One of the most complicated aspects of the FICO credit scoring system is how inquiries impact your scores. This is easily on the “Top 5” list of the most misrepresented facts about FICO scores. So, in the interest of clearing up the record and dispelling all of the “inquiries are worth 12 points” myths, I’m going to walk you though exactly how inquiries are categorized and measured by the FICO credit score. What you’re about to read is 100% accurate. Follow me…
1. Inquiries are all specifically coded by the credit bureaus to reflect the industry from which they came. That means if you apply for a mortgage, auto loan, credit card, personal loan, student loan, or any other type of loan the inquiry will likely clearly indicate the specific type of credit you’ve applied for. This is important because the type of inquiry plays a key role in how it’s evaluated.
2. Mortgage, auto and student loan inquiries are treated differently from all other inquiry types. If you don’t already know, these are the types of loan where you can shop around for the best interest rates and terms. As such, searching for any one of these loans can result on many lenders pulling your credit report cards and scores. As such, your credit reports could get loaded up with multiple credit inquiries in a very short period of time because of your rate shopping activities.
3. FICO doesn’t want to penalize smart consumers for rate shopping, which is something we all should do when looking for funding for major purchases, like mortgages. So, rather than assume each inquiry indicates a discreet and unique credit application, they built logic in their credit scoring model that identifies when you’re shopping for one loan rather than many loans.
Here’s how it works:
Mortgage related inquiries, which are very easy to identify because of #1 above, are ignored for the first 30 days they’re on your credit reports. So, if you apply for a mortgage loan on Jan 15th it’ll take until Feb 15th for that inquiry to become “visible” to the FICO score. That means you can apply for mortgage loans with 100 different lenders over a 30-day period and all 100 of those inquiries will be ignored. That means they’ll have absolutely no impact on your FICO scores.
When the mortgage inquiries age past 30 days they become fair game and will be seen by the FICO scoring system. The story doesn’t end here, though. Any of those inquiries that occur within the same 45-day period will be treated as 1 inquiry for scoring purposes. In my absurd example above, the 100 inquiries will be considered as only one. This is because they all would have occurred within 45 days of each other.
The assumption, and it makes perfect sense, is that you’re shopping around for the best terms on one loan, not 100 loans. By ignoring them for the first 30 days it gives consumers the ability to shop until they drop without having to worry about their scores being damaged by their aggressive rate shopping. And, after the 30 day period ends, you end up with all of those inquiries counting as you shopping for only one loan, which is exactly what you are doing: looking for one loan.
This logic applies not only to mortgages but also to auto loans and student loans. It does not apply to credit cards, which means if you apply for 5 credit cards then the 5 inquiries will immediately be seen by the FICO score AND they’ll all be considered unique loan/credit applications.
Many years ago the 45-day “de-duplication” period was only 14 days. Because of that, you still hear some people claim that you only have 14 days to shop for a mortgage, which was true about a decade ago but isn’t true any longer. The next time you’re looking for a mortgage loan, you can comparison shop until you drop. Just make sure you choose the final offer during the first 30 days!
John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO and Equifax, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Follow him on Twitter here.