Credit Card Applications: How to Apply for 2017‘s Top Cards

By: Brittney Mayer • June 12, 2017

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Before the rise of the internet, applying for a credit card was a laborious process. Your choices were often limited to the mail or the bank, which essentially came down to choosing between filling out a long, tedious form — or enduring a long, tedious interview.

While modern credit card applicants can still choose to honor their ancestors by using the mail-in form — or practice the art of small talk with their local teller — today’s credit seeker has an even better option: the online application. Online credit card applications are usually the fastest way to apply — often in 13 lines or less — and typically resulting in an answer in just 60 seconds.

The application will request standard personal information, such as your name and address, as well as information about your income and employment status. You’ll also need to agree to allow the credit card issuer to run your credit, the result of which will determine whether your credit card application is accepted, and, if so, the terms you are offered by the issuer.

Excellent Credit | Good Credit | Fair Credit | Bad Credit

Best Cards for Excellent Credit (750+ FICO Score)

The crème de la crème of the credit card applicant pool, those with excellent credit have high credit scores and pristine credit reports. They’ve shown a long, steady history of positive financial behavior, including having a healthy mix of credit and maintaining all of their accounts in good standing.

To reward their credit diligence, excellent credit applicants are almost guaranteed acceptance for most credit cards (provided they meet income requirements). Additionally, these cardholders will be offered the lowest interest rates and fees, as well as many of the best rewards and signup bonuses.

+See More Cards for Excellent Credit

The caveat to the near-guaranteed acceptance will often be meeting an individual issuer’s requirements for application frequency. For example, Chase is infamous for rigorously upholding its “5/24 Rule,” which stipulates that applicants cannot have applied for more than five new lines of credit in the last 24 months, regardless of their credit score.

Best Cards for Good Credit (700+ FICO Score)

Before you reach excellent credit status, you’ll spend some time in the good credit category. Those with good credit scores have demonstrated many of the same healthy credit behaviors as their excellent-credit counterparts, such as paying their bills on time and as agreed, but may not have the same diversity of credit types or as extensive a credit history.

Thanks to their healthy histories, good credit applicants are likely to be approved for many prime credit cards, including great travel and cash back cards. While not as low as the rates offered to excellent credit consumers, those with good credit can still expect low interest rates and fees.

+See More Cards for Good Credit

One of the main differences between applying for a credit card with good credit instead of excellent credit will likely be your approved credit limit. While most people believe the credit limit is set by their income alone, income is only one of the factors. As with the general approval for a credit card, the limit for which you are approved will be most heavily influenced by your credit score.

Best Cards for Fair Credit (650+ FICO Score)

Being in the “fair” credit category shows you’ve made some of the right moves — but still have room to grow. This may mean you’re working on building your credit for the first time, or could indicate you have had a few hiccups with your credit, such as making several late payments, and need to rebuild.

Fair-credit consumers represent more of a credit risk to issuers and, thus, will not receive the same attractive rates as those with good or excellent credit. They also won’t qualify for the same rewards deals and signup offers, though consumers with fair credit can still find solid rewards card and great everyday cards.

+See More Cards for Fair Credit

With fair credit, credit card options will be more limited than for those with better credit. To test the waters before applying for a credit card well outside your qualification range, you should check for pre-qualification or pre-approval offers.

Pre-qualifying for a credit card can be a good way to test the waters without impacting your credit score.

Unlike an official credit card application, the applications for pre-qualified credit card offers use a soft credit pull, rather than a hard pull, so it won’t affect your credit. If you receive a pre-qualification credit card offer, it can indicate you may be approved for that credit card were you to apply.

Best Cards for Bad Credit (<650 FICO Score)

Consumers with bad credit have likely experienced some bumps in the credit road, perhaps including several missed payments, defaulted loans, or even bankruptcy, and are at the bottom of the credit totem pole. Because of the poor credit behaviors demonstrated by those with bad credit, many issuers are wary of providing credit, meaning you may need to focus on issuers who specifically deal with subprime borrowers.

Another option for bad credit consumers struggling to obtain an unsecured credit card is to apply for a secured credit card. Requiring a cash deposit to open, secured credit cards are easier to get than unsecured cards but have many of the same features. For example, a secured card with a MasterCard logo can be used to make purchases anywhere MasterCard is accepted.

+See More Cards for Bad Credit

The credit card issuers who specialize in applicants with poor credit make up for the higher risk of their customers by charging cardholders fairly high interest rates, and many also charge additional fees. Compare your options before applying for a subprime card to ensure you have the best deal.

Of course, the way to quality for the best credit cards is to improve your credit score. Paying your debts as agreed, establishing a healthy mix of credit types, and maintaining low balances on your credit cards can all contribute to rebuilding your credit.

Your Credit Future is an Application Away

Whether you like to put pen to paper, chat it up in person, or fly through an online application, applying for a new credit card can be an important step to building or maintaining your credit. The way you use — and the way you pay — your new credit card will influence your overall credit and help determine your future creditworthiness, so be sure to practice responsible credit behaviors.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Contributing Editor for Digital Brands, Inc., where she uses her extensive research background to develop comprehensive guides and in-depth company profiles for BadCredit.org and CardRates.com. Brittney specializes in translating complex ideas into readable, engaging content for B2C and B2B audiences.