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What are ‘prescreened’ credit card offers and how do they work?

Card issuers are increasingly using prescreened offers to target potential customers

Summary

Credit card issuers use prescreened offers to target their ideal applicants based on credit score, borrowing history and other personal information. Unless your credit profile has changed dramatically since you received an offer, you have great odds of approval.

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The next time you come across a glossy flyer congratulating you on being preapproved for a new credit card, take a closer look: It may be a prescreened card offer, and if you’re interested, you have a high likelihood of being approved.

But where do these offers come from, what do they mean and why are you getting them?

See related: What to look for in a credit card

What is a prescreened credit card offer?

Prescreened credit card offers are targeted solicitations that issuers use to invite qualified customers to apply for a new card. Prescreening allows issuers to aim card offers at specific consumers based on their credit score, borrowing history and other personal information.

When you receive a prescreened credit card offer, it means that the information in your credit report meets the initial approval criteria set by the issuer. “Basically, the issuer has done a background check on you and decided you are an ideal applicant,” says Anuj Shahani, vice president at Comperemedia, which tracks direct marketing offers.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, anyone who receives an unsolicited credit card offer based on prescreening is receiving a “firm offer of credit.” This means that unless your credit profile changes drastically between the time the issuer extends the offer and the time you apply, you should be approved (though not necessarily for the interest rate and credit line shown in the offer).

Prescreened offers typically come in the mail, but you may also get one via phone call or email.

Example of a prescreened credit card offer

How do prescreened credit card offers work?

To come up with a targeted list of potential cardholders, issuers will typically set their own qualification criteria – such as a minimum credit score or income – and ask credit bureaus for a list of borrowers who meet those requirements. Alternatively, they may provide a list of potential customers to the bureaus and have them identify those who meet the qualification criteria.

“The issuer will reach out to the bureau of their choice … and say that we want to make sure that we’re extending credit to folks who are ‘760-plus’ for this particular product,” says Shahani, using an excellent credit requirement as an example. “And then they’ll say that within the ‘760-plus,’ there might be additional criteria that we want to overlay.”

Prescreened offers aren’t limited to cardholders with good credit, however.

“Every credit card vendor maintains its own criteria for various card offerings,” says Lee Kendrick of CreditUturn. “So, while a credit card vendor might require you to at a minimum be a homeowner with a 740 credit score and $60,000 annual income for one of its top tier credit card offers, the same vendor may also have a card that’s available to renters with a 580 credit score and an $18,000 minimum annual gross income.”

Along with information found in your credit reports, issuers may use public information like age range, location, educational and professional background, ownership of other assets, group memberships and business relationships to select candidates for prescreened credit card offers.

“If you belong to AARP, chances are you are going to get a Chase AARP Visa offer,” says Shahani. “If you own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, chances are you are going to get a U.S. Bank Harley-Davidson offer.”

Using the names and addresses of possible applicants, the bank then sends a mass mailing.

While run-of-the-mill card solicitations may contain “preapproved,” “prequalified” or “preselected,” language, you can tell you’ve received a true prescreened offer if it features the legally required prescreen and opt-out notice:

Prescreen and opt-out notice

Are prescreened credit card offers still available?

Yes, though they may be tougher to get in the near future. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting economic turmoil, issuers have tightened access to credit across the board, leading to a substantial reduction in direct card marketing.

“April has seen roughly 30% less direct mail card marketing,” says Shahani. “I think the data from May will show us a good 50% cut, if not more.”

That said, of the card solicitations still being sent, Shahani estimates that a whopping 92% are prescreened offers. This is no surprise, as issuers can use prescreening to minimize risk by picking and choosing potential customers.

“In times of crisis, a lot more prescreening will take place,” says Shahani.

Do prescreened offers affect your credit?

No. The credit report inquiries that result from prescreening are “soft” inquiries and have no impact on your credit score.

Should you decide to move forward with a prescreened offer and accept a new line of credit, however, the issuer will check your credit via a hard pull, which will temporarily knock a few points off your score.

See related: Soft pull vs. hard pull

Prescreening vs preapproval and credit card invitations

Though they sound similar and are sometimes used interchangeably, true prescreening differs from the type of preapproval or prequalification that’s typically available on a card issuer’s website.

To start, prescreening is initiated by the lender, while preapproval or prequalification is initiated by the consumer. In other words, unless you’ve been prescreened, the issuer is not seeking you out as an applicant based on your credit profile and other personal information.

“Prescreened credit card offers happen with no knowledge of the consumers,” says Freya Kuka, founder and owner of Collecting Cents, a personal finance blog. “Prequalification, on the flip side, is initiated by a consumer who opts in to see what credit cards they are eligible for and then chooses to move forward with that particular card.”

Additionally, just because you’re preapproved via an issuer’s website or a tool like CardMatch, that doesn’t mean that you’re being extended a firm offer of credit as you are with prescreened credit card offers. While preapproval can give you a sense of your odds of approval before you apply, it’s still possible that your application will be denied upon closer inspection of your credit report.

“It’s somewhat less likely that you’ll be approved for a ‘prequalified’ or ‘preapproved’ offer in comparison to a prescreened offer,” says Kendrick. “However, many credit card vendors will also word their prescreened offers as ‘prequalified’ or ‘preapproved’ because consumers are more likely to submit a request for the offer when they believe that they’re preapproved.”

How to opt out of (or back in to) prescreened credit card offers

Since prescreening happens entirely behind the scenes, most consumers are unaware that they’re opted in by default. As a result, prescreened offers often lead to annoyance and waste, with unwanted mailers piling up over time.

Prescreened mailings can also increase the threat of potential fraud. After all, if an identity thief steals one of these offers from your mail or trash, fills it out with your personal information and has it sent to themselves, they may be approved for a card in your name.

If you’d rather not receive prescreened credit card offers, you can opt out, either for five years or indefinitely, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, if you’ve opted out in the past but want to start receiving prescreened offers once more, you can opt back in.

In either case, the process is simple:

  • By phone: Dial (888) 5-OPTOUT – that’s (888) 567-8688 – and you’ll be asked to provide personal information like your home telephone number, name, Social Security number and date of birth. You can opt in to offers, opt out for five years or request a form in the mail for permanent opt-out.
  • Online: Visit OptOutPrescreen.com and fill out the electronic opt-in or opt-out request, or download the permanent opt-out election form.

Opting out will not impact your ability to apply for credit, it simply takes your name off the list of consumers eligible to be prescreened for unsolicited credit card offers.

Bottom line

As issuers tighten access to credit and direct marketing dwindles, a prescreened credit card offer could be a great way to tell which cards will be a fit based on your credit profile. This should help you be more strategic as you apply for new cards. That said, regardless of the offer you are considering, always carefully read any terms and conditions and only apply for credit when necessary.

See related: How to read a credit card’s terms and conditions

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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