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How to Activate a Credit Card

Last Updated: September 12, 2023
6 min read

Key points about: credit card activation

  1. Activating a credit card lets your card issuer know that you received the card and that you’re ready to make purchases.

  2. You can activate your credit card online, using a card issuer’s mobile app or over the phone by calling the card issuer’s customer service number.

  3. Generally, once you activate the credit card you can use it as long as the account is open, and the card is not expired.

After you open a new credit card account or renew an existing credit card, you'll receive a physical card in the mail. But before you can start using the new card to make purchases, you'll need to activate it. 
Whether you call the card issuer and complete your credit card activation over the phone, use your issuer’s website, or activate your new credit card through a mobile app that you download from the app store, you should activate the card right away.

But how do you activate a credit card? Here are a few steps to activating your credit card.

Why do you have to activate your credit card?

Activating your new card lets a bank or credit card issuer know that you’ve received the card and that it’s in the hands of the correct person; this is a way to help prevent credit card fraud. You'll also need to activate a card if you requested a replacement card.

Activating your credit card is an important step to verify that you've received the physical card from your credit card company, and can protect you from fraud or identity theft. Since credit cards can easily get lost or stolen in the mail, the credit card activation process is an added security layer that helps ensure the new card is in the right hands.

What happens if you never activate a credit card?

If you don’t activate a new card you receive, you typically won’t be able to use it to make purchases or earn rewards for those purchases. According to Experian, it’s possible that if you haven’t activated the credit card, it could get declined if you try to use it to make a purchase. Though this may be inconvenient, it won’t impact your credit score.

Some credit card companies may contact you if you don’t activate a card within a period of time, usually 45-60 days, so it's important to activate credit cards when you receive them. If you don’t activate within the timeframe, you may need to request that a new card is sent to you. If you wait too long, the card issuer may close the account.

How to activate your credit card by phone

One way to activate your credit card is by calling the number printed on the sticker attached to the front of your card, or in the letter that came with the card. 

Typically, you’ll provide your date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number when you activate a new card. You'll also confirm the credit card number or account number that's printed on the card. Much like confirming the routing number associated with a debit card when you establish a direct deposit, this process is a way to verify you’re the person who both applied for and received your card after it was shipped. 

Occasionally for security purposes, credit card issuers prefer that you activate your card by calling from the phone number associated with your account. If you call to activate your card from a different number — such as your work phone, for example — you may need to provide additional information to verify your identity before the issuer will activate your card. In this case, the credit card company may also ask you to enter key codes sent via email or SMS text to confirm your identity as a form of multi-step verification.

How to activate your credit card without calling the bank

Activating credit cards online is a convenient option that doesn’t require dialing any numbers or listening to any automated menus. 

Some card issuers allow you to complete card activation through a mobile app. Other credit card issuers have online banking options to easily activate your credit card online. This means you can activate the credit card without calling the bank or the customer service number.

If you choose to activate your card online, you may need the 3-digit code listed on the back of the card. For Discover cards, look for the code following the letter “A.”

Did you know?

Discover offers an easy online option to activate new credit cards. Whether you received a Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card, a Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurant Credit Card, or a Discover It® Student Cash Back Card in the mail, you can activate the new card online and skip the hassle of calling a customer service hotline. Simply activate your new credit card from anywhere with internet access.

Check with your credit card company for mobile app options to activate credit card accounts. 

How do you know if your credit card is activated?

To confirm that the credit card is activated, call the phone number listed on the back of the card, check online, or use the credit card issuers mobile app.

How long after you activate your card can you use it?

Typically, once you activate your new credit card, you can use it right away. Generally, you’ll be able to use the card as long as the account is open, and the card hasn’t expired. If you’ve activated the card but you have a problem using it, call the number on the back of the card.

Other considerations for credit card activation

Take a look at a few special considerations about activating credit cards:

  • Multiple users. If your new account has multiple users, every cardmember will need to activate their own card.
  • Multiple cards. If you receive several new credit cards you can still activate them online. Remember that each card has a unique 3-digit code, so you must activate the cards individually.
  • For the visually or hearing impaired. Most credit card companies offer tools to simplify the online credit card activation process for blind users, like a screen reader or vision-impaired profile. Review the accessibility statement provided by your card issuer to find out which accommodations are available for those who are vision or hearing impaired.
  • Customer service support. For users with cognitive disabilities that may need additional resources to activate a new card, consider calling the customer service number. This could include establishing an ADHD-friendly profile with your credit card company or obtaining additional support when activating a new card. 

How do you apply for a credit card?

If you’re considering getting a credit card, a good first step is to check your credit score. This will help you determine your eligibility. Compare credit card offers that apply to customers with your credit rating and select the credit card that best meets your needs. Consider checking for prequalification options before you submit your application since every credit card application you submit results in a credit inquiry that could impact your credit score.

Activating your credit card can be a seamless process. Credit card companies just want to know that the card has made it to the right person and that your personal information and other financial assets aren’t accessible to identity thieves since that could negatively impact your credit score and create other problems. 

When you receive your new credit card in the mail, activate it as soon as possible so you can begin using it. 

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  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.