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It used to be that credit bureaus provided information primarily to lenders trying to decide if an applicant was creditworthy. Nowadays, the information maintained in credit bureau databases is in demand by everyone from potential employers to direct mail marketers and landlords. In fact, some home owners and auto insurance companies are basing premiums, in part, on credit scores.
Promotional inquiries are those by companies wishing to sell you something. The company submits a set of parameters, or guidelines, and the credit bureau releases a list of names and addresses of individuals in the database who fit that criteria. Of course, the company seeking the information pays the credit bureau a tidy sum for the information.
Account management inquiries are those by companies wishing to see if you would qualify for their products. Neither promotional nor account management inquiries are considered “official” or "hard" inquiries, because they were not initiated by the consumer.
Hard inquiries are those made by businesses or individuals (such as lenders or credit card providers) who have “permissible purpose.” Permissible purpose is when consumers explicitly grant permission, most often in writing, to businesses or individuals (such as landlords) to check credit reports. These inquiries do show up in the “Inquiry” section of your credit report. Hard inquries can also cause a drop in your credit score where as all the other types of "soft inquiries" do not.