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How to Get a Credit Card

Last Updated: July 25, 2023
5 min read

Key points about: how to get a credit card

  1. Before you apply for a credit card, understand the factors that affect your credit score.

  2. Some online credit card applications immediately let you know whether you’re approved.

  3. If your credit card application for a standard card is denied, you may qualify for a secured credit card.

Applying for a credit card can be a quick and easy process if you know what you’re doing. Whether it’s your first credit card or you’re considering balance transfer credit cards, use the information in this article to better understand the process, from preparation to acceptance.
Before you apply for a credit card, educating yourself and practicing good credit habits are important. Follow these tips to help lessen the stress involved in the application process.

Step 1: Before you apply to get a credit card

Understand your credit score

Know the essentials about your credit report and score before applying for a credit card. Your credit score is a three-digit number calculated based on multiple factors, including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit.

Whether it’s through your bank or elsewhere, many financial institutions offer tools to check your credit scores and identify which, if any, of these areas are weaknesses in your credit profile.

Chart showing what makes up your credit score

Check your credit report

Regardless of when you plan to apply for a credit card, get into the habit of reviewing your credit report regularly. Mistakes on your report may impact your score, so you’ll want to take care of any errors before you apply for any form of credit. You’re legally entitled to one free credit report a year, which has increased to one free report a week through December 2023, from each of the three credit reporting agencies according to FTC.

Reduce your debt

Since the amount(s) you owe make up a whopping 30% of your credit score, it can be helpful pay down your debts before trying to get a credit card. Put together a plan to pay off debt or reduce your balances to lower your credit utilization ratio, potentially help your credit score, and potentially improve your chances of a successful credit card application.

Be ready to prove you can make payments

To get approved for a credit card, you’ll also need to provide proof that you can make payments. Credit card companies may verify your income and review your current financial obligations, like rent or mortgage payments.

Understand terms and conditions

When you sign a credit card application, you agree to the contract terms and conditions.

By reading about the associated fees, interest rate, annual fee, reward program details, and other specifics that apply to your credit card, you’ll not only be better prepared to understand what you’re agreeing to, but you’ll also learn the consequences of not using the card properly.

Once you feel prepared to apply for a credit card, it’s time to search for and select the card that’s right for you.

Step 2: Where can you get a credit card?

Applying for a credit card is a simple process usually done online, over the phone, by mail or in person, depending on the credit card company.

Did you know?

You can find out if you’re likely to qualify for a credit card before you complete the application. When you check whether you prequalify, there’s no harm to your credit score because you haven’t yet completed a formal application for credit.

Choose a card that matches your needs

You’ll want to narrow your search down to the best credit cards that fit your lifestyle, and cards for which you’ll have a good chance of being accepted. When you’re just beginning to build your credit, look into cards that require little or no credit history.

The best first-time credit card for building credit history may be a secured card or student credit card. If you have an established credit history, consider a rewards credit card, and apply for cards that make the most sense for your spending habits.

  • Secured Cards: A secured credit card can help those with no credit or bad credit. These cards require a security deposit that may be refundable in exchange for a line of credit. If cardholders later qualify for an unsecured card, they can get their deposit back.

  • Student Cards: Getting a student credit card will require submitting proof that you’re a student, but it doesn’t require any security deposit. These cards typically offer rewards.

  • Rewards Cards: Credit card rewards are a great way to increase your purchasing power. Choose a rewards card that matches your goals—whether it’s a travel credit card that earns you airline miles, or a cash back credit card that earns rewards on everyday purchases.

Step 3: Credit card application time

You’ve studied your credit score and picked your credit card of choice. Now it’s time to apply. Here’s what to expect during the application process.

What you need to apply

The credit card application process is usually simple. Be prepared to provide information such as your:

  • Full name
  • Email address (usually optional)
  • Current employer (and how long you’ve worked there)
  • Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number

How long does it take to get a credit card?

Getting a credit card decision is a relatively quick process, especially when you apply online. After you’ve submitted your application, the credit card issuer begins the credit approval process by checking your credit with at least one credit bureau. Depending on your internet speed and network conditions, this process can take from a few seconds to a minute or more. After the credit check is complete, you may get a decision on the screen.

At this point, there are three possible outcomes: You can be instantly approved for an account, instantly denied, or receive a message that your application needs further review. With an instant approval, the issuer will typically deliver the card in 7-10 business days.

Step 4: After you’ve applied to get a credit card

There are two possible outcomes after you apply for a credit card: acceptance or denial. If your application is denied, don’t despair. Instead, find out the reason for your denial and work to put yourself in a better position for future applications.

Why was my credit card application denied?

If you understand some of the key factors considered in the credit card application process, you can improve your financial situation so you can reapply in the future.

All hope is not lost if your application for a secured credit card is rejected. If you didn’t before, make sure your credit report is error-free, and explore your options to improve your credit score. With time and effort, you can be better positioned to re-apply for a credit card.

After you receive your credit card

A credit account is an important tool that can help you reach your financial goals. Whether it took you one or many applications to get your credit card, the guidelines are the same: don’t exceed your credit limit and use your credit card responsibly to make the most of your new credit card.

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  1. FICO® Credit Score Terms: FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

    Discover Financial Services and Fair Isaac are not credit repair organizations as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. Discover Financial Services and Fair Isaac do not provide “credit repair” services or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history or credit rating.


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