How to Prequalify for a Credit Card

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Prequalifying for a credit card online, or receiving a preapproval offer from a credit card issuer, could be your first step toward getting a new credit card. Success here doesn't mean you've been approved for the card, though. It simply indicates the card issuer has prescreened you and determined the information in your credit report meets the general criteria for the card.

You may choose to reply to a prequalification or preapproval offer to officially apply for the card, at which point the lender will likely review your credit history a second time to confirm you still meet their approval guidelines.

How Prequalifying for a Credit Card Works

Credit card issuers looking to grow their number of cardholders often go straight to potential customers by prescreening credit reports en masse and sending out offers of credit to those who meet the qualification criteria. Prescreening is done with the help of credit bureaus, which compile a list upon request based on specific factors credit card issuers are searching for. The credit card issuer then sends a preapproval offer to the consumers on that list.

Prequalifying for a card typically works a little differently (though some issuers use the two terms interchangeably). If you are in the market for a new credit card, you can seek out a credit card issuer yourself to request prequalification. To do so, you'll go to the card issuer's website and offer some basic information, after which you'll be shown a list of offers you could be approved for. Not all issuers offer prequalification, however, so you may not find this option depending on which card you're seeking.

In either case, both preapproved and prequalified credit card offers come with several advantages:

  • Preapproval results in a soft credit inquiry, which does not impact your credit score. Prequalification, offered online by American Express and other card issuers, shouldn't reduce your credit scores either. If you decide to apply for the card, a hard inquiry will be generated and potentially shave a few points off your credit score.
  • If you're preapproved or prequalified for a card, and your creditworthiness hasn't drastically changed since the prescreening process, your approval odds are generally good.
  • They make it easier to compare credit card options that you're most likely to qualify for.

But remember: A prequalified credit card offer is not a firm offer credit. It's an invitation to apply. You could still get denied for the card if you submit a formal application and don't meet the card issuer's minimum qualification criteria for other factors not reviewed during prescreening, including income, employment status or monthly housing payment.

How Can I See if I Prequalify for a Credit Card?

Are you interested in a particular credit card? Here are a few ways to determine if you prequalify:

  • Use the screening tool on the company's website. Check your status by entering your name, address and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Many large banks also have prequalification tools on their website.
  • Keep an eye out for mail from credit card issuers. Many credit card companies send preapproved offers via postal mail or email. They communicate that you are preapproved and invite you to apply using the unique code included in the letter.
  • Use Experian CreditMatch™ to see cards you may qualify for. This free tool matches you with personalized credit card offers based on your credit profile. There is no impact to your score, and you can see your results in less than a minute.

What Credit Score Do I Need to Prequalify for a Credit Card?

There is no minimum credit score requirement to prequalify for a credit card—approval odds depend on the specific card you want to apply for and your credit history.

Even if you have bad credit, there may be credit cards out there within your reach. You should, however, expect a limited selection to choose from. Those with no credit history or a "thin" credit file may only qualify for secured credit cards, but there are credit card issuers that can consider alternative credit data when processing your application.

Your credit history isn't the only factor that credit card issuers look for when evaluating your application. They usually input these other factors into their unique formula to determine if you qualify:

  • Income: Lenders review your income to determine if you can afford to repay what you borrow. If you're between 18 and 21 years of age, you're required to submit proof of income or apply with a cosigner. This is mandated by the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009.
  • Other financial details: Credit card issuers also examine additional financial information, like monthly housing expenses, during the application process.

Before checking if you prequalify, consider improving your credit score if it's not quite up to par. A few tips to help you get started:

  • Check your credit report. Credit reports from all three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—are available for free from AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also check your credit report and score online for free with Experian. When looking over your report and scores, take a look at the factors affecting your scores the most and create a plan of action to address them.
  • Pay all your bills on time. Payment history has a major impact on your credit score, so it's essential to make timely payments each month. If you have any past-due payments or charge-offs, get current on them sooner than later. Reach out to your lenders to see what accommodations are available if you worry you'll miss a payment.
  • Reduce or pay off credit card balances. Your credit utilization plays an important role in your credit scores. Keeping it as low as possible will have the best impact on your scores.
  • Become an authorized user on someone else's credit card account. This can help improve your credit score if the card is used responsibly and balances are kept low. You will not be responsible for the outstanding balance and can be removed as an authorized user at any time.
  • Have additional positive payment activity reported to the credit bureaus. You can use Experian Boost to have eligible telecom, utility and streaming service payments added to your credit report for free. This positive payment history could help increase your scores.
  • Only apply for new credit accounts as needed. Many credit applications in a short period can hurt your credit score.
  • Monitor your credit. By keeping tabs on your credit, you can see changes to your report in real-time and address any issues or fraud promptly. You can monitor your credit for free with Experian.

What Happens if I Get Denied for a Credit Card?

Most card issuers can make a decision in a minute or less. If your credit card application is denied, the lender will send you an adverse action letter that details how they reached their decision. The letter should also explain that you can get a free copy of your credit report and the steps to take to obtain it.

You can call the lender and ask that they reconsider your application if you still want the card. If you withheld information from the original that may help you get approved, such as additional income, be sure to share that with the representative.

Still no luck? It may be best to focus on improving your credit before you apply for another credit card. Once your score has improved and you have a better handle on your credit obligations, you can use the screening tools on credit card sites to determine if you can prequalify.

The Bottom Line

You can prequalify for a credit card to get more insight on your approval odds. If you're having trouble getting prequalified or not quite receiving the offers you want, work toward improving your credit score. You can get started with Experian's free tool that lets you see your credit report and FICO® Score for free.

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