[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. For current terms and conditions, please see card agreements. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
If you have excellent credit, then may believe that you can be approved for any new credit card. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In recent years, it appears as if some credit card applications are being denied despite an applicant’s solid credit history.
Why Your Application May Have Been Denied
If a bank will offer you tens of thousands of points or miles when you open a new card, what’s to prevent you from opening up two new accounts? How about ten, or, even, one hundred? There are some credit card enthusiasts and award travel hobbyists who try to exploit these offers to their logical extreme, in the pursuit of as many points and miles as possible.
Customers could theoretically collect these signup bonuses, but not actually use their cards once the minimum spending requirements were met. In addition, without restrictions, cardholders could seemingly apply for the same credit cards and earn multiple sign-up bonuses.
The Issuers Weigh In
Some card issuers are placing limits on the number of cards that customers can receive, irrespective of their credit history and credit score, that can thwart the aforementioned practices (also referred to as card churning). For example, most applications for Chase cards specify that “this product is available to you if you do not have this card and have not received a new cardmember bonus for this card in the past 24 months.”
According to an email from a spokesperson for the bank, “Chase carefully reviews each application, and considers a variety of factors, including the number of cards opened. Customers who open multiple card applications in a short period of time, regardless of issuer, will likely encounter difficulties.”
American Express specifies on its credit card applications that the “welcome bonus offer is not available to applicants who have or have had this product.” An American Express spokesperson confirmed this policy in an email, though they pointed out that the company makes targeted offers to customers as well.
Finally, a spokesperson for Citi explained in an email that “for Citi-branded Cards, we do not have a hard limit on the number of cards a consumer can have.” However, “bonus points are not available if a cardmember has opened or closed a card in the past 24 months within the same family of cards,” they added. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
How Many Credit Cards Should You Get in a Year?
Whether or not you will be able to receive multiple credit cards might depend on the policies of the particular bank you are submitting your application to. But the more important question is how many credit cards should you apply for each year.
Many American credit card users carry a balance on their cards at least some of the time. These cardholders who are paying interest on their charges are best-served by focusing on paying off their balances, not applying for new credit cards to earn rewards. (These credit card users may alternately want to consider applying for a single new card with a 0% annual percentage rate promotional financing offer for balance transfers. You can find more on balance transfer credit cards here.)
If you consistently avoid interest charges by paying your entire statement balance in full each month, then, yes, you might want to consider occasionally updating your credit card portfolio. And when you do so, you should try to take advantage of the most competitive new offers, and the most generous signup bonuses. However, you should only be applying for new credit cards if you are sure that you can manage the new accounts responsibly — meaning you can pay all your bills on time and keep the amount of debt you owe on individual cards and collectively below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your limit(s).
Beyond that, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of any credit card you’re considering carefully in order to determine if it’s the right one for your wallet. Also, you’ll want to be sure your credit can handle a small hit. Each credit card application can generate a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can ding your credit scores — and multiple inquiries can do some bigger damage, particularly if your credit is on the bubble. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
Image: Eugenio Marongiu