How to Get Approved for a Credit Card

Quick Answer

You can get approved for a credit card by knowing your credit score, managing your credit well before you’re ready to apply, picking cards that are well-suited to your credit profile and getting prequalified before you apply.

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Getting a credit card can unlock opportunities to build your credit and access credit card perks, such as cash back rewards. But if you're new to credit or your score could use improvement, you may be nervous about whether you'll get approved when you apply.

While it can be more difficult to get approved if you have limited or damaged credit, it's not impossible. Whatever your score, you can maximize your odds of approval by doing some upfront preparation, knowing what cards you're most likely to be approved for and getting prequalified before you apply. Here are 10 steps to help you get approved for a credit card.

1. Check Your Credit Score

It's always a good idea to check your credit score before you apply for a credit card. Lenders look at your credit score to determine how responsible you are with borrowing and repaying money. A higher credit score can make it easier to qualify for a range of cards, whereas a low or fair score can limit your options—more on this below.

You can check your credit report for free through Experian to see where you stand. Determining what range your score falls into will help you understand whether you're ready to apply for credit now and what card to apply for, or if you could use some more time to build credit.

2. Make On-Time Payments

The best thing that you can do for your credit—and your approval odds as an applicant—is to pay your bills on time every month.

Your debt payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score. Late payments can remain on your credit report for up to seven years, so avoiding them is important, especially if you plan to apply for a credit card or other loan in the future. Consider setting up autopay to ensure you don't forget to pay by the due date.

3. Keep Your Balances Low

Credit card companies look at your credit utilization rate when weighing how reliable or risky you appear as an applicant. Your credit utilization is defined as how much revolving credit you're using compared to your total available credit.

Using no more than 30% of your available credit can help you avoid more substantial knocks to your credit score. Even better, aim to keep your utilization in the single digits.

4. Avoid Applying for Too Many Cards at Once

Try to keep your credit applications to a minimum and avoid applying for multiple credit cards in a short period of time. Having many hard inquiries on your credit report can temporarily lower your score and may make you appear risky to lenders.

5. Consider Experian Boost®ø

If you're new to credit or your score could use some help, Experian Boost can give you credit for monthly bills you already pay, such as utility, cellphone, insurance and streaming service bills. On-time payments can factor into credit scores powered by Experian data to instantly boost your scores.

6. Apply for Cards in Your Score Range

Knowing whether you fit the credit profile for approval with a certain card can help you avoid credit denial—and unnecessary inquiries on your report. Depending on what range your score falls into, you may have your pick of many cards, or you may be limited to those designed for improving credit.

  • If you have no credit, bad credit or fair credit, it can be challenging to qualify for many credit cards. It may make sense to spend some more time building up a positive credit history or consider credit-builder credit cards.
  • If you have a good credit score, it becomes easier to be approved for a broader range of cards. If you have excellent credit, you'll likely qualify for most cards, so you should focus on those with features you seek, such as rewards credit cards.

7. Consider a Secured Credit Card

If you haven't had much time to build credit yet, or if you need to recover from some hiccups in your credit history, consider applying for a secured credit card. These cards are designed specifically to give low-credit borrowers the opportunity to qualify for a card and use it to build up a history of on-time payments.

You'll need to put down a deposit to get approved, and that deposit will serve as your credit limit. Over time, these cards give you the opportunity to graduate to an unsecured credit card.

8. Know What You'll Use Your Card For

You don't just want to get approved for a new credit card—you want to be happy with the card you chose, and confident that it aligns with your credit goals. So before you submit an application, be sure you've considered all your options and chosen a card in a category that covers your needs.

  • Credit cards for students: Some student credit cards are designed specifically to offer students rewards tailored to their spending needs, and all student cards can provide a bridge from college into financial adulthood.
  • Rewards credit cards: If you want a credit card to earn points, cash back or miles on the spending you already do, focus on rewards cards. Look for a card with a generous rewards structure in the areas where you spend the most, such as retail, dining, transportation or grocery shopping. If the spending you'll do with your card will be varied, pick one with a competitive overall rewards structure.
  • Intro bonus credit cards: If you're interested in a credit card for a large purchase, such as new home appliances, pick a card that offers either a generous introductory 0% APR period or a generous welcome bonus for spending a certain amount shortly after opening the card—or, ideally, both. That way, you'll get money back on your purchase and avoid any interest charges as you pay back your purchase.

9. Get Prequalified Before You Apply

Before you apply, it's wise to get prequalified for a credit card. While prequalification isn't a guarantee of approval, it can eliminate some guesswork. It uses a soft credit inquiry, which doesn't affect your credit scores, to determine your odds of approval.

Start by reviewing cards you're likely to qualify for based on your credit profile. You can also narrow down your prequalified card search by category, breaking down matches to find what's most relevant to you. For example, you could check out balance transfer credit cards or gas rewards credit cards.

10. Submit an Application

When you're ready to apply, you'll need to provide information to the card issuer to verify your identity, as well as information on your income and monthly housing payment.

Once you submit the application, you may receive a decision right away. If you're approved, you'll receive information on how long you should expect to wait for your card to arrive in the mail, and you'll sometimes receive instant access to a virtual credit card to make purchases in the meantime.

If you're denied credit, the issuer is required to provide you with a reason and tell you which credit report they used to make their decision. Denial is disappointing, but there are steps you can take to help your odds of approval the next time you apply. A few options include becoming an authorized user on a family member's credit card, applying later after you've had a chance to improve your credit or applying for a secured credit card.

Stay the Credit Course

Getting approved for a credit card comes down to knowing where your score falls before you apply, selecting a credit card based on your score and needs and then prequalifying before you formally apply. If you can't qualify for the card you want now, maintaining good credit habits can open the door to a wider range of credit cards down the line.

Sign up for free credit monitoring through Experian to watch how your score changes over time. Within your account dashboard, you'll also have access to personalized insights into credit moves you could make to have a positive impact on your score.