history and number of open accounts. The number of requests for a credit report, also known as "inquiries," makes up only 10% of the criteria for a credit score adjustment. Some credit experts do say that credit scores can drop as much as five points when a report is ordered, but others say this is more myth than reality.
There are two different types of credit report inquiries, referred to as "soft" or "hard" in the credit world. A soft credit inquiry occurs whenever a consumer requests his or her own credit card report from a bureau or when it is requested by a current creditor investigating a dispute. This type of credit inquiry is not supposed to have any effect on a consumer's credit score, since it was made at the request of the consumer himself or an established creditor.
A hard inquiry, however, can lower a consumer's credit score under certain conditions. A hard inquiry occurs when a credit report is requested by a lender considering a new loan or other parties who may have judgments or liens against the consumer. When it's requested by a court or the IRS, for example, a potential lender may be more reluctant to offer the best interest rate or the maximum loan amount. Credit bureaus do understand that a number of hard inquiries connected with housing or car loan applications are not unusual, so when a credit report is requested by more than one lending company for the same purpose within days of each other, it is often counted as only one hard inquiry on the credit report.
Whenever an invitation for an unsolicited credit card arrives in the mail, there is always the possibility that the sender did make an inquiry into the consumer's credit status. Fortunately, when a credit report is requested by an outside interest without the consent of the consumer, the inquiry is not usually counted against the consumer's credit score. Inquiries are supposed to remain on a consumer's credit report for up to two years, although many lenders are primarily interested in the number of inquiries made in the last six months. Applying for too many credit cards or store accounts in a short period of time can make a consumer look desperate in the eyes of lenders, especially if many of those requests have been turned down.
In short, when done by the consumer himself or in response to an existing situation with a creditor, a requested credit report should have little to no effect on the credit score. If there are too many inquiries in a short amount of time, the credit bureau may see that as a negative and lower the consumer's credit score several points. This adjustment may have little effect on a consumer's ability to secure a loan or open a new account, but if the adjusted score falls below 600, the result could be higher interest rates or a lower line of credit.