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The typical credit card applicant isn’t normally in a hurry — they may be looking for a new credit card in order to use its perks and benefits, or to gain a generous sign-up bonus.

But some applicants need their card as soon as possible in order to get access to fast cash to finance an unexpected expense. Inevitably, these applicants wonder how fast they can get their credit card.

How the Application Process Works

First, new customers must submit their application, typically online. It is possible that the application can be immediately approved, but even strong applicants might have their decision delayed. Upon approval, card issuers then order a new card, which is often shipped directly from the third-party card producer (here’s a great look at how credit cards are made). Most cards are shipped via regular mail, but some card issuers prefer to send their high-end reward cards via overnight shippers.

To test the response times (and earn some generous sign-up bonuses), I applied for three different cards from three different issuers. One contacted me by telephone within days and approved my card, which arrived within a week of my application. The other sent me an email three days after I applied to notify me that I had been approved, but I have still not received the card two weeks later. The third contacted me a week after my application to request that I mail in a copy of my driver’s license, Social Security card, and a utility bill, in order to verify my identity. I mailed in the documentation they asked for, but still have not heard back after two weeks. So the results will always vary based on the card issuer and the circumstances of the applicant.

How to Speed It Up

1. Call the card issuer after applying. You will not be mailed a credit card until you have been approved to open a new account. If you are in a hurry to receive a decision, call the card issuer if your online application immediately approved. Representatives can open the new accounts of qualified applicants over the phone.

2. Request overnight shipping. Once your account has been opened, request that the card be shipped overnight. Credit card issuers have an interest in ensuring that you can use your card quickly, and often grant this request. It is also important to make this request if you are receiving a new card due to the loss or theft of your card with an existing account.

3. Use your account before you receive your card. Having a physical credit card in hand is necessary to make purchases from merchants, but there are other benefits you may be able to utilize even before the card arrives. For example, you should be able to transfer a balance to your new card as soon as the account is opened. You can also request cards be sent to additional authorized cardholders. Finally, you may be able to immediately take advantage of additional benefits of being a cardholder. For instance, the American Express Platinum card offers cardholders a range of benefits including elite status with Starwood Hotels and several rental car agencies. In fact, cardholders can contact American Express and request these benefits even before their card has arrived.

It’s important to remember that before you apply for a credit card, you should know where your credit score stands so you can apply for cards for which you’re most likely to qualify. You can see two of your credit scores for free every month 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.

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