I distinctly remember getting turned down the first time I applied for a major credit card soon after I graduated from college. To add insult to injury, my sister — who was a year younger than me and still in school — already had a couple of cards in her wallet.
Being rejected for anything — a date, a college application or a job — hurts, and being rejected for a credit card is no exception. Here are some ways to improve your chances of getting a “yes,” rather than a “no” when you apply.
1. Check your credit in advance
A credit card issuer will almost always check your credit report and/or score before issuing you a credit card. Since that information will affect whether or not you get approved, and will likely affect the interest rate and/or credit limit you’ll get, it’s essential that you check it as well. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies, and you can get your free credit score once a month at Credit.com. (Checking your own credit this way doesn’t hurt your credit scores.)
2. Dress up your application
In a sequel to the Little House on the Prairie books, a then grown-up Laura Ingalls Wilder puts on her best dress to go see a banker about a loan to buy a home. While there’s no need for that these days (the card issuer’s computer doesn’t care what you are wearing), you can make sure your application looks as good as possible.
If you found a significant mistake when you checked your credit report, such as a collection account that doesn’t belong to you, for example, dispute it and wait until it is corrected before you apply. Also keep in mind that lenders will usually consider factors that show stability — how long you’ve been at your current address and your current employment, for example.
3. Time it right
The best time to apply for credit is when you really don’t need it. It’s much easier to get a credit card with a super low interest rate, for example, when your balances on your existing accounts are low, than it is when you are maxed out on a card and desperately hoping to consolidate with a lower-rate offer.
Similarly, it’s better to apply while you have steady employment rather than after you’ve just lost your job or retired at a significantly lower income.
You may not always be able to control this factor, but if you have been thinking about getting a new credit card, but aren’t sure you need one, then now is probably the time to apply.
4. Cross your “t”s and dot your “i”s
If you fill out a credit card application by hand, make sure your handwriting is neat and legible. If you fill it out online, don’t rush. Either way, be consistent with the name you use on applications, and make sure details like your address are filled out completely and consistently.
The reason this is important is because the information on your application will be used to help obtain your credit report and/or score, and mistakes here can mean a mismatch when your credit is checked.
5. Improve your odds
Research card offers before you apply so you don’t apply for cards you have no chance at getting. While card issuers will rarely share the details of what they will require for applicants, they may be willing to reveal minimum income requirements or perhaps guidelines about credit qualifications needed.
Some issuers also offer “preapproval” tools on their websites that allow prospective customers to check whether there are card offers available for them. And services like Credit.com help match credit card customers with cards for which they are more likely to qualify. You can use Credit.com free Credit Report Card to find the right products for you based on your actual credit standing, which significantly lowers the chances that you’ll be rejected for a card. Using the Credit Report Card does not affect your credit scores either. (For more information on how the Credit Report Card works, read this.)
If, despite your best efforts, you don’t get the card, take a careful look at the reasons you were rejected, get a free copy of your credit report (which you are entitled to by law), and use it as a learning opportunity to get it right the next time.
In my case, my credit union was willing to give me my first major credit card. And once I established a solid credit history with them, the offers started rolling in.
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