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Once upon a time, the process of applying for a credit card, awaiting approval and receiving the card could take weeks. Online application, and in some cases instant online approval or denial, sped up the process—but cardholders who were approved still had to wait for the physical card to arrive via snail mail.
Now, some credit card issuers have found ways to speed up the process and let cardholders begin using their new accounts right away, well before the physical card is delivered.
The Credit Card Application Process
Decades ago, credit card applications had to be completed by mail, over the phone or in person at a bank. The process of finding out if you were approved and waiting to receive the card could take weeks.
Then came online applications, which have expedited the process significantly. Some lenders can even approve online applications automatically and instantly if your credit history is strong enough. If your credit scores or income are borderline for their requirements, however, the lender may need to review your application manually. This can take a week or so.
Once you're approved, you'll have to wait for your credit card to be printed, mailed and delivered to your door, which could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Typically, you aren't able to use the card account to make purchases until you receive the physical card and activate it. But that's not the case with some credit card issuers that permit new cardholders to start making purchases right away, or soon after approval.
American Express, for example, provides eligible cardholders with immediate access to the same number that's on their physical credit card. This allows you to shop online, by phone or anywhere else a physical card is not needed.
Several card issuers now allow you to immediately add your new card to a digital wallet, such as Apple Wallet or Google Pay. Adding the card to a digital wallet app enables you to shop in person with merchants that support that contactless payment.
Which Cards Can You Start Using Instantly?
When you're shopping around for a credit card, there are plenty of important factors to compare, such as the interest rate, fees and rewards programs. While speed isn't one of the more common factors, if you find yourself in a bind and need access to a new credit card quickly, here are a few options to consider:
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
How it works: All eligible American Express card members can receive their credit card number when the card account is opened, and immediately start using it for online shopping and bills. You can also add it to your digital wallet.
Other card perks: This credit card has no annual fee and potentially generous rewards categories. Cardholders can earn 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and certain U.S. department stores, and 3% at U.S. supermarkets (on up to 6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). All other eligible purchases earn a base rewards rate of 1% cash back. If you use this card on a day-to-day basis and then pay it off before you pay interest on your balance, you can rack up cash back rewards fairly quickly. Terms apply. See if you're matched with this card through Experian CreditMatch™.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
on Chase's website
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.
1X points on All Other Purchases
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
How it works: This card, as well as other Chase credit cards, usually have the ability to be added to a digital wallet soon after approval—well before the physical card arrives.
Other card perks: Ideal for travelers, this credit card rewards cardholders with 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases. There's also a generous introductory offer that allows you to earn 80,000 bonus points if you use the card to spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months you have it. These bonus points can be redeemed as a statement credit for face value ($800), but are worth slightly more ($1,000) if used to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. There is a $95 annual fee, though the rewards may outweigh the fee. This card does not charge foreign transaction fees on international purchases.
Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®
How it works: Once you're approved and verify your identity, you'll get immediate access to the card. You can link the card to the Walmart Pay app and use it to make purchases in-store and online at Walmart.com before the card arrives.
Other card perks: The Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Mastercard® is best used to make purchases at Walmart, either via the megastore's website, its app or at a brick-and-mortar location. Purchases made online or through the app have an impressive rewards rate of 5%. In-store purchases have a 2% rewards rate, but an introductory offer allows cardholders to bring the in-store rate up to 5% their first year with the card by using the Walmart Pay app. Non-Walmart purchases have a decent rewards rate, with 2% cash back on restaurant and travel purchases and 1 % cash back on all other eligible purchases.
Keep Tabs on Your Credit
How you use your credit card will impact your credit score, from how large of a balance you carry to whether your payments are on-time or late. We recommend checking your credit report and scores periodically to keep track of how your responsible credit card use helps you build and improve your credit. Experian credit monitoring can make things easier, and can alert you to potential fraud.