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What Does Pre-Approved Mean for a Credit Card?

Last Updated: March 4, 2024
6 min read

Key points about: pre-approved & pre-qualified credit card offers

  1. Pre-approved and pre-qualified refer to a screening process that indicates you’re likely to be approved.

  2. Being pre-approved or pre-qualified for a credit card doesn’t mean your application will automatically be approved.

  3. Receiving pre-approval or pre-qualification for credit cards typically won’t impact your credit score.

If you receive a pre-qualified or pre-approved offer for a credit card you may think it means you’re automatically approved. But that’s not the case. Both pre-approved and pre-qualified refer to a screening process that checks whether you’re likely to be approved when you apply for a credit card. When you’re looking for your next credit card, consider what it means to be pre-approved vs. pre-qualified, and how the pre-screening process works.

Pre-approved credit card offers

When you receive pre-approved credit card offers, it typically means the card issuer has determined that you meet certain criteria after they run a soft credit check, which doesn’t impact your credit. If you continue to meet the issuer’s credit standards and have sufficient income when you apply, among other requirements, your chances of getting approved could be higher (but aren’t guaranteed).

How do pre-approved credit card offers work?

A pre-approval letter means that the credit card issuer believes you’re likely to be approved, but approval isn’t guaranteed. You’ll still have to submit an application, and the credit card company will then do what’s known as a hard credit inquiry, or “hard pull,” of your credit report. After reviewing your credit score and report, along with evaluating your income, expenses, and other information, the credit card issuer will make the final decision on whether you qualify for the card, and the credit limit and interest rate you might have.

Pre-approved credit cards vs. pre-qualified credit cards

A credit card issuer may use pre-qualified and pre-approved interchangeably, but they aren’t always the same thing.

In some cases, prequalification has less strict criteria, while preapproval may mean you’ve been screened more carefully. For example, some card issuers may use only the information you provide when considering whether you’re pre-qualified. For pre-approval, the issuer may also check information contained in your credit report.

Pre-qualified might also mean your credit score simply falls into a selected range. To be pre-approved, the same issuer might require that specific components of your credit history meet minimum requirements, such as having no late payments. In that case, two people with the same credit score might be pre-qualified, but one might be pre-approved while the other is not.

Each credit card company may have different definitions for pre-approval and pre-qualification.

Can I get a credit card if I’m not pre-approved or pre-qualified for a credit card?

If you don’t pre-qualify for one credit card, you may pre-qualify for another card with different requirements. Since the pre-approval process doesn't usually impact your credit score, you may want to check more than one credit card to see if you pre-qualify. This can help you find the right credit card for your needs without applying for multiple credit cards. Each new credit card application usually involves a hard credit check, which could hurt your credit score. 

See if you’re pre-approved

With no harm to your credit score1

How to get pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers

You may receive a pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offer in the mail, or you may be able to apply online to be pre-approved or pre-qualified. The online form provides credit card issuers with some basic personal and financial information.

Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers in the mail

One way to be pre-approved for a credit card is by applying for an offer received in the mail. You may receive offers in the mail because a credit card issuer obtained a list of consumers who met the credit card’s initial credit criteria from the credit bureaus.

The benefit of receiving pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers in the mail is that you can sometimes get competitive introductory APRs. This is also a great way to learn more about various credit card offers from different issuers and weigh the benefits of each one. You could learn more about a reward program or member benefits associated with each card and select the one that best fits your particular lifestyle and financial situation.

Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers online

An online approval tool like Discover’s pre-approval form involves filling out a short online form where you provide basic personal and financial information as well as providing your consent to pull your credit report. From there, you may be shown a credit card offer that the issuer feels best fits your financial needs if you meet the credit card’s criteria.

Did you know?

Easily see if you’re pre-approved for a Discover Card with no impact to your credit score.1 Furthermore, since you’re giving the issuer information about yourself, your offers will be personalized.

Another benefit of getting pre-approved or pre-qualified online is to help with your research. You can see what credit cards you might qualify for prior to applying and consider the benefits of each one, like what type of rewards credit cards are offered, what the interest rate might be, or if there’s an annual fee on the card.

With Discover, if you decide to apply for the pre-approved offer, the application will autofill with the information that you already provided, making the process that much simpler. All you’ll have to fill out is a few additional fields to complete your application.

Does pre-approval and pre-qualifying for credit cards mean I’m approved for a credit card?

Keep in mind that even if you receive a pre-approved credit card offer, you’ll still have to apply for the card once the pre-approved offer is presented. It’s important to understand that even if you’ve been pre-approved, you’re not guaranteed to be approved once you complete an official application. For example, depending on whether the information in your credit report changed from the time you were pre-approved, you may be denied for a pre-approved offer. If you’re declined, you’ll receive a letter explaining the reason(s) why you weren’t approved, and you’ll also be entitled to a free copy of your credit report.

Should I still apply if I’m not pre-approved or pre-qualified for a credit card?

If you request a pre-approved offer online but you’re not provided with an offer, it means there’s something in your credit history or other information you’ve provided on the pre-approval request that’s keeping you from meeting the qualifications for pre-approval. You may wish to obtain a copy of your credit report to review and address any issues before applying for the credit card. If there are errors on your credit report that are keeping you from being pre-qualified for a credit card, you can dispute them with the credit bureau.

Does pre-approval or pre-qualification affect your credit score?

A pre-qualification or pre-approval process typically doesn't affect your credit score. Credit card issuers often do a soft inquiry for pre-approval instead of a hard credit check, so it won’t impact your score. But if you decide to apply for the pre-approved offer, a hard inquiry will be placed on your credit report, which will likely impact your score.

How can I improve my chances of being pre-approved or pre-qualified?

If you don’t pre-qualify for a credit card, you can take steps to improve your credit score so that you may be eligible for pre-approval offers down the road. One important factor in credit scores is timely payments. If you missed or have late payments, that can bring your credit score down and hurt your chances of pre-qualifying for a credit card. Also, using too much of your available credit can lower your score, so it’s a good idea to keep your balances well below your credit limit.

Following these and other good credit habits can be a helpful way to maintain a healthy credit score and may help you receive pre-approved offers for the best credit cards.

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  1. There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.

  • 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.