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What does it mean to prequalify for a credit card?
A great feature that many credit card issuers offer is prequalification. Simply stated, this allows you to check if you may qualify for a credit card by performing a soft pull on your credit. A soft pull does not affect your credit score, unlike a hard pull that will appear on your credit report and can cause your credit score to drop by a few points. When checking if you’re prequalified, you typically provide your name and last four digits of your Social Security number. This gives the issuer a snapshot of your credit, allowing them to make a tentative decision of whether you’d get approved for a credit card or not.
Am I guaranteed to get approved if I prequalify for a credit card?
The short answer is no. The response you receive from prequalification is not an approval for a credit card. You will still need to apply for the credit card, and even if you originally prequalified, you may be rejected. This is because unlike the soft pull performed during prequalification, credit card applications perform hard pulls on your credit and look at your full credit history, so other factors are considered when coming to a final decision (like payment history, employment and salary). Depending on the status of these factors, an approval or denial will be issued.
Still, getting prequalified is a wise step to take because you can at least take an educated guess that you may be approved before you allow a credit issuer to perform a hard pull of your credit history.
3 ways to see if you prequalify for a credit card
There are three ways for you to check if you prequalify for a credit card: prequalification letters in the mail, prequalification tools and going directly to the source. The latter two require direct action on your part to seek out the prequalification offers online; meanwhile you will have to wait and see if you receive an offer via mail. These three prequalification methods provide a great way for you to see your approval odds.
- Prequalification letters in the mail: You may receive letters in the mail from credit card issuers saying you may prequalify to apply for their credit card. These offers are tempting and can be a starting point when searching for a credit card, but it’s important to make sure the offer is legitimate. If the offer isn’t from a major issuer or bank, take caution and do some online research before applying. Before submitting any application, be sure to read the terms and conditions. It’s also a good idea to call and consult a representative from the issuer to validate your offer letter. Keep in mind that a prequalification letter is not a guarantee of approval. For example, a Citibank prequalification letter for the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer states “you’ve been preselected to apply” and provides a personal invitation number to enter when applying either online, by phone or via mail.
- Prequalification tools: Several online websites allow you to check if you prequalify for offers for a variety of credit cards. You are matched with offers from the site’s partners, so you may not see all credit cards that allow you to prequalify. Read this piece from MagnifyMoney* to see a roundup of tools you can use to check if you’re prequalified
- Go directly to the source: A great way to see if you prequalify for a credit card you’re interested in is to go directly to the issuing bank’s website. Many of the leading banks offer prequalification tools. Here are the banks that allow you to check if you’re prequalified:
Pitfalls to watch out for
Before checking if you prequalify for a credit card, make sure the issuer is performing a soft pull on your credit. While a soft pull does not affect your credit score, a hard pull will lower your score. Be sure to read the terms of prequalification before submitting any form. Many issuers state a soft pull “won’t affect your credit score” or have you check a box that marks your approval to submit the prequalification form and acknowledges the form won’t affect your credit score.
Another point to be aware of is applying for too many offers simply because you prequalify. Just because you prequalify for a credit card, doesn’t mean you should apply for the card. Prequalification does not guarantee approval. Before applying for any credit card, you should be certain that it is in your best interest and you’re aware of the terms and conditions. Applying for too many credit cards can hurt your credit score, and you may not need multiple cards. Keep in mind, once you fill out a credit card application, the issuer will review your credit report, and this will be considered a hard pull on your credit.
What if I’m denied?
If you receive a denial from your prequalification check, don’t fret, you still have options. Just because you didn’t prequalify, doesn’t mean you won’t be approved, although your approval chances most likely will be slim. Prequalification checks do not look at your full credit history and things like employment status and salary, which may strengthen your credit card application.
Whether you’ve been denied or are planning on checking if you prequalify for a credit card, it’s helpful to perform several practices that can give you an idea of your likelihood to qualify for some cards versus others. Here are a few things you should do:
- Find out what type of credit score the card requires before you shop. Some credit cards specify the type of credit needed to qualify for the card. This will give you an idea of what credit score you need in order to have the best chance of being approved. For example, if you have a fair credit score and a card requires excellent credit, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify and you should look at cards that are designed for fair credit.
- Check your credit score in advance. A great way to see where you stand in terms of your credit is to check your credit score. This will give you an idea of what credit cards you may qualify for. There are many resources you can use to get your credit score for free, such as the Discover Scorecard.
- Check your credit report. Each year you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the three bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Regularly checking your credit report may alert you of anything that could cause issuers alarm. The best resource for checking your credit report is annualcreditreport.com, which is the only site authorized by the government. If you want to check your report more frequently, there are plenty of tools available to help, like My LendingTree. The My LendingTree platform is powered by LendingTree, the parent company of CompareCards.
- Improve your credit. If you have poor credit, chances are you most likely won’t qualify for a credit card. A good way to improve your credit is to apply for a secured card. With a secured card, you can build credit with $10 a month, as long as you practice responsible credit behavior. Another option is to become an authorized user on someone’s account. This has the potential to allow you to piggyback off of someone else’s good credit — as long as they are responsible. Once your credit score rises, you can check if you prequalify for credit card offers.
*Disclosure: MagnifyMoney is a subsidiary of LendingTree Inc., which is also the parent company of Comparecards.com