How to apply for a credit card and get approved

Credit card approval is never guaranteed, but there are some steps you can take to improve your odds. (iStock)

Applying for a credit card can be a stressful experience, especially if you’ve been denied in the past. Understanding how the application process works and what to know before you apply can help improve your odds of approval.

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How to apply for a credit card

Depending on the card issuer, you may be able to apply online, over the phone or at your local bank or credit union branch. While some details can vary by issuer, you’ll typically need to provide the following information when you apply:

  • Full name
  • Address and contact information
  • Date of birth and mother’s maiden name
  • Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN)
  • Gross annual income and its source
  • Residence status

During this process, you may also be able to add authorized users and request a balance transfer from another credit card. Then you’ll review the card’s terms and your information and submit.

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In most cases, you’ll get a response within a minute: approval, denial or pending. If the application is pending, you’ll usually receive a letter in the mail with a decision within 7-10 business days. If you’re approved, you’ll be assigned a credit limit and interest rate, and will usually get your card in the mail within a couple of weeks.

How to be approved for a credit card

Even if you have stellar credit, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll be approved for a credit card. In addition to your credit score, card issuers also consider your debt-to-income ratio, how much money you earn and items on your credit report.

Here’s how to improve your chances of getting approved:

  • Apply for a credit card in your credit score range: Check your credit score before you apply. Most rewards credit cards require at least good credit, which typically means a FICO score of 670 or higher. If your score isn’t quite there yet, search for cards for bad or fair credit, depending on where your score lies on the spectrum.
  • Improve your debt-to-income ratio: DTI for short, this ratio is calculated by dividing your total monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income. The lower it is, the better your chances of getting approved. You can reduce your DTI by paying down debt or increasing how much money you earn.

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  • Avoid applying for too many cards: Virtually every time you apply for credit, the lender runs a hard inquiry on your credit report. This inquiry remains on your credit report for two years, and having multiple inquiries in a short period could be a red flag for lenders. If you’ve been denied for a card recently, wait to improve your credit situation before you apply again.
  • Check your credit report: Your credit report contains your history of dealing with credit, and will allow you to pinpoint areas you need to address. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. While you’re reading it, check for potential inaccuracies or fraud that you can dispute to have corrected or removed—this can also help improve your credit score.

While these steps won’t guarantee approval, they can significantly improve your odds.

What to do if you apply for a credit card and are denied

Whether you’re denied instantly or after your application goes through a pending process, you’ll receive a letter in the mail with the reasons for the denial. Take these to heart as you decide the following steps to improve your chances of getting approved the next time you apply.

In some cases, you may be able to call the card issuer and request a reconsideration. Depending on the reason for denial, you may be able to provide some extra information or convince a credit analyst to overturn the denial and approve your application instead.

Whatever you do, avoid any rash decisions, including applying for more cards, until you know why you were denied and the steps you need to take to boost your approval odds.