Explaining credit searches and enquiries

Posted by Ben Ryland in Credit Reports on 28 October 2016 - Ben is a Senior Credit Analyst at checkmyfile.

There is a lot of confusion over what a credit search really is. Does it impact your score? Are there such things as soft and hard searches? How long do they stay on a credit file?

Below we try to answer the most common credit file questions on the subject of searches:

What is a credit search?

In simple terms a credit search is the action of your credit report being checked by an organisation with whom you have made an application for credit. Any time your credit file is accessed by an organisation you have made an application with, a record of the search is stored on your credit file as a ‘Credit Search’.

A credit search is carried out so the organisation can check if there is any negative information on the credit file which could influence their decision to lend. How credit has been managed in the past (and the present) is an indicator of how you are likely to manage your credit in the future.

What is the difference between a soft search and a hard/full search?

Primarily the difference is how the search is recorded on your credit file. A ‘soft search’ would not be recorded as a credit application search on your credit file and would more likely appear as an enquiry search (this is often known in the industry as a ‘Quotation search’). This is where your file is not accessed to provide a yes or no decision to a lending decision. It is a snapshot of your file and makes it easier to shop around safe in the knowledge that you’re not having a full credit search run of your credit file each time.

A hard (or full) credit search, is where you complete the action of making a credit application with a provider. A credit search is run of your credit file and the lender will consider all the elements of your credit file against their criteria and give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or delayed decision.

Are there different types of credit search?

The term ‘credit search’ is very broad and covers searches of your credit report which may not necessarily be an actual credit search of the file.

Searches can be broken down into 3 main types: a credit search, an enquiry search and an audit search. As mentioned above, a credit search relates to those hard credit searches where an application has been made and a decision is taken by the lender.

An enquiry search relates to accesses of your credit report that do not result in a lending decision. These often appear as quotation searches and as a result of ‘soft searches’. They routinely appear on credit files from insurance providers who access the file when generating insurance quotes through a comparison site, and also credit providers where quotes are generated.

The final type of search is an audit search. These relate to all other accesses of your credit file where a footprint marker is recorded on the credit file for reference. Audits are not visible to a lender, only to yourself and the credit reference agency, and the most common type of audit search relates to accessing your own credit file. As such you can access and view your own credit file as many times as you like without the fear that it will harm your credit score.

What information is recorded on your credit file due to the search?

When your credit file is accessed by a lender the organisation name or type, date of search and the name and address of the person being searched will be recorded on the credit file. This helps you to monitor your credit file and be alert to any credit searches which you don’t recall having made. This is a useful fraud prevention measure, and can also highlight cases where your credit file has been mistakenly accessed by a lender.

How long do they remain on the credit file?

This is ultimately at the discretion of the credit reference agency where a search has been made.

The main credit search will stay on a credit file held by Crediva, Equifax and TransUnion for two years from the date of the search. The final agency Experian normally only retains their credit searches for one year before they naturally drop off the credit file.

If a search has been carried out by a debt collector (these usually appear as enquiry searches) it can remain on your file for a period of up to 6 years.

What impact do they have on your credit report?

It’s important not to worry if you check your file and find that there are a few search entries appearing.

Having a credit application search on your credit file would not have a negative impact on your credit score or rating. Where it can become a problem is if you have made several applications for credit over a short period of time. As the outcome of a credit search is not reflected on your file, lenders would often interpret a number of searches as an urgency for credit and this could concern a lender on the ability to repay the credit amount being applied for. As such 1-2 searches a month is a sensible guide if you’re concerned on over applying and the impact on your credit score.

Apart from searches made by a debt collector (these aren’t attractive to potential lenders), other enquiry and audit searches do not have a negative impact on your credit report or the credit rating.

To see what types of credit search has been carried out on your Credit Report, you can try checkmyfile FREE for 30 days, then for just £14.99 a month afterwards, which you can cancel online, by phone or by email.

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