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Key takeaways

  • Successfully applying for a credit card starts with looking up your score. Knowing your score helps narrow down your options so you only apply for cards you qualify for.
  • Understand what you want to get from your card. Then try to prequalify for cards that fit your needs, spending habits, and come with affordable fees.
  • Improving your credit score is the best way to qualify for more cards. Use features like autopay to ensure you never miss a bill and up your approval odds.

Getting your credit card application approved is easier than you think. The key is to do a little prep work and apply for the right card. How do you do that?

First, you need to know what you want. Maybe you’re looking for a rewards card or perhaps you need to improve your credit score. Either way, you need to know what creditors are looking for and what you qualify for. Then you can strategically apply and increase your chances of being approved for the card you want.

Let’s go over how to get approved for a credit card so you can learn how to beat the odds.

Gather the necessary information and learn about credit scores

First things first, gather the information you’ll need for your application. This will make the whole process go smoother. Most credit card issuers want to know your:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Current address
  • Social Security number
  • Annual income

They may also ask how long you’ve been at your current address or job. If you rent or own and have how you pay for housing each month.

The issuer needs to assess your basic financial situation. It helps them understand how much you can afford to borrow.

Know your credit score and what it means

When you are looking to get approved for a credit card you need to learn about your score. Your credit score is a three-digit number that lenders use to assess your creditworthiness or in other words how likely you are to repay the loan.

Your score is based on financial data lenders and banks send to the three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The bureaus run this data through scoring models to produce your score. Credit scores range from 300-850 with higher being better. Higher scores indicate lower risk and so get the best rates and lowest fees. Your score doesn’t have to be 850 though. Get it to 670 and it’s considered good.

Access your credit scores

Start by finding out your credit score. Luckily it’s very easy to do. Many banks and issuers offer free monthly scores to their customers and there are numerous online platforms and financial management apps that provide similar services at no cost.

Knowing your score ensures you only apply for cards in your score range. If your score is poor, focus on cards designed for low scores to help improve them.

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Know what’s in your credit reports

Your credit report is separate from your credit score. Your report provides a detailed history of your borrowing and repayment behavior, including accounts opened, payment history, inquiries, and any delinquencies or collections. Reports are maintained by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and the information in them may vary a bit by bureau. The bureaus use the data in the reports to calculate your score.

You can request a free copy of your credit reports every 12 months from each of the bureaus at Look for any errors or outdated information that could negatively impact your score. If you find mistakes, dispute them immediately with the bureaus as they could be dragging down your score.

Apply for cards that fit your credit score

One of the best things you can do to get approved for a credit card is to apply for cards that align with your current score. Lenders offer a variety of cards for all types of scores. No matter if you have excellent credit or need to build your score, you’ll be able to find a card. Apply for cards that match up with your score for best approval odds.

At MoneyFor, we list score requirements for each of our cards. Take a look at our offers and see if there’s one that you qualify for.

What to consider when choosing a credit card

There’s a lot to think about when selecting the right credit card. Cards come with different interest rates, fees, rewards, and benefits. You’ll have to consider how you’re going to use the card and what your financial goals are.

Annual Fee: Firstly, assess the annual fee and determine if the card’s benefits justify the cost. A lot of rewards cards come with high annual fees as do cards designed for low scores. The fees help the issuer pay for the rewards or offer insurance on low score cards that have a higher risk of default. You have to decide if you can afford the fee and if the benefits are worth the cost.

APR: Interest rates are another critical aspect. If you plan on carrying a balance, look for a card with the lowest possible APR to minimize interest charges. However, if you pay off your balance in full each month, you might prioritize cards with better rewards over lower interest rates.

Rewards: Rewards programs should align with your spending habits. Whether it’s cash back, points, or travel miles, choose a program where you can maximize the benefits based on your regular expenditures. A lot of cards let you earn rewards on groceries, gas, and other common expenses.

Our two favorite cash back reward cards for lower scores are:

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Benefits: Lastly, consider any additional benefits like sign-up bonuses, free monthly score, or no foreign transaction fees if you travel abroad. These perks can add significant value.

Learn about credit card terms

Credit cards come with lots of terms. Understand what they mean so you will know the cost of the card and how to avoid unnecessary fees and interest charges. Here are some key terms you should be familiar with:

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): The interest rate you’ll pay on any balances carried from month to month.
  • Penalty APR: A higher APR that is applied if you miss a payment or fail to pay your statement on time.
  • Annual Fees: The fee you pay each year for the convenience of using the card.
  • Credit Limit: The maximum amount you can charge on your card. It’s best to only use 30% of your limit to maintain a healthy credit utilization ratio and improve your score.
  • Late Payment Fees: The fee charged if you miss a payment or pay your bill late.
  • Monthly Maintenance Fees: The monthly charge found on cards for low scores to help maintain the card. These are usually waived the first year.
  • Cash Advance: When you use your card to withdraw cash. Cash advances are subject to a higher APR, ATM transaction fees, additional fees, and there is no grace period so you accrue interest right away.
  • Rewards Programs: Many cards offer rewards for certain purchases. Understand how to earn and redeem rewards to maximize the benefits.

Familiarizing yourself with these terms and how they apply to your card usage can help you make informed decisions, avoid costly mistakes, and ultimately improve your financial health.

Compare cards against your financial needs

Once you know what cards you might qualify for and understand their costs, think about why you need a card. Are you a frequent traveler looking for miles, or could you benefit more from cash back on everyday purchases? Is improving your score your highest priority?

Decide on what you want, then look for a card that fits your specific needs, budget, and spending habits. If you’re going to pay an annual fee make sure you can afford the fee and that the benefits outweigh the cost.

Factor in the interest rates, especially if you plan to carry a balance. A lower APR can save you significantly in the long run. Lastly, don’t overlook additional perks such as free monthly scores and zero liability on unauthorized purchases, which can add substantial value.

Don’t apply for too many cards at once

credit cards

A common mistake is applying for multiple credit cards within a short period. This approach can backfire, as each application triggers a hard inquiry into your report. Hard inquiries slightly lower your score, and having several of them in quick succession can create the impression that you’re in desperate need of credit, which is a red flag for lenders.

Instead, take your time and find a card you like that you qualify for. Don’t waste time applying for cards you’re unlikely to get.

Try to prequalify to gauge your approval odds before officially applying. You can then compare card offers and find the one with the best terms and lowest fees. Then apply strategically to minimize the impact on your score and increase your approval odds.

If you are denied, wait at least six months before applying again. This way you don’t look desperate to creditors and it gives your score a chance to recover.

Credit cards with instant numbers

Lots of issuers give you instant access to your credit card number once you’ve been approved. You’ll receive your number either online or by email and can start making purchases right away. This feature allows you to pay bills or shop online even before your physical card arrives in the mail. It’s particularly useful for anyone who needs to make urgent transactions or wants to start taking advantage of rewards and benefits without delay.

The same financial responsibilities apply. Manage your spending wisely, keep you utilization below 30%, pay off balances on time to avoid interest charges and maintain a healthy score.

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Instant approval credit cards

How long does it take to get approved for a credit card? Sometimes it can happen instantly.

Instant approval cards give you an immediate decision on the status of your application. You find out if you’re approved, denied, or if they need more information within minutes of applying. This can be very helpful if you need a card right away. It’s important to note that “instant approval” doesn’t guarantee acceptance; it means that the decision-making process is quick.

If the issuer wants more information, it can take several days to find out if you’re approved. Whether you’re approved or denied still depends on the same factors – your score, income, rent or mortgage payments, etc. The issuer simply runs a preliminary check. If you appear eligible, they grant you conditional approval while performing a more in-depth review of your financial history.

Instant approval cards are tempting but don’t get carried away. Always review the terms and conditions before you apply to make sure you can afford the card.

Credit history

Your credit history is what is on your credit report. It is a record of your borrowing and repayment activities and includes details of credit accounts (such as loans and cards), payment histories, utilization, account balances, and the age of each account. Lenders scrutinize this history to assess your risk as a borrower and determine your creditworthiness.

A well-established history, characterized by a track record of on-time payments, low balances, and a mix of accounts, can significantly enhance your ability to get approved for a card. It demonstrates to lenders that you are a responsible borrower who will repay as agreed. Conversely, a short or nonexistent history, or one that includes late payments, high balances, or accounts in collection, can hinder your chances of approval.

Building a positive credit history requires time and diligence. It involves not only making timely payments but also maintaining low balances on your cards and managing your accounts wisely. For those just starting out or looking to rebuild, getting a secured credit card or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account can be effective strategies. They can help you establish your credit history, improve your score, and make it easier to get cards with good APRs and low fees.

Pay your bills on time

Paying your bills on time is the best thing you can do to improve your score and up your approval odds. Payment history is the most important factor in calculating your score. Never miss a payment and your score will thank you.

If you can, pay your bills in full every month. This way you will never have to pay interest and you’ll save money. Sometimes people need to carry a balance. If you’re in this situation, make sure you make the minimum payments on time and you’re score will be fine.

Avoid late payments with autopay

Even one late payment can cause your score to drop by more than 100 points. How much it affects your score depends on how late your payment is. Payments that are only a few days or weeks late are usually forgiven. Most issuers won’t report a bill as late until it’s thirty days past due. After that, it will show up on your report and lower your score. Additionally, you’ll be charged a late payment fee and potentially a penalty APR.

One of the most effective strategies to ensure your bills are paid on time is to utilize autopay. By setting up automatic payments, you authorize your bank or issuer to automatically deduct the payment amount from your account on a specified date each month.

Autopay can be set up to cover the minimum payment due or the full statement balance, your choice. It’s a straightforward way to ensure you never miss a due date.

Read more about debt.

Choose a method to apply and follow each step

When applying for a new credit card, you have several options: online, over the phone, through the mail, or in person. Each method has its own set of steps and timelines for approval.

Applying online is the easiest and fastest way. You enter your information on the issuer’s site and wait for a decision. When you apply for a credit card online, it typically only takes minutes to be approved. Some applicants require further review which may take a few days. When you’re approved you may also get instant access to your card number.

Over the phone applications provide a personal touch, allowing you to ask questions and clarify terms directly with a representative. This method can still offer quick decisions but might take longer than online applications due to potential wait times.

Applying through the mail is the slowest method, as it relies on postal service timelines for both sending your application and receiving your decision. This process can take several weeks.

In-person applications at a bank branch can be as quick as online applications if the bank offers instant decisions. Additionally, bank representatives can assist you with the application process and answer any questions immediately.

Regardless of the method you choose, ensure you follow each step carefully and provide all required information accurately to avoid delays.

Frequently Asked Questions

For those wondering how to get approved for a credit card with no credit, consider starting with secured cards or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card. Secured cards require a deposit that acts as your limit and so they are low-risk for lenders. Many do not even require a score. Being an authorized user allows you to benefit from the primary cardholder’s responsible behavior and good score, helping you improve your score without owning a card outright. Either way, you can work on your score, get it into the good range, and apply for better cards.

When you’re looking for an issuer, compare the cards they offer and see if one fits your needs. Look for low-interest rates, minimal fees, and generous rewards programs. Additionally, consider their customer service reputation and the ease of managing your account online. Opt for issuers known for supporting their clients’ financial growth, such as those offering free monthly scores, tools for tracking spending, or upgrades once you improve your score.

Bottom Line

Understanding how to get approved for a credit card involves more than just filling out an application; it requires knowing how to strategically apply so you can get the best card for you. Look at your credit score, review your report, and then research cards to find the ones you qualify for.

Try to prequalify before you apply. While being prequalified does not guarantee approval, it lets you see your chances and compare offers without hurting your score.

Getting a new credit card can be exciting. Follow these tips and soon, you’ll find the right card to fit your needs and lifestyle.

About the author

Rachel Alulis

Rachel Alulis has been the lead editor for Moneyfor’s credit cards team since 2015 and for the financial rewards team since 2023. Before joining Moneyfor, Rachel worked at USA Today and the Des Moines Register. She then established a successful freelance writing and editing business specializing in personal finance. Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA.