Applying for a credit card can be as easy as choosing one of the best rewards credit cards and filling out a short form. But getting approved for the card you want may be trickier, even for an experienced credit card owner. It pays to think through your application strategy.
Follow these steps to get approved for the credit card you want.
Check Your Credit Score
A FICO score, often called a credit score, measures your creditworthiness on a scale from 300 to 850, where a higher score is better. Major banks, credit card companies, and credit unions often provide a free FICO score to their customers. If you can’t find a FICO score there, you may access one for free at the credit bureau Experian. Remember: checking your FICO score will not lower your credit score.
Choose a Credit Card that Meets Your Needs
Once you know your credit score, you will have a realistic idea of how to choose a credit card for you. For those with excellent credit, you will have more options, like cashback and other rewards cards.
Even if you have bad credit or are a student, you can still identify cards that will help you build your creditworthiness. Students may even qualify for rewards cards. If that interests you, read up on our Best Rewards Cards for Students.
For those hoping to get out of credit card debt, consider a balance-transfer credit card.
Get Pre-approved or Pre-qualified for the Card You Want
Once you have your eye on a card that is within reach of your credit score, you’ll want to maximize your chances of approval. Why? Every time you apply for a new credit card, the bank issuing the card will request your credit report (called a “hard inquiry” or a “hard pull,”) which will lower your FICO score by a few points. So if you apply for a card and are turned down or decide you want a different card, you will have to reapply with a lower credit score.
There are two ways to avoid a hard pull when applying for a credit card: pre-approval or pre-qualification. Each method assures the bank offering the card you want that you are sufficiently creditworthy. When a bank sends credit card offers, often by email or regular mail, they have usually pre-approved you for that card. If by serendipity it is the card you most want, then you only have to fill out the application.
For cards that have not been offered to you, the issuer may be willing to check if you qualify for the card before you submit a formal application. Contact the bank or credit union issuing the card and ask for “pre-qualification with no hard inquiry.”
Become an Authorized User if You Need a Credit Boost
If you are brand-new to the world of credit or trying to repair a poor credit history, you may want to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. This arrangement usually occurs between parent with good credit and child or young adult. The parent’s longer credit history and positive credit score are essentially shared with the child. By the same token, missed payments or other negative credit information are shared by both account owners, so avoid this option if there is any doubt about either party’s ability to use credit wisely and pay bills on time.
Fill out the Application Form
The fastest way to fill out an online application form at the bank’s website. Forms will typically require your legal name, date of birth, address, annual income, and social security number. You may also be asked about your monthly rent or mortgage payments.
Enjoy Your New Credit Card
If you followed the steps above, you are likely to soon be approved for your new credit card. Make sure you keep track of the balance on your account, note any suspicious activity, and pay your bills in full and on time. Doing so will help boost your credit score and make you eligible for the best credit cards available.
Ellen writes and edits personal finance stories, especially on credit cards and related products. She also covers the nexus between sustainability and personal finance. She was a manager and sustainability analyst at Calvert Investments for 15 years, focusing on climate change and consumer staples. She served on the sustainability councils of several Fortune 500 companies and led corporate engagements. Before joining Calvert, Ellen was a program officer for Winrock International, managing loans to alternative energy projects in Latin America. She earned a master’s from the U.C. Berkeley in international relations and Latin America.
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