Home > Credit Cards > The Right Way to Apply for a Credit Card

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


You’ve probably heard by now that a credit card can help your credit, so long as you do all the right things with it. What you may not realize is that the process of doing the right things starts before you ever get your plastic.

Each credit card application typically generates a hard inquiry on your credit report — which can hurt your scores, particularly when they’re en masse. So you’ll want to avoid simply applying for a new card (or cards) willy-nilly.

Here are some steps to take to ensure you have a good game plan when applying for a credit card.

1. Consider Your Spending Habits

And what you need the card for, because both factor into which credit card is right for you. There are lots of different categories of credit cards out there, each one suited to a different need. Carry a balance every now and then? You’ll probably want to look into low-interest credit cards. Need to pay down a high-interest credit card balance? Then a balance-transfer credit card might be your best bet.

And if you’re not prone to carrying a balance, you may want to reap the rewards. But, even then, you’ve got some thinking to do, because, depending on your spending habits, one rewards credit card may be more lucrative then another. If you travel for business a lot, a hotel or airline credit card may be the best choice. If you spend a lot on food, you might want to get a cash back card that offers bonus points back at restaurants, grocery stores or wholesale clubs. And so on and so forth. In any event, you’ll want to narrow down your choices.

2. Determine Whether You Can Qualify

Because this, too, will effectively influence what card you ultimately apply for. Credit card approvals are generally governed by two major factors: your income and your credit score. And, while it can hard to pin down an issuer’s specific underwriting requirements, you can get a general sense for what it takes to get approved for a particular card by doing a little a research online. When it doubt, remember that cards with the best terms and conditions typically require a good credit score. So, if a card’s got a really low interest rate or super-premium rewards program, you can safely assume that, at the very least, your credit will need to be in tip-top shape.

That’s why it’s a good idea to check your credit before you fill out any applications. You’ll want to know where you stand so you don’t wind up incurring a hard inquiry for naught. (You can view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) You’ll also want to spot and dispute any errors on your credit reports before you apply, so you don’t get rejected through no fault of your own.

3. Read the Fine Print 

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices and feel like you’ve found the right one for you, be sure to read the terms and conditions of that card carefully. You’ll want to make sure you understand all the fees that you could possibly incur, all the interest rates that may apply and whether there are any expiration dates or caps on rewards you should know about, among other things. Bottom line: You want to know all the ins and the outs of your new plastic before you apply for it.

4. Be Honest

When you fill out your credit card application, refrain from inflating your income or fudging the truth regarding any other information the issuer may request. Lying on a credit card application, after all, is illegal. (It’s considered fraud.) And, though rare, there are situations where consumers have been prosecuted for doing so. Beyond that, income plays a big role in determining your credit limits — and there are potential consequences to winding up with a credit limit that’s out of your pay grade. Undisciplined spenders could easily run up a balance they can’t afford.

5. If You’re Rejected, Find Out Why

If you feel strongly about getting a certain card that you weren’t approved to have, you can call the issuer directly and ask them to reconsider your application. But, more importantly, you should pay attention to why you were denied in the first place. By law, the lender must provide a notice with the specific reasons why you were turned down (or charged more) for credit. The rejection letter will list three or four reasons why you didn’t get approved. And those “reason codes” are often generated from the credit score used in the transaction, so they can offer valuable insight into your credit — and what you can do to possibly avoid future rejections.

6. Remember, It’s OK to Wait

If you discover your credit isn’t up to snuff and/or you’ve suffered a rejection or two, it might be a good idea to wait on getting that plastic and work on improving your score instead. You can generally do so by paying down any existing credit card balances, disputing errors on your credit report and (cough, cough) limiting new credit inquiries until your score rebounds. And you can build good credit in the long term by making all your loan payments on time, keeping debt levels low and adding a mix of credit accounts only as your score and wallet can afford them.

Image: Deborah Cheramie

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team