Q&A: Is a signature required for a new card application?

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
I was told a signature is not required for a credit card application to be processed, only a verbalization. Is this true?  – Erica


Dear Erica,
You would think that a credit card issuer would always require an applicant’s actual signature to process an account request, yet that’s not always so. That’s because there are several ways to apply. The first is by completing a paper form, in which you would sign your name at the bottom. Another way is to apply online, in which you are asked to type in an electronic signature. Or you can apply for a credit card over the phone, in which the person with whom you’re speaking will ask for verbal verification that all the information you provided is true.

Whichever way you “sign,” though, your application is considered valid.

If you’re wondering whether all of these processes are safe, the answer is yes, as long as you’re dealing with the credit card issuer and not some impostor. Be careful, though. You’ll be providing such information as your Social Security number, driver’s license number, date of birth, address and annual household income. That’s highly personal and private data, so take these simple security precautions no matter which of the ways you apply for a credit card:

  • Paper. If you choose to complete and send the application the old-fashioned way, take the extra step and mail it directly from the post office. This way you can prevent someone from intercepting your application and committing identity theft and credit card fraud.

  • Online. Never respond to an email solicitation for a credit card. Fraudsters can create realistic looking websites, and if you apply through one, you could expose all your data to the crooks. Instead, search for the credit issuer online and apply via its website. Check that the URL begins with “https” and not just “http.” Another option is to pinpoint the card you’re interested in here on CreditCards.com. You’ll be safely routed to the correct site when you’re ready to apply for the card you’ve chosen.

  • Phone. If you get a call from an issuer telling you that you’re eligible for a great new credit card and you can apply right away, say thanks very much and hang up. The caller might be a scammer. If you’re interested in a particular credit card and want to apply over the phone, locate the phone number on the issuer’s website. And do I need to warn you against placing the call from a public space where people can overhear your conversation? Good. I didn’t think so.

Whichever way you apply, the credit card issuer will have what it needs to analyze you as a potential customer. If you mail in the application, you could receive a definite yes or no in a couple of weeks or so. If you apply online or over the phone, you’ll generally learn, at least conditionally, in a few minutes if you’ve been approved. That’s because the issuer can access your credit scores immediately. You’ll know for sure if you’ve been approved when you get a letter (and hopefully a shiny new card) in the mail.

Then once you receive the new credit card, all you have to do is activate it by calling the number that is typically listed on a removable sticker on the card. After this is accomplished, you’re ready to take your new card out for a spin!

See related: Are squiggly finger signatures legally binding?

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Updated: 12-16-2018