In the past, if you wanted a new credit card, it's likely you'd have to wait to get an offer in the mail.
It was just a matter of waiting around for the right one.
But today, you don't have to wait for the perfect credit card invitation.
You can have access to all sorts of cards online, all at your own convenience.
But what if you don't have the greatest credit record?
You're not alone, actually.
A whopping 68% of Americans make at least one major financial mistake before turning 30.
And this can pretty much ruin their chances at "Excellent" credit.
Maybe you've made our own credit mistakes in the past, or you are worried you don't make enough money to get approved for a credit card now.
No matter what your situation, building your credit is important—especially if you are planning a major purchase like a house or vehicle.
Or even if you want to apply for a bank loan.
Your credit can even come into play when you apply for a job since many employers check an applicant's credit report as part of their hiring process.
So do potential landlords.
Having a few credit cards with a solid on-time payment history and more than 50% available credit can really help your credit score.
So can having different types of credit.
I learned all these lessons firsthand, the hard way.
But, by sharing my experience combined with the research can help anyone make a better credit decision.
Unfortunately, credit card issuers won't always approve you if you have bad credit, and each time you apply for a card, your credit score takes a hit, whether you're approved or not.
Applying for credit cards willy-nilly can actually hurt your credit score, and if you aren't approved in the end, it will be all for nothing .
Fortunately, there is a way to find out whether or not you are likely to be approved for a credit card without damaging your credit score.
And best of all, it's free.
It's a handy little concept called "pre-qualification."
And we'll show you exactly how it's done.
Pre-Qualifying Doesn't Damage Your Credit Score
Find out which cards you are likely to be approved for, without damaging your credit
Maybe you'd qualify for a gold membership with a credit card company, but not the platinum card. How do you know which one to apply to?
There are cards out there for everyone, regardless of your credit score, and pre-qualifying can help you decide which card to apply for based on your approval odds.
Pre-qualification uses a soft credit inquiry. A credit card issuer can use two different types of credit inquiries to determine your creditworthiness.
A "soft" credit pull allows creditors to check your credit report and credit score without damaging your credit score.
Because you can't get a credit card with a "soft" credit pull, it poses no risk to your score.
A "hard" inquiry, on the other hand, can knock as many as 5–10 points off your score.
Banks have their ways of determining credit-worthy customers. Some banks purchase a list from the credit bureaus that tells them who meets their criteria to receive a credit card.
If you request pre-qualification, the bank may check this list.
Banks may come to you. If you're on a list, you may also receive a pre-approval offer in the mail or by email.
Or the card issuer might even target Facebook, search engine, or mobile display ads to you and others on the list—especially if you visited its website in the past to peruse its credit cards.
Don't worry if you don't pre-qualify. Even if you don't pre-qualify, you can work to improve your credit history by making on-time payments and reducing your existing debt.
By the time you apply, you might get approved.
And even if you're struggling to get approved for a card at first, there are always other options when it comes to borrowing money that might be worth considering.
Good credit can take time, but it's worth it in the end.
But don't place all your trust in pre-qualification. Even if you are pre-qualified, there's a chance you may still not be approved for the card of your dreams.
You could be rejected if your salary is too low relative to your existing debt.
Or if you recently lost your job.
Maybe a hard inquiry on your credit report revealed additional information that makes you look like more of a credit risk.
Your information, including your salary, existing debt, or on-time payment history could have changed since your pre-qualification.
Act fast. So after you've been pre-qualified, it's in your best interest to apply as quickly as possible before your financial status or credit history changes.
Secrets to Getting Pre-Qualified for Free
Find out if you're pre-qualified with just a few clicks
From banks to credit card issuers, the web abounds with tools for pre-qualification.
Some major banks have pre-qualification tools. Most of the major banks do not allow you to pre-qualify for their cards easily online.
But Wells Fargo provides a Credit Options Guide.
By inputting how much credit you'd like to qualify for, your income, assets, and expenses, and your approximate FICO credit score, you can find out your best options for a Wells Fargo credit card.
Similarly, Chase Bank, HSBC, and others tell you the requirements to gain approval for their credit cards, so you can match their criteria against your income and credit score to see if their cards would be a good fit.
After you visit their websites to find information on their cards, you may receive a pre-approved offer in the mail or via email.
Inbox-targeted pre-approvals. Through its "CardMatch" program, CreditCards.com sends consumer pre-qualification offers via email.
Some of the offers even have a special introductory interest rate, a balance transfer offer, or a sign-up bonus, sweetening the deal.
All you need to do is enter the last four digits of your social security number, your current mailing address, and your email.
You could get credit card offers from Chase, American Express, Bank of America, and many others that don't provide options for pre-qualification on their own sites.
An instant pre-qualification sneak peek. Credit One has a variety of financial products available to help people build their credit.
The credit card issuer is devoted to helping people with poor credit or no credit history get secured or unsecured credit cards.
But which one exactly will you qualify for?
Submit your information, including your name, social security number, and monthly income to Credit One, and it will let you know immediately.
If none of the offers appeal to you, your inbox will soon be flooded with pre-approved offers for other attainable credit cards, so take time to sift thru those emails and hopefully you'll be able to find one that works for you.
"Discover" which cards you can get. Discover has an online pre-qualification tool that can tell you immediately whether you are "it" or if you deserve "More."
When you find the one you wish to apply for, the site auto-fills your pre-qualification data right into your application.
Pretty easy, right?
A rewarding match-up of rewards cards. U.S. Bank offers many retail credit cards and Mastercards, like the REI World Mastercard.
Submit your information, along with the type of credit card you are looking for, and you can view your options right away.
Bonus: The application process puts you on a mailing list to receive additional pre-approved offers as they become available, all through email.
Lucky 13 choices. See which of Capital One's 13 financial products you qualify for with just one click.
From the top-rated Capital One Venture Rewards for those with "Excellent" credit to the Secured Mastercard, it's likely that Capital One has a financial product that fits your needs and your credit score.
What Are People Asking About Pre-qualification?
These FAQs will guide you to the right credit card for you
Still have questions about pre-qualification and the application process?
We've sifted through all the FAQs to find the top queries.
- What are pre-qualified credit card offers?
Pre-qualified credit card offers are not a guarantee you will get approval for a specific card.
But you have roughly a 90% chance of approval after pre-qualification.
- How do I get pre-qualified credit card offers?
The three major credit bureaus often sell a list of pre-qualified consumers to the credit card companies.
Those companies will send you offers via mail or email.
Or, you can visit websites that offer pre-qualification forms to see which cards you have the best chances of getting.
- How do I stop receiving pre-qualified credit card offers?
If you found the card you want, but the pre-approved offers won't stop, you can opt out of pre-screened and pre-approved offers by phone, mail, or online.
You can choose to opt-out forever, or temporary (e.g. just for five years).
You can even decide to opt out of pre-screened offers from just one credit bureau, or all three. It's flexible!
The FTC website shows you how to do it.
Follow its instructions and set it up however you want, even if you never want to get another credit card offer in the mail again.
- Are there pre-qualified credit cards for students?
Discover it offers several student credit cards and will pre-qualify you quickly and easily with a simple form on its website.
Capital One, American Express, and others also have student cards with pre-qualification capabilities.
- Are there pre-qualified credit cards with no annual fee?
You can get pre-qualified for virtually any credit card available, including those highly sought-after cards with great cash back, stellar rewards, and no annual fees.
- Can you be denied a pre-qualified credit card?
Yes, you can.
If your income or debt changes, or you have missed a few payments on your existing credit cards, you can be denied a credit card you've previously pre-qualified for.
Additional information may show up on your credit report during a hard inquiry that makes the creditor change their mind about approving you for the card.
- Do pre-qualified credit cards hurt your credit score?
The application process to pre-qualify does not hurt your credit score.
And it only takes a few minutes.
- Do pre-qualified credit card offers result in a hard inquiry?
Pre-qualification only results in a "soft" pull on your credit report.
They are not hard inquiries and do not affect your credit score.
What If You Can't Qualify for a Credit Card?
You may still have other options to borrow money and improve your credit
If you didn't pre-qualify for any credit cards, or the ones you pre-qualified for didn't have desirable features, you may be able to get the money you need via other methods.
You may get approved for a personal loan without a hard inquiry. Some internet-only personal loan companies even issue loans to people with poor credit or no credit history.
Enjoy lower interest rates and easy budgeting. Personal loans often have lower interest rates than credit cards.
Plus you'll have a set end-date to pay off the loan, so you won't watch the interest pile up.
Personal loans also help with budgeting your money, since you have a set amount to pay each month.
Clean up your credit report. Your credit card denial could have nothing to do with you.
Maybe your credit reports have errors on them you didn't know about.
Request a free copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus then get to work fixing those errors by identifying and reporting them.
Sometimes all it takes is a letter to each bureau.
Pay down your existing debt. You may not qualify for a credit card because you have too much existing debt.
Make a plan to pay down that debt and try again in a few months.
Once the debt is cleared, you'll have much better odds!
Understand your credit score in order to improve it. Once you've fixed the errors on your credit report and started working on paying down your debt, it's time to consider the other factors that affect your credit score.
Your score is made up of your payment history (35%), your debt-to-available-credit ratio (30%), the length of time you've had your credit accounts (15%), the variety of credit you use (10%), and the amount of new credit you have (10%).
Certain things, like the length of your credit history, you can only fix by giving it time.
Continue making your payments on time, and try to keep your existing balances lower than 50% of your credit limit. You'll see your score rise sooner than you think!
Then you can try again to see if you pre-qualify for the card you want.
Things to Watch Out For
Pre-qualification gives you the power to choose the best credit cards for you
Filling out forms to pre-qualify for credit cards is easy—perhaps too easy.
You can get yourself in trouble if you don't watch these landmines that could lead to debt.
Don't pre-qualify for too many credit cards at once.
But wait … Didn't we just say checking if you're pre-qualified won't hurt your credit score?
That's 100% accurate.
But if you are the type easily led into temptation, you might want to complete the application process for all those cards once you see your approval odds.
And that's where things get sticky.
Filling out a credit card application can hurt your score.
So can opening several new credit accounts in a short period of time.
Instead, choose one or two of your favorite pre-qualified offers and complete the application process.
If you get a pre-approved offer, stop.
Fill out the credit card application.
And if you receive the credit cards, use them responsibly.
You have plenty of time to build your credit, but trying to re-build then seeing your score drop can be frustrating.
If you are denied, work on building your credit with on-time payments and paying down debt before you apply again.
If you are struggling to get approved for an unsecured card, try aiming for a secured card.
They tend to be the safest and easiest bet to building credit, and you can turn around and use that new credit to get that unsecured card you had your eyes on.
Read the fine print. Is it really a pre-qualification?
Before you click "submit," make sure the website specifies that there will be no hard pull to your credit.
Also, many websites sell your data to third parties after you submit a pre-qualification form.
If you don't mind being bombarded with pre-approved offers and other ads, you may not mind.
But if you'd rather just check your pre-qualification for one card and leave with your inbox relatively unflooded, be sure to read the terms and conditions and advertiser disclosure form before you submit your information.
Get ready to find out which credit cards give you the best chance of approval
Getting new credit can be hard if you have a spotty credit history.
If you're new to the credit game, you may not know where to turn.
But there's hope.
You can pre-qualify for credit cards and then decide which ones you want to apply for and ultimately carry in your wallet.
Knowing what type of credit card you want—whether it's a student card or top-tier travel rewards card—will help you in your quest for pre-qualification.
Some major banks and many credit card issuers have pre-qualification forms right on their websites.
Gather the necessary information, including your social security number, annual or monthly income, and your credit score, and submit the pre-qualification forms for the cards you want.
Fill out the application for the cards that give you good approval odds. If you've followed these steps, you should walk away with a few choices in credit cards.
Apply for just a few to minimize the impact on your credit score.
Be patient.Building your credit takes time.
But seeking out pre-approval offers can help.
Plus they won't hurt your credit score while you hunt for the perfect credit card.
You have to start somewhere, and pre-qualification is a no-risk way to start your journey toward better credit.
And as you build your credit, you'll see doors opening that were closed before, including lower interest rates, better jobs, and even top-tier rewards and cash back credit cards.
Have you ever been pre-qualified for a credit card?
Did you go through a similar process as we described above?
Any success stories (or cautionary tales) to share with the rest of us?
Let us know in the comments below!