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If you've received preapproved credit card offers recently, you may be wondering if they're legitimate. Credit card companies send out these offers to solicit new business from consumers they think will qualify—though you still have to submit a full application as you would with any card.
Accepting a preapproved credit card offer may be a good idea if it includes a competitive interest rate, benefits you'll use and an annual fee that makes sense for your budget. Here's how to decide if it's a good choice for you.
How Do Preapproved Credit Card Offers Work?
A credit card company may send you an offer by mail, email or phone noting that you've been "preapproved" for a credit card. This means they've pre-vetted you using what's called a soft inquiry or soft pull to check your credit. A soft inquiry won't affect your credit, but it allows lenders to see your credit score and credit history to determine whether you might qualify for a card they're offering. Receiving a preapproval letter means you've passed the first screening step.
Preapproved credit card offers are just that—offers. They are not a guarantee that you'll be given a card, and you'll still have to complete an application to obtain full approval. If you do complete the application, the issuer must offer you the benefits and terms you received in your preapproval notice.
Keep in mind, however, that terms such as annual percentage rate (APR) are often noted as ranges in a preapproval and are set only after you actually apply. So if the issuer offers an interest rate range of, say, 14.99% to 24.99% in your preapproval letter, your rate could end up at either end of that range depending on where your credit stands.
You may receive some offers that say "prequalified" and some that are marked "preapproved." When it comes to credit cards, the terms prequalified and preapproved are often used interchangeably (unlike mortgages, which do a more stringent review for preapprovals). In either case, it means the company has done a basic review of your credit and thinks you might be a good customer. But does that mean you should apply for the card? That will depend on several factors, including whether you think the benefits are worth it.
Benefits of Preapproved Credit Cards
There are a number of upsides to preapproved credit card offers, including:
- Less work for you: Rather than you searching out potential cards, lenders are coming to you. If you have a good credit score and history, you may attract offers for great cards with rewards, bonuses and other benefits.
- No hit to your credit score: If a company screens you for a preapproval offer, the soft credit check won't bring down your score, so you get to see card options at no risk.
- Opportunity to rebuild credit: Sometimes card companies will reach out even if your credit is fair or poor, offering a limited credit line that will help you rebuild your credit profile. It's important to check the interest rate, however, to make sure you won't be paying high fees on your purchases (though you can avoid paying interest by paying off your balance each month, which will also help you build credit).
- Potential for competitive terms: Because lenders are advertising the card to you, it's possible that you might qualify for better interest rates than you'd find without an invitation or preapproval code.
- Opportunities to consolidate debt: Some credit card preapprovals may include promotions such as a 0% introductory APR for a certain period of time. You may be able to pay off high-interest accounts you already have open with the new card, allowing you to save on interest while paying off the balance.
- Potential intro bonus, rewards and other perks: If you've been looking into travel rewards cards or cards that offer intro bonuses and other perks, a preapproval is a good way to find out you may qualify for one of these cards.
It's important to read any offer thoroughly, however. A card may offer enticing cash back bonuses or travel rewards, but if there is a steep annual fee, it could offset any benefits.
Do Preapproved Offers Affect Your Credit Score?
As mentioned, lenders do a soft inquiry before they make a preapproval offer, but that inquiry does not affect your credit score. If you take the next step and apply for the preapproved credit card, however, the lender will run a hard inquiry that could temporarily ding your score by a few points. That's why it's important to understand the terms before you complete the process, including whether there is an annual fee and (if there is one) how much it is, the interest rate range and the types of rewards included with the card.
You may also want to find out how user-friendly the card issuer's website or app is, and if you can set up automatic payments to avoid late fees and interest charges. Spending some time reading reviews of the lender and the card can also help you decide whether you want to complete a full application and have the new account on your credit report.
Finally, when considering any credit product, including a preapproved credit card, it's a good idea to know your credit score and review your credit report to ensure it's accurate. You can get a free credit score and report from Experian, or opt for free credit monitoring, which provides a free score and report, and alerts you when there are changes to your credit file.
How to Opt Out of Preapproved Credit Card Offers
Receiving preapproved credit card offers can be a low-effort way to compare credit cards, since the lenders are coming to you rather than the other way around. But not everyone wants to receive unsolicited offers, and if you'd prefer not to, you can opt out.
You can either request that you be removed from preapproval lists at OptOutPrescreen.com, or you can call 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688). These options will remove you from lenders' lists for five years.
To request a permanent opt-out, you can go to OptOutPrescreen.com, print the permanent form and mail it to the address noted on the site.
If you want to compare different credit cards in one place, you can sign up for Experian CreditMatch™, which provides free personalized card recommendations with no negative impact to your credit.