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How to Apply for a Credit Card (and Get Approved)

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It's normal to feel a little nervous when you apply for a credit card. A credit card application may not be a life-or-death situation, but there's always the frustrating possibility it won't be approved. It can be especially nerve-wracking if you're applying for your first credit card or you've recently had an application denied.

Although you can't guarantee success, you can make it much more likely. Here's your step-by-step guide on how to get approved for a credit card.

1. Check your credit

Your credit score plays a significant role in the credit cards you can get. Every credit card is aimed at a certain range of credit scores. These ranges are usually referred to as bad credit, fair credit, good credit, and excellent credit.

To know which cards you qualify for, you need to check your credit. You can do this for free with an online credit score tool, such as Discover Scorecard. These tools almost always show you which range your credit score falls into and the factors contributing to your current score.

CHECK YOUR CREDIT: How to Find Out Your Credit Score

If your credit score is lower than expected, review your full credit report for any errors that could be affecting it. You're legally entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three consumer credit bureaus, which are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

2. Choose the right credit card

Picking the right credit card is the most important part of getting your application approved. If you don't have good credit yet or you don't have any credit history, then the best credit cards will be out of reach for now and it'd be a waste of time to apply for one.

READ MORE: Best Credit Cards for Beginners

So how can you figure out your credit card options? Here are a few tips:

Look for cards that fit your credit range. Here are the top options for all the different credit score ranges:

Check with your bank or credit union. If you're new to credit, it could be easier to get a credit card with your own bank. Since you have a history there, it may be more willing to issue you a card. Here are a couple other types of credit cards that are good when you're new to credit:

See if you're prequalified for any credit cards. Several credit card companies have tools you can use to see if you prequalify for any of their cards. While a prequalification isn't a guaranteed approval, it does mean you have a good shot at getting that card. Here's how to check this:

  • Go to the credit card issuer's prequalification tool. I've found the easiest way to do this is by searching the name of the card issuer and the words "credit card prequalification."
  • Enter the required information. Card issuers usually just ask for your name, address, and the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Check for offers. After you submit that information, the card issuer will show you any prequalified card offers it has for you.

For those who have had trouble getting approved in the past, secured credit cards are typically the safest bet.

Below, we've listed a few of our top picks for secured credit cards. To see all our favorites, head to our guide: Best Secured Credit Cards

As of Oct. 03, 2022
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Discover it® Secured Credit Card Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Rating image, 5.00 out of 5 stars.
5.00 stars
Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
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= Excellent
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Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
4.50 stars
Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rating image, 4.50 out of 5 stars.
4.50 stars
Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
= Best
= Excellent
= Good
= Fair
= Poor
Rates & Fees

Credit Rating Requirement:

New/Rebuilding Under(579) Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

Fair/New to Credit Under(669) Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Credit Rating Requirement:

New to Credit Under(579) Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. Falling within this credit range does not guarantee approval by the issuer. An application must be submitted to the issuer for a potential approval decision. There are different types of credit scores and creditors use a variety of credit scores to make lending decisions.

Welcome Offer: Welcome Offer info Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

Cashback Match

Welcome Offer:

N/A

Welcome Offer:

N/A

Rewards Program: Info Icon Circle with letter I in it. 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

1% - 2% Cashback

Rewards Program:

N/A

Rewards Program:

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Intro APR:

Purchases: n/a

Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 6 months

Intro APR:

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Intro APR:

Purchases: N/A

Balance Transfers: N/A

Regular APR:

25.99% Variable APR

Regular APR:

28.49% Variable

Regular APR:

25.49% (Variable)

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Annual Fee:

$0

Highlights:

  • No credit score required to apply.
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200. That means a $200 deposit for a $200 credit line. Or a $500 deposit for a $500 credit line. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit, and the security deposit equals your credit limit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 7 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Click "Apply Now" to see terms and conditions.

Highlights:

  • No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
  • Building your credit? Using the Capital One Platinum Secured card responsibly could help
  • Put down a refundable security deposit starting at $49 to get a $200 initial credit line
  • You could earn back your security deposit as a statement credit when you use your card responsibly, like making payments on time
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Monitor your credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. It's free for everyone
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with online banking to access your account from your desktop or smartphone, with Capital One's mobile app

Highlights:

  • The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is a no annual fee credit card that helps you build your credit when used responsibly.
  • Unlike a debit card, it helps build your credit history with monthly reporting to all 3 major credit bureaus. Once available, you will also have free access to your FICO score online.
  • Use your card anywhere Mastercard® is accepted — worldwide.
  • A security deposit is required. Once approved, your credit limit will be equal to your security deposit (minimum of $200).
  • Get help staying on track with Auto Pay and account alerts.
  • With Flexible Payment Due Dates, you can choose any available due date in the beginning, middle or end of the month.
  • Manage your account 24/7 online, by phone, or in our mobile app.
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3. Pay down debt

If you have debt, especially credit card debt, try to pay it down before applying for a credit card. While debt isn't a dealbreaker, a large amount can make credit card companies think twice about approving your application. There are two factors, in particular, they look at:

Credit utilization ratio: The amount of your total credit that you're using. It's calculated monthly by dividing your credit card balances by your credit limits. Since it's updated every month, you could raise your credit score in a short period of time by paying off high credit card balances.

LEARN MORE: What Is a Credit Utilization Ratio?

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Your monthly debt payments divided by your income. It's an important factor when applying for a mortgage, but it can also affect credit card applications. If your DTI ratio is too high, it can indicate you may have trouble paying an additional credit card bill.

LEARN MORE: What Is Your Debt-to-Income Ratio?

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Our favorite credit cards

Don't you wish you could take a peek inside a credit card expert's wallet sometimes? Just to see the cards they carry? Well, you can't do that, but you can check out our list of expert-rated best credit cards. Some of these cards have unusually high cash back rates, others offer great sign-up bonuses -- we've even included some with long intro 0% interest offers. See the cards here: Best Credit Cards

4. Start the online application process

Once you're ready to apply for a credit card, the simplest option is to apply online. You'll see an "Apply Now" option on the credit card's webpage. Click on that to start the application. Be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Mailing address (and your previous address if you've lived at your current mailing address for less than two years)
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Annual income

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Include all your eligible income

Your income is important, as card issuers use this to determine whether to approve your application and how much of a credit line to give you. Consumers who are 21 and older can list any income they have a reasonable expectation of being able to access.

READ MORE: What Qualifies as Income on a Credit Card Application?

5. Submit the application (and follow up if necessary)

At this point, you've done all the hard work. Double check everything on the credit card application, and once you're satisfied, submit it. The application will process, and you'll get one of these responses:

  • Approved: Your application was a success. You should get your new credit card in the mail within seven to 10 business days.
  • Under review: The credit card company needs more time to review your application. This usually takes a few business days. If you want, you can call in to check on the status of your application. You'll receive a letter with the card issuer's decision, and you may also get an email with this information.
  • Denied: The card issuer didn't approve you. This is the response consumer's dread, but it's not always the card issuer's final answer.

It may surprise you, but it's possible to overturn a credit card denial. Call the card issuer and ask the representative if they can give your application another look. There's most likely a phone number listed either in your denial letter or email you can use. If not, the card issuer's standard customer service number also works.

See why your application was denied in the first place, and explain to the representative why you'd be a good cardholder. For example, you could point out your strong payment history on other credit cards and loans.

You can even call the card issuer multiple times if necessary. I've had success this way when the first representative wouldn't help me. Remember, you only need one person to say yes and overturn that denial for you.

How to raise your credit score and get the card you want

When credit card applications aren't successful, it's often because of the applicant's credit score. In this situation, the best solution is to work on your credit, and then apply again later. Here's what you can do:

  • Make all your payments on time. Late payments can lower your credit score, so it's important to pay everything by the due date. With credit cards and loans, on-time payments typically get reported to the credit bureaus and help your credit history.
  • Cut your credit utilization. Like we covered earlier, this is one of the fastest ways to boost your credit score. Work on reducing your credit card balances so you're not using as much credit. Another option that can work is to ask your card issuers for higher credit limits, because having more credit can also lower your credit utilization.
  • Wait at least three months between credit applications. When you apply for a credit account, the card issuer performs a hard credit check. It only has a minor impact on your credit, but too many hard credit checks in a short span of time can cause you to be considered a higher-risk applicant.

GET A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE: How to Build Credit Fast

 
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FAQs

  • You can apply for a credit card online through the card issuer's website. To maximize your chances of approval, make sure you pick a credit card intended for consumers in your credit score range. Here's a full list of steps to follow so that you apply and get approved for a credit card:

    1. Check your credit
    2. Choose the right credit card
    3. Pay down debt
    4. Start the online application process
    5. Submit the application (and follow up if necessary)
  • To choose a credit card, you need to figure out which cards you qualify for and which features you want.

    Your credit score has the biggest impact on the credit cards you can get. Good to excellent credit means you practically have your pick of the top-rated credit cards. If your credit score is lower or you haven't established a credit history yet, then you'll have fewer options. In that case, you should look at credit cards for bad or average credit, secured credit cards, and student credit cards if you're in college.

    After you've figured out your options, you can narrow them down based on their features. That could mean rewards or 0% intro APR offers if you're checking out the best credit cards, or no annual fee and free credit score tracking if you're looking at cards to build your credit.

  • Credit card companies look at a wide range of factors when evaluating your application, but these tend to be the most important:

    • Credit score
    • Income
    • Payment history
    • Credit utilization ratio
    • Debt-to-income ratio
    • Recent credit applications
  • If your credit card application is denied, call the card issuer and ask them to reconsider your application. Make sure to mention any points in your favor, such as always paying on time (if that's true).

    It can also help to address the denial reasons, which will be in the denial letter that the card issuer mailed you. Let's say that you already have a credit card with this card issuer, and they don't want to offer you any more credit. You could suggest that they lower the credit limit on your existing card with them by a certain amount, and then use that amount as the new card's credit limit.

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