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Applying for a Credit Card

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How to apply for a credit card and get approved

Here's how to land the credit card you want

Summary

It’s easy to fill out a credit card application. Improve your chances of getting approved by doing your research and having a strategy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Whether you’re eager to build your credit score, start earning rewards, pay down a balance with an intro APR or find an emergency payment method, there are plenty of reasons to decide it’s time to apply for a credit card.

But what happens if you aren’t approved? Not only will you not receive the card you wanted, but your credit score can also be damaged in the process – thanks to a hard pull on your report.

Before you apply for a credit card offer, you should carefully consider your approval odds, as well as whether the card is right for you. With a little research and planning, you can boost your chances of finding a card that matches your lifestyle and of being approved. Here’s how.

Know your credit score

The first step to applying for a credit card – before you even begin researching specific products – is to know your credit score. It is important to know where you stand in a lender’s eyes, so you can estimate how likely you are to be approved for a card. Then, you can take a look at products designed for your credit range.

There are plenty of free services available online to keep track of your score, and you can pull a full copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once per year on AnnualCreditReport.com.

Find a card that matches your credit range

Once you know your credit score and understand the factors that go into it from your credit report, you can identify what credit score range you fall in. This plays a huge role in determining which cards you can qualify for.

FICO credit score ranges

Credit rangeScore range
Poor300–579
Fair580–669
Good670–739
Very Good740–799
Excellent800–850

Your likelihood of being approved for a specific credit card depends on the range you fall into. Different card offerings are designed for different kinds of customers. By choosing a card built for cardholders in your credit range, you maximize your chances of being approved.

Top cards for each range

Once you know your credit score and understand the factors that go into it from your credit report, you can identify what credit score range you fall in. This plays a huge role in determining which cards you can qualify for.

Poor/limited creditFair/good creditVery good/excellent credit
Discover it® Secured Credit CardCapital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit CardChase Freedom Unlimited®
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%1.5% cash back on every purchase, every dayEnjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
1% cash back on all other purchases3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants
1.5% cash back on all other purchases

Looking for cards that match your credit range? Check out our favorites below.

Check for prequalified offers

If you’re worried about your approval odds, you can check for personalized credit card offers using tools like CardMatch™. That way, you’ll know if you qualify before you apply for a credit card and trigger a hard credit inquiry.

Additionally, many issuers have tools on their websites that allow you to screen prequalified offers:

Consider building your credit before applying

If the card you were hoping for is just out of reach, you might be better off taking some time to build your credit score before you apply. You don’t want to risk applying and suffering a ding to your score, only to be denied approval for the card.

Keep in mind, your credit score is effectively a snapshot for lenders to see how you manage your debt. As a rule, the higher your credit score is, the better your chances are of qualifying for credit products as well as receiving the most favorable terms.

If you’re looking to improve your credit score, here are some smart steps you can take:

  • Pay your bills on time: Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO credit score. Even one late payment that is at least 30 days past due can cause serious damage to your credit.
  • Keep your credit card balances low: Your credit utilization ratio – how much of your available credit you’re using – accounts for 30% of your credit score. Credit experts recommend keeping your revolving credit balances below 30% of your credit limits – the lower the better.
  • Review your credit reports: You can get free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Carefully check your credit reports looking for any erroneous or fraudulent information. If you come across incorrect information, file a dispute with the credit bureaus to have it removed.
  • Become an authorized user: Ask a close relative with a good credit history to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. Even if you don’t actually use the account or have a physical card, you’ll benefit when the primary account holder makes on-time credit card payments, which helps build your credit payment history.

Ensure your application is competitive

When it’s time to actually fill out a card application, make sure your information is accurate and complete. When you list your estimated income, don’t forget to include any side money you earn.

Avoid applying for too many credit card offers at once. Beyond affecting your credit score from multiple hard inquiries, applying for too many cards in a short period of time signals to issuers that you’re desperate for credit and risky investment.

Another way to improve your chance of getting approved for a credit card is to apply for credit cards designed for applicants with your credit score. For example, if you have fair credit, you might consider applying for the Capital One Platinum Credit Card, which is aimed at consumers with FICO credit scores between 580 and 740.

What to do if your application is denied

If you’re denied a credit card, it can be tempting to immediately try again with a different card. But, before you do, it’s essential to determine why your application was denied so you can resolve potential issues with your credit.

When a lender denies your credit due to information it discovers in your credit file, it’s required by law to send you a letter of explanation, called an adverse action letter. This letter should provide you with the name of the credit bureau that provided the credit report and up to five reasons that led to its decision to deny you. For example, the lender might list reasons such as “high credit utilization ratio” or “late payments” that influenced its decision.

When you’re denied credit, you’re legally entitled to a free copy of your credit report. One concrete action you can take is to review your credit – looking for the issues mentioned in the lender’s letter to get an idea of what steps you could take.

Next, you may want to contact the card issuer by phone and talk with a credit specialist. At the very least, you should be able to get more information about the lender’s decision. And while there’s no guarantee of approval, you may be able to state your case and achieve a positive result.

Bottom line

The most important thing you can do to boost your chances of being approved when you apply for a credit card is to do your research. Make sure you know your credit score to determine which cards you qualify for and that the card’s benefits are best for you. Then, you can take advantage of tools like CardMatch to see which cards you may be eligible for before you apply. Keep in mind that just because you aren’t prequalified for a card doesn’t mean you won’t be approved.

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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