Can I Cancel a Credit Card Application?

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Credit card applications submitted online or at retail outlets typically use automated credit checks to make decisions within minutes—or even seconds. So the only way to cancel one may be if there's a hitch with the credit check. However, it may be possible to cancel applications that were submitted by mail or otherwise require submission of a paper form. Here's what to know about canceling a credit card application.

When It's Not Possible to Cancel a Credit Card Application

Anytime you request "instant" approval on a credit card application—such as on a website or at a retail checkout—you typically authorize immediate access to your credit report at one or more of the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and for your credit score to be calculated by a company such as FICO. If your credit score(s) meet the card issuer's minimum requirements, your application is typically approved immediately—or declined if the scores don't meet the requirements.

Under those circumstances, the time between submitting your application and receiving an answer is so brief that there's no time to cancel the application. But there may be other times when you can put a stop to the process.

When It May Be Possible to Cancel a Credit Card Application

If you apply for a credit card using a paper form, at a retail outlet or in response to a direct mail offer, for example, you may be able to phone the card issuer before the application is processed and succeed in having it canceled. Use the customer service number for the card issuer and be prepared to offer details about when and where you submitted the application and which specific card you applied for.

You may be able to use the same approach if you apply for instant credit card approval and are told the decision is pending or requires additional information. This can occur for reasons including:

  • You have no history of using credit and therefore have no credit reports on file at the national credit bureaus (a situation sometimes called being "credit invisible").
  • You have credit reports, but they reflect less than six months of recent credit activity, the minimum amount of activity required for the FICO® Score credit scoring system to generate a credit score.
  • You've placed a fraud alert on your credit report, which requires the lender to verify your identity before processing your credit application.

What to Do if You Don't Want a Credit Card

If you've submitted a credit card application and received approval for a card you've decided you don't want, you have several options:

Ask to Switch to a Different Card

If the reason you don't want the card in question is that you meant to apply for a different one (say, with a lower interest rate, no annual fee or a rewards program you prefer), call the card issuer right away and ask if they'll switch you to the other card.

The issuer may have different qualification requirements for its various cards, so their willingness to make the switch will likely depend on your credit score and whether you otherwise qualify for the card you prefer. The lender isn't obligated to switch you to the other card, but if you qualify for it, an account switch could be quick and easy.

Keep the Card

If you've been approved for a card, it may be worth hanging on to it for at least a few months, for the following reasons:

  • You've already undergone a credit check that results in a hard inquiry on your credit report. This could lower your credit scores by a few points, which are typically recouped within a few months as long as you keep up with your bills.
  • If the card has an annual fee that's charged right away, the fee has already been added to your card balance, and you'll have to pay it anyway—even if you cancel the card.
  • If the card carries an annual fee but offers the first year free before charging the fee, you could use the card for a while to determine if the fee is worth it without incurring the charge. If you decide you don't want to keep it, you could ask the issuer to convert your account to a card with no annual fee.

Using a credit card responsibly for a few months—especially if this is your first credit card or your credit score is low because of limited credit history or past missteps—can help you improve your credit score by adding to your positive payment history. Waiting three to six months also can give your credit scores time to rebound from the hard inquiry generated by your application. This could put you in a good place to apply for another card before you cancel the one you got by mistake.

Close the Card

You can cancel a credit card account anytime if it's paid off in full. If you applied for your new card at a retail outlet and then used it to make a purchase, or if an annual fee is added to your initial statement, you'll need to pay off your balance before closing the account.

Note, however, that closing an account can have negative consequences for your credit scores. If you have outstanding balances on other credit cards, canceling a credit card will increase your credit utilization, or the percentage of your total credit limit you're using. Credit utilization of 30% or greater can have a significant negative effect on your credit scores, and individuals with exceptional credit scores typically keep utilization at or below 10%.

The Bottom Line

The convenience of instant credit approval can make it difficult to cancel a credit card application, so it's wise to shop around carefully for the type of card you like and apply only for cards you know you really want. Consider using tools such as Experian CreditMatch™ to compare card features and benefits, and to estimate your chances of approval based on your credit scores.