The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

5 Tips: How to Get Approved for a Credit Card

How To Get Approved For A Credit Card

credit card advice

Marcie Geffner
By: Marcie Geffner
Posted: September 23, 2019
Advertiser Disclosure

Getting approved for a credit card is easy for some people. But for others, the approval process can be fraught with roadblocks. This article will explain what you need to know if:

  • You’re applying for your first card, you need to rebuild your credit, or you have one or more cards and want to obtain another.
  • You want to learn more about how to apply and improve your chances of being approved.
  • You’ve faced challenges being approved, or you’ve applied and been denied.

Before you apply, you should educate yourself about your options so you can choose a card that fits your situation and for which you’re likely to be approved.

1. Complete an Application Online Based On Your Credit Score

Cards come with different rates, fees, and features. Some are designed for people with excellent credit; others target consumers with middle-of-the-pack credit scores, and still, others are intended for people who’ve had credit problems.

You can complete an application for a credit card online, in-person at a bank or credit union, or by calling the card issuer. You’ll need to provide your name, address, and other personal and financial information. If you don’t have a Social Security number, you may be able to use another form of identification.

Being approved for a card depends primarily on your credit score and your monthly income compared with your monthly minimum debt payments.

FICO Score® Ranges

Your credit score is a three-digit number that represents the information in your credit reports. The most commonly used score is the FICO, developed by Fair Isaac, Corp.

There’s no one score that you have to have to get credit card approval. As a general guideline, a score of 800 or higher is considered exceptional; 740 to 799 is considered excellent credit; 670 to 739 is considered good, and 580 to 669 is considered fair credit. A score of 579 or lower is considered poor.

If you’ve never used credit or you’ve had problems with credit, your score could be low or even zero. In that case, you may want to apply for a starter, student, or secured card before you apply for a more sophisticated one.

See Cards For: No/Limited Credit (0 Score) | Bad Credit (300 – 579) | Fair Credit (580-669) | Good Credit (670-739) | Excellent Credit (740+)

Cards for No/Limited Credit

These types of cards tend to have lower limits, higher annual percentage rates (APRs), and fewer benefits. The advantage is that they can help you build your credit so you can be approved for other cards in the future. A low limit can help you learn to use credit responsibly and not incur more debt than you can manage.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit

 

Cards for Bad Credit

A card for bad credit may sound like a punishment, but some cards in this category are designed to help you rebuild your credit so you can qualify for more preferred cards. You won’t get a high credit limit, low APR, or awesome rewards and benefits, but you will get a chance to make your payment on time and beef up your credit score.

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee
  • Unlike a prepaid card, there is regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • Make the minimum required security deposit and you'll get an initial credit line of $200. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months with no additional deposit needed
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Bank of America® Cash Back Secured Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • A minimum refundable security deposit of $300 (maximum of $4,900) is required to open this account
  • Access your FICO® Score updated monthly for free, within your Mobile Banking app or in Online Banking
  • Optional overdraft protection option helps prevent declined purchases, returned checks or other overdrafts when you link your eligible Bank of America® checking account to your credit card. Transfer fees may apply.
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
23.99% Variable
$0
Bad/Limited
Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit

 

Cards for Fair Credit

Fair is neither good nor bad – it’s right in the middle – meaning the cards you’re likely to qualify for are also “right in the middle” in terms of APRs and rewards offered. Use the card responsibly to boost your credit score and eventually graduate to a card for good or excellent credit.

FAIR CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
FAIR CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$39
Average, Fair, Limited
Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit

 

Cards for Good Credit

A good credit score, generally 670 or higher, will get you approved for many great credit cards. Whether you want travel rewards, cash back, or a low APR, you’ll have your pick among some of the best offers.

GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Redeem on travel—from vacation rentals to car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Chase Freedom FlexSM Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

 

Cards for Excellent Credit

An excellent credit score will allow you to choose among the very best card offers available, including exclusive cards with expensive annual fees. These come with top-tier rewards, special cardholder privileges, and low APRs for those who qualify.

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Redeem on travel—from vacation rentals to car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Blue Cash Preferred® Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year on purchases (then 1%). Also earn 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • Earn 3% cash back on transit, including U.S. gas stations, taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses, and more. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
  • Access to Global Assist Hotline - 24/7 medical, legal, financial and other select emergency assistance and coordination services
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months from the date of account opening
  • $95 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
13.99% - 23.99% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

+ See More Cards for Excellent Credit

If you don’t know your score, you can find out online. Some websites offer scores free. Others charge a fee. Before you use a specific website, you should read the fine print because some websites use your personal information to market financial products to you or share your personal information with other companies for their marketing purposes.

To understand your score, it may be helpful to look at your credit reports from the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Your reports are important because the information they contain is used to create your scores.

You can get your reports free from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find any errors in your reports, notify the credit bureau and ask to have the error corrected. An accurate report may improve your scores.

The most important factor in your score is whether you make your payments on time. Setting up alerts and putting reminders on your calendar can help you remember when your payments are due.

Other factors that affect your score include the types of credit you use, your credit utilization rate, and how long you have used credit. Retail store cards, auto loans, and other types of debt can also help you build your credit history.

The best way to improve your score is to make all your payments on time.

2. Have a Steady Income

You’ll be asked to disclose your monthly income when you apply for a card. You don’t have to have a high income or full-time job, but you usually will need to have at least some steady income from somewhere or someone.

Card issuers have different rules to determine what type of income you can use to qualify, but there are some general guidelines:

  • You must be at least 18 years old to apply for a card on your own. If you’re younger than that, you can become an authorized user on someone else’s card to establish your own credit history. That someone else may be your mom, dad, or another family member.
  • If you’re 18, 19, or 20, you can apply for a card on your own. But to be approved, you’ll need to show that you have a reliable monthly income, or you’ll need a cosigner who has good credit and is willing to be responsible for your card debt along with you.
  • You may be able to use financial aid, such as a scholarship, grant, stipend, or work-study, as income to qualify if you receive the income on a regular basis (i.e., not just once) and you can use the funds to pay for daily living expenses (i.e., not just tuition).
  • If you’re 21 or older, you can use your own income or your spouse’s, partner’s, or parent’s income to apply if you have access to that income, such as if it’s deposited into a shared account, or a portion of it is transferred to you (e.g., as an allowance) every month. Student loans are debt and should not be used as income to qualify for a card.

By the way, you’ll never be too old to be approved for a card. That’s because lenders aren’t legally allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of your age once you’re at least 21.

3. Show a Healthy Debt-to-Income Ratio

When you apply for a card, the income you earn isn’t as important as your ability to repay what you charge on your card and pay back any other debt you have.

To figure out whether you have enough income to handle your debt, card issuers look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which compares your monthly income to your monthly minimum debt payments. There’s no hard-and-fast DTI ratio to be approved, but all else being equal, a lower DTI ratio is better than a higher DTI ratio.

You will need more income, less debt, or both to lower your DTI ratio.

Example DTI Calculcation

 

Card issuers have different standards for DTI so if you don’t qualify for one card, you may qualify for another, or you may qualify for the card you want, but with a lower limit.

You shouldn’t lie about your income when you apply for a card because it’s illegal, and you could get approved with a limit that’s too high for you. That could snowball into a number of financial problems, including too much debt, bad credit, or even bankruptcy.

Some card issuers will consider such factors as your employment, student status, and checking account balance when you apply for a card.

4. Begin with a “Starter” Card if You’re New to Credit

Some cards are designed for people who have a short — or no — credit history. These cards are sometimes called starter or no-credit cards.

Starter cards are great options to help you learn to manage credit responsibly and eventually graduate to cards with richer rewards and lower APRs.

Starter Cards: If you’ve had problems with credit, a true starter card — designed for people who have a limited credit history — may not be the best fit for you. But if you’re young, recently divorced, or new to credit for another reason, a starter could increase your chances of approval. The card below is a great option for anyone looking to build credit.

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

Student Cards:

If you’re a student, you’re in luck because there are a lot of cards designed for people like you. Student cards may have a lower credit limit and most generally come with a few perks and benefits. Consider a student card training for the real world. Paying your credit card bill on time and in full every month will help build your credit history so you can qualify for cards with higher limits and more attractive benefits. See our top student selection below.

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Earn $5 per month for 12 months on Select Streaming Subscriptions when you pay on time. *Exclusions Apply
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

Secured Cards:

If you don’t have much experience with credit or you’ve had some problems with credit, another option is a secured card. This type of card requires an upfront deposit, which may be refunded once you’ve established a good payment record or if you close your account without an outstanding balance. Our top secured card has no annual fee and the issuer will review your account for credit limit increases after you make five consecutive on-time payments.

Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Better than Prepaid...Go with a Secured Card! Load One Time - Keep On Using
  • Absolutely No Credit Check or Minimum Credit Score Required
  • Automatic Reporting to All Three National Credit Bureaus
  • 9.99% Low Fixed APR - Your Rate Won’t Go Up Even if You Are Late
  • Activate Today with a $200 Minimum Deposit - Maximum $1,000. * Increase Your Credit Limit up to $5,000 by Adding Additional Deposits Anytime
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
9.99%
$48
Poor/Fair/Limited/Damaged

It’s easier to be approved for a secured card because if you don’t make your payment, your card company can use all or part of your deposit for that purpose. If that happens, that portion of your deposit will not be refunded even if you close your account.

5. Understand How Credit Works Before Applying

A credit card is a form of debt. Each time you use your card to make a purchase, you’re borrowing that amount of money from the card issuer. The maximum you’re allowed to owe at any one time is known as your credit limit.

Each month, you receive a statement that shows how much you owe and a due date by which you must make a minimum payment. If you pay off your card balance every month, you’ll never have to pay any interest. If you carry over a balance, you’ll be charged interest for that amount and any new purchases you make.

Cards are a type of revolving debt. Revolving means that, if you hit your limit and then pay off all or part of the amount you owe, you can borrow that amount again.

You don’t have to have a credit card, but there are good reasons to get one — or a few — if you qualify:

  • Cards are more convenient than cash or checks.
  • If your card is lost or stolen, your losses will be limited. If cash is lost or stolen, it’s gone.
  • Cards can help you track your expenses.
  • Cards are free to obtain and use if you avoid fees and pay your full balance every month.
  • Cards allow you to make rental car and hotel reservations and shop online.
  • Many cards give you rewards, such as cash back, travel benefits, or points toward merchandise purchases.
  • Cards can help you build your credit history so you can qualify for other types of loans with lower rates and better terms later.

Read on for the advantages of having multiple credit cards.

Additional Cards In Your Wallet Can Lead to More Perks

Once you’ve been approved for one or more cards, you may want to get additional cards.

More cards could let you earn signup bonuses and give you access to other perks like cash backair miles, and gifts. You may also be able to transfer a balance and get a 0% introductory APR offer or upgrade from a secured card to an unsecured card. Additionally, having more credit cards in good standing can lead to higher credit limits.

You may also want more cards in case your favorites are lost, stolen or temporarily unusable due to fraud on your account. Or you may want multiple cards for different purposes, such as online shopping, travel or dining. Some cards offer company-specific rewards that may appeal to you. If you own a business or you have a side gig, you might want to have business cards as well as personal cards.

To get approved for additional credit cards, you’ll need to use your credit responsibly, make your payments on time to secure a high credit score, and keep your card utilization relatively low. Now that you know how to get approved, you can shop and apply for the cards you want with confidence.

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