The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Saturday, December 14, 2019

5 Tips: How to Get Approved for a Credit Card

5 Tips: How to Get Approved for a Credit Card

credit card advice

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

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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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited
Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
19.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit
Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

NO/LIMITED CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.6
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
19.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to 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
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • 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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad
Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
4.0/5.0
  • Easy application! Get a credit decision in seconds.
  • Build your credit history – Fingerhut reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • Use your line of credit to shop thousands of items from great brands like Samsung, KitchenAid, and DeWalt
  • Not an access card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Issuers Website
$0
Poor Credit
Milestone® Mastercard® - Less Than Perfect Credit Considered Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.5
OVERALL RATING
3.9/5.0
  • Prequalify for a card today and it will not impact your credit score
  • Less than perfect credit is okay
  • Mobile account access at any time
  • Protection from fraud if your card is stolen
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.
  • *Dependent on credit worthiness
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.9%
$35 - $99
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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • 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
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
4.7
OVERALL RATING
3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability
  • Qualified applicants will receive a card with a competitive APR and no annual fee along with 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, terms apply
  • View updates to your Experian credit score with free online access, terms apply
  • Make paying your bill easier with the ability to choose your payment due date, terms apply
  • Access your account on-the-go with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.49% to 25.49% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

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.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
GOOD CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • 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!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% 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.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
EXCELLENT CREDIT RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • 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!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
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.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
19.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit

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.

SECURED RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Access to an authorized bank account is required to make your $49, $99 or $200 refundable security deposit
  • 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
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Limited, Bad

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.