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If you have your eye on a credit card but you're not certain your application will be approved, prequalification can help you get an idea of your eligibility. Unlike a formal credit application, prequalification doesn't result in the type of credit check (called a hard inquiry) that can affect your credit.
Many credit card issuers allow you to get prequalified directly through their website, but you can also use a service that aggregates offers, allowing you to compare multiple cards side by side.
What Does Prequalification Mean?
When you apply for a credit card, the card issuer will run a credit check to see if you're eligible. This hard inquiry can temporarily lower your credit score by a few points. If you don't want to risk a hard inquiry for a card you might not qualify for, you can try to get prequalified instead.
Prequalification involves a soft credit check, which won't affect your credit score. The process involves the card issuer reviewing some basic information about you and your credit file to see if you're a good fit. Note that some card issuers may use the term "preapproval" instead.
Because it's not an official approval, being prequalified for a card doesn't guarantee that you'll get it. The card issuer will make that decision based on your official application, which is likely to result in a hard inquiry.
How to Prequalify for a Credit Card
There are a few different ways to determine your chances of getting approved for a credit card.
Use the Card Issuer's Prequalification Tool
Not all card issuers offer prequalification, but among those that do, you can go through the process on their website. Simply share some basic details about yourself to get an idea of your approval odds.
Instead of offering prequalification for just one card, many card issuers have a general tool that will tell you which of their cards you may be eligible for. Major card issuers that offer prequalification include:
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- Wells Fargo
Keep an Eye out for Mailed Offers
Many credit card companies send preapproved offers via postal mail or email. These offers are typically for specific cards and invite you to apply, usually by using the unique code included in the letter or email.
Use a Card Aggregator Service
There are also online services you can use to see whether you have a good chance of getting approved for cards from multiple credit card companies.
Experian CreditMatch™, for example, matches you with personalized credit card offers based on your credit profile. There is no impact on 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, your credit history and other factors.
Even if you have bad credit, there may be credit cards out there within your reach. You should, however, expect to choose from a limited selection. If you have no credit history or a "thin" credit file, you may only qualify for secured credit cards, but there are credit card issuers that can consider alternative credit data when processing your application.
How to Improve Your Approval Odds
Before checking if you prequalify, consider improving your credit score if it's not quite up to par. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Check your credit report. Credit reports from all three major 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 reports 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 as quickly as possible. 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. Being an authorized user can help improve your credit score if the card is used responsibly and balances are kept low. You won't be responsible for the outstanding balance and can be removed as an authorized user at any time.
- Have additional positive payment activity reported on your credit report. You can use Experian Boost®ø to have eligible rent, utility, phone, internet and streaming service payments added to your Experian credit report for free. This positive payment history could help increase your score.
- Only apply for new credit accounts as needed. Multiple 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, which details why you were denied. The letter should also explain that you can get a free copy of your credit report and the steps to take to obtain it.
If you still want the card and believe that your situation is an exception or you forgot to include some information in your application, such as additional income, you can call the lender and ask that they reconsider your application.
If reconsideration doesn't work, it's 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
Credit card prequalification isn't a guarantee, but it can help you determine whether you should apply for a card or improve your credit before you proceed with an application.
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 credit score and get real-time alerts when your score and report change.