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This article was last updated Jun 19, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
Applying for a credit card is as simple as spending a few minutes to fill out an application online — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get approved. Credit card issuers consider numerous factors when determining your eligibility, and we’ll review some of the factors you can control to hopefully increase your approval odds for opening a credit card.
Below, we list several steps you can take prior to the application process that may increase your chances of approval.
Note: Following the tips below does not guarantee you will be approved for a credit card.
Check your credit score
Credit card issuers typically check your credit score from one of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — prior to determining your eligibility. Your credit score is comprised of payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%) and credit mix (10%). Credit scores provided by FICO® are the most widely used, compared with scores provided by VantageScore®.
Here are the general credit score ranges:
It’s important to be aware of your credit score, since many credit cards require specific types of credit to qualify. For example, a card may say “good or excellent credit required.” So, if you’re someone with bad credit, chances are you won’t be approved. There are some credit cards from lesser known issuers that don’t check your credit during the application process, but those cards tend to have numerous fees and poor terms.
Pay off debt you may have
A large factor of your credit score is amounts owed (aka utilization). This is defined as the amount of credit you owe divided by the total amount of credit you have. Meaning, if you have $3,000 in debt and a $5,000 credit limit, your utilization is 60%. We recommend keeping utilization below 30%. Paying off your debt — or reducing it if you can’t pay it off — can help lower your utilization rate and may raise your credit score. Depending on your credit score, and if it increases from maintaining a lower utilization rate, you may be boosted to a better credit range, such as going from bad to fair credit or fair to good credit.
Shop around to find your best credit card
A helpful feature offered by many credit cards is prequalification. This feature allows you to check if you may qualify for a credit card by performing a soft pull of your credit. Unlike a credit card application, which performs a hard pull of your credit, a soft pull does not affect your credit score and is a great way to compare different credit card offers.
Note: Prequalification does not guarantee you’ll be approved. If prequalification isn’t an option, you can compare multiple credit cards on our site before applying for a credit card.
Disclose all your income during the application process
When it comes time to apply for a credit card, make sure you fill out the application honestly and input all the income you earn in the “total annual income” field. This will help issuers judge your eligibility to repay loans. Just make sure you don’t inflate how much you earn since that’s considered fraud. Total annual income often includes: salary, wages, retirement income, interest, dividends, investments and rental income. Alimony, child support, and separate maintenance can be listed if you want — but it’s optional.
What to expect during the application process
When you complete your credit card application online, you will need to fill in information about yourself including:
- Personal information (name, date of birth, Social Security number)
- Address and contact information
- Financial information (total annual income, monthly rent or mortgage payments, employment status)
Some credit card applications may ask if you want to add an authorized user or transfer a balance. Before you submit your application, make sure you review the terms and conditions listed so you’re aware of the fees you may be charged and any benefits that the credit card may offer.
How soon will I know if I’m approved for a credit card?
You typically receive an instant approval (or denial) notice after your credit card application is submitted. It typically takes up to two weeks to receive your credit card if you are approved. But if you’re denied, it’s not the end of the world. You can look at secured cards that can help you build credit before you apply for a credit card again. A secured card is nearly identical to a traditional, unsecured card — except you need to make a minimum deposit that becomes your line of credit and acts as collateral if you don’t pay your balance. The deposit is often refundable if you are upgraded to an unsecured card or pay off your balance and close your account.