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


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 huge role in what credit cards you can get. Every credit card is aimed at a certain range of credit scores. You need to check your credit to know what cards you qualify for.

Fortunately, there are plenty of free ways to get your credit score. Look for one that has your FICO® Score, because that’s the most widely used. Credit score tools also almost always show you whether your score is considered bad, average, good, or excellent — and what factors are contributing to your current score.

If your credit score is lower than you expected, then you should 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 the three credit bureaus, which are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They’ve also been offering free weekly credit reports since April 20, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

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

  • Look for cards intended for consumers in your credit range. If you have average credit, check out credit cards for average credit. For bad credit, look at credit cards for bad credit, and so on.
  • Check with your bank or credit union. If your credit is a work in progress, 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.
  • See if you’re pre-qualified for any cards. Several credit card companies have tools you can use to see if you prequalify for any of their cards. While a pre-qualification isn’t a guaranteed approval, it does mean you have a good shot at getting that card.

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

3. Pay down debt

If you have debt, especially credit card debt, you should pay off as much as possible before applying for a credit card. This lowers your credit utilization ratio and your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, two factors that can make a difference in your application.

Credit utilization ratio is how much of your total credit you’re using, and it’s the second biggest factor used to determine your credit score. It’s also calculated monthly. That means you could raise your credit score quite a bit in a short period of time by paying down your credit card balances.

Reducing debt also reduces your DTI ratio, which is your monthly debt payments divided by your income. If it’s too high, credit card companies could be cautious about approving you for a new credit card.

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4. Wait at least three months between credit applications

Every time you apply for a credit card or loan, the lender performs a hard credit check. That hard credit check then goes on your credit file.

Although a hard credit check only has a small impact on your credit score, it can affect future credit card applications. If you apply for multiple cards in a short span of time, you’ll likely be considered a higher-risk applicant.

There’s no rule on how long to wait between credit applications, but three to six months is a popular recommendation.

5. Apply online

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

6. Include all your eligible income

Your income is particularly important, as card issuers use this to determine both whether to approve your application and how much of a credit line to give you. A higher income obviously helps your case. You shouldn’t lie about this on a credit card application, and there could be legal consequences if you do. But you do need to know what you can include so that you don’t mistakenly understate your income.

In a credit card application, consumers who are 21 or older may list any income that they have a reasonable expectation of being able to access. Some common types of income you can include are:

  • Your own earnings
  • Your partner’s/spouse’s earnings
  • Money made through a business or side hustle
  • Allowances
  • Gifts
  • Social Security payments
  • Retirement account withdrawals
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7. Submit the application (and follow up if necessary)

After you submit your credit card application, 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: This is the response consumers dread. Don’t give up just yet, though, because a denial isn’t always the card issuer’s final answer.

What many consumers don’t know is that credit card application denials can be overturned. You just need to call the card issuer’s reconsideration line and ask if they can give your application another look. It can also help to point out reasons why you’d be a great cardholder, such as a strong payment history on your credit cards and loans. Now isn’t the time to be humble.

You can even call the reconsideration line multiple times if necessary. Sometimes the first person won’t help you, but the second or third will.

A better chance at an approved credit card application

Now you know how to apply for a credit card and some steps you can take to improve your odds of success. If you pick a credit card that’s inside your credit score bracket, pay down debt, and avoid applying for multiple cards in a short amount of time, you have a great shot at an approval. And if you do all that only to get denied, you could fix it with a call to the reconsideration line.

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