*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated Jul 27, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
Nobody likes to get rejected. Whether you are turned down for a first date, a marriage proposal or a job offer, a rejection can sting for days.
If you are thinking about applying for a credit card for the first time or after you’ve had a financial challenge or two, the uncertainty that comes with wondering whether or not you will be approved might have you thinking twice.
While there is no surefire strategy that will guarantee you will be approved, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances.
- Know where you stand before you apply
- Narrow down the type of card you’re looking for
- Check to see if there is a prequalification tool available
- What to expect and what information you’ll need to apply
- What to do if you’re rejected
Know where you stand by checking your credit score and reports
Before you apply for a credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit so you know what the card issuer is going to judge you on. Doing so can also help you narrow down what type of credit card you may be able to qualify for.
For example, you may have your eyes set on a high-end rewards card, but when you check your credit score, you realize your credit is only fair. Since high-end rewards cards are more likely to require a high credit score, you may do better applying for a department store credit card, which may be easier to get, and then you can use it to improve your credit through responsible usage.
There is no shortage of ways to access your credit scores and credit reports for free.
- One of the easiest ways to get a free copy of your credit reports is to go to AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s good practice to check for and dispute any legitimate errors, such as accounts fraudulently opened in your name, that can drag your scores down. You can pull your credit report for free once a year from each of the big three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus are now allowing you to pull your credit reports weekly until April 2021.
- CompareCards lets you access your VantageScore for free once you sign up and provide identifying information such as a valid Social Security number.
The scores most widely used credit scores are the FICO® Score and the VantageScore. Each one rates your credit on a scale between 300 to 850. The higher you score, the better your credit.
According to credit bureau Experian, FICO Scores are ranked as follows:
- 800-850: Exceptional
- 740-799: Very good
- 670-739: Good
- 580-669: Fair
- 300-579: Poor
According to Experian, the VantageScore ranking system is as follows:
- 781-850: Excellent
- 661-780: Good
- 601-660: Fair
- 500-600: Poor
- 300-499: Very poor
Several banks and card issuers including Chase, Discover and Citibank offer credit scores for free via their web portals. To see if your bank offers free FICO Scores, the FICO Score Open Access Program lists more than 200 financial institutions that provide them to their customers.
Some banks will let you access your score even if you are not a customer. For example, Discover lets any consumer access their score through their Discover Credit ScoreCard service.
The credit bureau Experian also lets you access your free credit score or free credit report. The other two, Equifax and TransUnion, offer credit scores as part of a paid credit monitoring service.
Narrow down the type of card you’re looking for
Different types of cards are geared toward people who fall into varying levels of credit score ranges.
- For example, if you have very poor credit, you may want to start with a secured card – which requires you to make a deposit that serves as your credit limit – until your credit score improves.
- Also, young people who are just beginning to build their credit history may easily qualify for a student credit card as long as they are 18 and can prove some sort of income.
- Those with excellent or exceptional scores are more likely to be offered the cream of the crop in credit cards, such as those with big sign-up bonuses, travel benefits and high credit limits.
Once you know where on the spectrum you fall, you will have a better idea of your odds of getting approved.
Credit cards can also come with valuable benefits and rewards programs. If you’re interested in getting a rewards credit card, ask yourself whether you’d prefer cash back or points that can be redeemed for travel.
For example, if you are an entrepreneur, you might want a card such as the Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card because it offers 3% cash back on your choice of one of the following six categories: gas stations, office supply stores, travel, TV/telecom & wireless, computer services or business consulting services, and 2% cash back on dining (on the first $50,000 each calendar year, then 1%. Earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases..
On the other hand, if you are planning to get married in the next year and you want to rack up points to go toward your honeymoon trip, you may want to look at the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card. For the first time, earn 5 Free Nights after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card!
As you’re contemplating the best credit card for you, take some time to do some research and read card reviews so you know what types of offers are out there and what type of credit score you may need to have to be approved. Also, talk to family members and friends about their experiences with credit cards to see if they have any recommendations.
As you whittle down your list, watch out for the following things:
- Annual fees: Some cards come with an annual fee whether you use the card or not. If a card you are considering charges one, make sure it’s worth it. For example, some cards with lucrative rewards charge an annual fee that some consumers feel outweigh the cost.
- Other fees: Card issuers may charge other fees such as late fees, foreign transaction fees and cash advance fees. Make sure you’re familiar with and comfortable with a card’s fees before applying.
- Interest rates: Naturally, you want to pay attention to the interest rate. Even if you plan to pay your balances off each month, which lets you avoid paying interest altogether, it’s a good idea to avoid applying for a card with a sky-high APR in case you do have to carry a balance temporarily at some point. However, know that if you have fair or poor credit, you may have to settle for a high APR until your credit score improves. Also, if you’re looking at cards that offer a low introductory rate, make sure you check what the interest rate range will be after the promotional period is over.
Check to see if there is a prequalification tool available
Another way to get an idea of whether you might be approved for a credit card is by getting prequalified. While a prequalification does not guarantee approval, it might let you know if you are at least in the ballpark.
Several card issuers let you provide certain information such as your name and a valid Social Security number and will then do a soft pull on your credit to give you a preliminary answer on whether you are likely to be approved.
Unlike a hard pull of your credit, which will actually appear on your credit report, a soft pull does not affect your credit. However, a soft pull also is not definitive because once the card issuer does the hard pull, they gain access to more information that might affect their decision.
While some card issuers will send you letters letting you know they’ve already prequalified you for a credit card, you can also go directly to the web sites of several leading card issuers and access their prequalification tools.
What to expect and what information you’ll need to apply
Once you’ve checked your credit, figured out the card you want to apply for and checked to see if you are prequalified, you’re ready to get down to the business of applying.
To apply, you’ll need to provide personal details such as your name and address, along with a valid Social Security number, which will be used to check your credit.
You’ll also need to provide information about your income so card issuers can determine whether you would likely be able to afford making card payments. An issuer may ask for other information about your financial situation that might not appear on your credit report, such as rent payments.
Next, you will have to decide where to apply from. While you can always apply directly from the card issuer, CompareCards lets you sort through and compare different offerings that fit your particular circumstances and apply directly from there. This is helpful if you want to see several low-interest credit cards or several student credit cards, for example, at one time.
Credit card websites, such as CompareCards, may receive compensation from credit card issuers whose products are featured on the website, and may be paid for connecting consumers who are shopping for credit cards to credit card offers they are qualified for.
However, it’s important to understand that CompareCards is not collecting your information. Rather, you are directed to the card issuer’s website, where you will apply in a secure environment.
Once you identify the card you want to apply for, click the Apply Now button. You will then be redirected to the card issuer’s secure credit application.
At that point, you’ll be asked to fill out a form, providing personal information such as your address, phone number, Social Security number and income.
Once you submit the online application, you will either receive instant approval or you may have to wait a few days for an answer via email or a letter, depending on the card issuer’s practices.
If you receive instant approval, some card issuers will provide you with an instant credit card number, which lets you make card purchases immediately even while you’re waiting for your physical credit card to arrive in the mail.
What to do if you’re rejected
Sometimes you won’t get instantly approved and a card issuer will say your application is undergoing further review. There are many reasons this could happen, such as if the card issuer needs to verify your income or want to take a closer look at your credit report.
If you’ve been waiting for what you believe to be a long period, you can always call the issuer’s customer service department to check the status of your application.
But what happens if you find out you’ve been rejected?
First, when you are denied credit, by law the creditor must send you a letter explaining why you were denied. They should also let you know that you have the right to get a free copy of the credit report that was used when making their decision.
It’s always a good idea to get that copy of that credit report and take note of the reasons you were rejected so you know where you need to improve. Also, look for any errors on your credit report, such as fraudulent accounts opened in your name, and if there are, contact the credit bureau to have them removed.
Don’t immediately apply for another card because each hard pull of your credit is shown on your credit report and lenders may wonder if you’re having financial difficulties if you are applying for credit too frequently. Instead, wait a few months and work on increasing your credit score.
Some behaviors that may help you get your score up include continuing to make payments on time on other accounts and paying down existing debts.
Once some time has passed, consider trying again, perhaps by applying for a credit card that is known for being relatively easy to get approved for.
A credit score is a moving target, meaning it’s constantly changing to reflect your most recent actions. You can take steps today to ensure that your credit score is higher tomorrow and improve your chances of turning that ‘no’ from a card issuer into a ‘yes.’