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Week five of the rewards refresh: It’s time to apply!

The fifth and most important installment


Whether you’re thinking of signing up for a new card, sorting through what you already have or just browsing, I’ve been sharing my thought process and best practices for making sense of what can be a complicated, individual decision.

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Welcome to the fifth – and most important – installment in a six-week quest to identify the best credit card for you. Whether you’re thinking of signing up for a new card, sorting through what you already have or just browsing, I’ve been sharing my thought process and best practices for making sense of what can be a complicated, individual decision.

The steps are intended to be completed in order, but don’t worry if you missed anything. There’s still time to review part one (sorting through the cards you already have), part two (examining your spending habits), part three (prioritizing the right rewards) and part four (considering perks beyond rewards). Now, on to part five.

Your fifth assignment

It’s time to put all that you’ve learned into practice. Hopefully by now you have a good idea of what you’re looking for in a credit card. You’ve thought about key considerations, such as your top spending categories, whether you want to redeem your rewards for cash back or travel, which cards you already have, how much complexity you’re willing to take on and more.

I also want to introduce two additional resources that can help you make the best decision. Our CardMatch tool is a great way to discover personalized, prequalified card offers that are well-suited for your individual profile.

It’s free, quick and easy. And it doesn’t affect your credit score, either. You just tell us a little about yourself, and we offer a list of recommended cards that you’re likely to be approved for.

Another way to use technology to your advantage is to check out the approval odds feature on many of our category pages. For instance, if you’re on our cash back page, many of the cards contain a “See your approval odds” link on the right side under “Recommended credit.” If you click that link and follow a few brief prompts, you’ll get a personalized look at how likely you are to be approved for that card. And it’s not just cash back. You can find the same feature on other pages, such as travel, rewards and more.

Why finding out your odds of approval is important

Of course, we want you to get the best card – and no one wants to be rejected. But this is especially important for credit card applications because each one places a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is different from other financial products like mortgages and car loans.

With those, hard inquiries are grouped within a shopping period that ranges from 14 to 45 days (depending on the credit scoring model). In other words, it’s accepted that you might apply with a few different lenders to determine the best terms. Your credit score often drops slightly (say, five to 10 points) for each hard inquiry. But if you apply with several mortgage or auto lenders in quick succession, only one hard inquiry will affect your credit score.

That’s not the case with credit cards. Each hard inquiry is counted separately, and if you rack up too many of these in short order, it can negatively affect your entire credit profile. Hard inquiries stay on your credit reports for up to two years, and it’s generally accepted that you should try to have no more than five within a two-year span. This is similar to the unofficial – but widely reported – Chase 5/24 rule. Basically, if you’ve opened five or more credit cards within the past 24 months, you’re highly likely to be denied for a Chase credit card. Some other issuers have similar policies that are meant to deter card churners (the gamers who open a card for the sign-up bonus and then quickly move on to another and another).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding a new card and scoring an introductory bonus once in a while, but you shouldn’t apply for too many cards all at once. To a lender, a flurry of credit applications is a red flag (perhaps indicating that you’re a churner rather than a loyal customer, or maybe that you’ve fallen into financial distress and are desperate for lines of credit – neither is good). Opening a bunch of cards in quick succession could also hurt your credit score by lowering the average age of your accounts.

My general advice is to try to space your credit applications out so that there’s at least six months between each hard inquiry. You can find your hard inquiry history on your credit reports. AnnualCreditReport.com is a free, reputable resource that provides your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports (and until April 20, 2022, you can pull each of those on a weekly rather than annual basis).

Bottom line

Supplementing your research with our CardMatch and approval odds features will help you focus on the right credit cards – offerings that will enhance your lifestyle and which you’re likely to qualify for. You wouldn’t want to waste an application and the associated hard inquiry without having a great new card to show for it.

Besides the obvious – a welcome bonus, rewards on your spending and other benefits – successfully using credit cards can actually help your credit score. A long-standing credit history with positive payment behavior is key and having more available credit (but not using too much of it) helps your score, too.

Credit cards have better rewards programs and buyer protections than debit cards, so I love the idea of putting your routine spending on the right credit cards and paying it off before interest hits in order to maximize your benefits.

Have a question about credit cards? Email me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

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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