How to Apply for a Credit Card

Getting a credit card takes more than an application.

You might be able to submit a credit card application, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to get approved. Getting rejected after applying for a credit card is not only a blow to the ego, it can also be a blow to your credit score. But with the right information, you might be able to avoid rejection altogether, repeal a credit card issuer’s initial decision or learn what you need to do to get approved next time.

Before you start figuring out how to apply for a credit card online or how to get a paper credit card application, understand what it takes to get approved. Here’s what you need to know to submit a credit card application — and get approved for that credit card.

How to Get a Credit Card

Whether you’re interested in business credit cards, balance-transfer cards, low-interest credit cards, cash-back credit cards or other rewards credit cards, the basic criteria for getting approved is similar. Follow this step-by-step guide on how to apply for a credit card to increase your chances of credit approval, and refer to this credit score chart to find out where you rank in the world of credit.

 Credit Score Ranges
Credit ScoreRating
800+Excellent
740 to 799Very Good
670 to 739Good
580 to 669Fair
579 and lowerPoor

Here’s how to apply for a credit card in five steps:

1. Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score might affect your approval for a credit card, so know what your score is before you fill out a credit card application. Knowing your score will save you time and also help you avoid getting an unnecessary ding on your credit report. You can get a free credit score from different services online or you might get a free credit score from your credit card company as a perk of being a cardholder.

Knowing your credit score will also help you determine which cards are a good fit. You can still apply for a credit card with bad credit, though you’ll be limited in your choices. When your score is bordering the line between two score ranges, try to improve your score before you go through the application process.

Related: 7 Screening Methods Credit Card Companies Are Using

2. Improve Your Credit Score

Once you know your credit score, you can determine if you’re ready to get a credit card or if you need to improve your score first. When your credit rating needs a boost, focus on paying off your debts first. Debt elimination will lower your credit utilization rate, which can impact up to 30 percent of your credit score.

Your credit utilization rate is your total amount of debt divided by your total amount of available credit. For example, having $5,000 of debt and $10,000 in available credit puts your credit utilization rate at 50 percent, which is higher than the recommend total credit utilization rate of below 30 percent. Paying $2,500 off in debt would improve your credit utilization rate to 25 percent, which could boost your overall credit score.

3. Research Your Options

Credit card offers can bombard your inbox or mailbox, but they’re not always the best options for your financial needs and goals. Perform your due diligence to find the best credit cards you can get with your credit score.

For example, if you need a card that rewards you more for grocery spending, it wouldn’t make sense to apply for a card that specializes in travel rewards. Research the highest rated credit cards and find out the details on the cards in which you’re interested. Know what credit score is required for the card, the card’s APR, its annual fee and if it has a reward program.

Additionally, opting for a prepaid credit card — or a card that requires a security deposit — might be your best option if you’ve had challenges with your credit. Typically these cards are easier to get and will allow you to build a positive credit history. Some card issuers will even upgrade users to a traditional credit card after a positive payment history of 12 months.

Find Out: 6 Surprising Uses for Your Credit Card Rewards

4. Include All Your Income

A common reason people are rejected for credit cards is because they didn’t include all of their income. Income isn’t just the money you make at a full-time job — it includes money you made through a part-time position, a small business or a freelance project you’ve been doing on the side.

Additionally, your spouse’s income counts as yours if it’s considered accessible household income. Remember to report your gross income, not your net income. Reporting gross income means you should report every penny you make before taxes and deductions, not just the money you put in the bank each pay period.

5. Call the Reconsideration Line

Whether you apply for a credit card online or in person, it can take the approximately 14 days to have your application approved. Instant approval credit cards, however, provide you with a decision right away, and you’ll get your new credit card and terms within five to seven days.

In case you didn’t get approved, try calling the reconsideration line. Doing this can help you better understand why your application was rejected — and it also gives you a chance to state your case to a real person, not a computer.

Check Out: 6 Instant-Approval Credit Cards

Can Multiple Credit Card Applications Hurt My Credit Score?

Modern technology has made it easy to apply for a credit card online, especially with instant-approval credit cards, but that doesn’t mean you should apply for several credit cards until you receive an approval. Applying for too many credit card accounts can hurt your FICO score or other credit score, even if you don’t get approved.  The last thing you want to do is damage your score, so be prudent about applying.

Additionally, being denied for a card initially doesn’t mean that you’ll never be approved. Instead, look at rejection as a chance to learn what you need to do to improve your credit score and ultimately get the credit you deserve.

Up Next: 9 Ways to Raise Your Credit Score in 2018

Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting for this article.