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When is the Best Time to Apply for a Credit Card?

Last Updated: March 7, 2024
5 min read

Key points about: when to apply for a credit card

  1. You might want to apply for a new credit card when looking to build or rebuild your credit history.

  2. You may also want a new card to make a large purchase or transfer an existing balance to a lower-interest card.

  3. You may want to wait if your income, age, and credit score don’t meet the minimum requirements.

Deciding when to apply for a credit card can depend on a number of factors, including why you’re interested in getting a new card, the credit cards you already have, and the cards you’re most likely to receive. After all, you don’t want to waste time pursuing cards that might not match your personal financial situation. These tips can help you choose the right time to apply for a credit card.

Reasons to apply for a new credit card

There are different reasons why you might decide that the time is right to apply for a credit card:

You’re interested in building credit history

If you’re new to credit, a credit card can provide a tool for establishing and building credit history. Credit history—including activity associated with credit card accounts—is part of your credit reports and contributes to your credit score.

The key to using a credit card to build credit history is to act responsibly across all of your loans, including:

  • Paying your bill on time each month
  • Keeping balances low
  • Being selective about how when you apply for new credit

You want to earn rewards

Rewards credit cards can offer points, miles, or cash back on eligible purchases.

The best time to apply for a credit card may be to earn rewards or to upgrade your existing rewards card. Applying for a new rewards card could also upgrade your benefits. The Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card offers the option of redeeming Miles for cash in any amount to pay their bill, including their minimum payment.

You’re planning a large purchase or balance transfer

Applying for a new credit card could make sense if you have a large purchase planned. Whether you’re renovating your home or trying to buy an expensive item, you may not have the cash on hand for the large purchase you have in mind. You may be considering applying for a credit card to make this purchase with low intro interest rates and APR fees. Assuming you have the money to pay it off quickly, taking this route may allow you to make your purchase and earn some rewards in the process.

Did you know?

Applying for a new card can also be a good idea when you have an existing balance you want to transfer from a higher-interest credit card to a lower-interest card. There are numerous cards, including Discover Credit Cards with Intro Balance Transfer offers, that offer a 0% introductory rate on purchases, balance transfers, or both. These offers can potentially save money on interest if you’re transferring high-interest debt and are able to pay off purchases or balance transfers before the regular variable APR kicks in. Keep in mind that some cards may charge a fee to transfer the balance.

You’re pre-approved for a new card offer

It’s possible that you may receive a pre-approval letter for a new credit card in the mail. This doesn’t guarantee approval for the card, but it does mean you meet some initial qualification criteria.

Things to look for when applying for a credit card

Credit cards aren’t all alike, and it’s important to carefully review the terms of a particular card before applying. Here are five things to consider when applying for a credit card:

Does the credit card charge an annual fee?

Some credit cards charge an annual fee as a condition of membership. Whether it makes sense to pay an annual fee can depend on the benefits, such as a low APR on purchases or balance transfers, and rewards. Discover cards, for example, do not have an annual fee.

Does the card offer rewards?

If you’re looking to earn back some of what you spend in the form of points, miles, or cash back rewards, you may want to consider applying for a rewards card.

When comparing rewards cards, consider the type of rewards offered and how much you could earn in rewards based on your typical spending habits. For example, all Discover cash back cards automatically come with Discover Cashback Match. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year1. If the card assigns rewards based on specific categories, such as travel or groceries, consider how that aligns with your spending. Also, look at whether there are any caps on rewards earnings and your options for redeeming them.

Is there an introductory APR?

An introductory APR can be appealing if you’re hoping to save interest on purchases or balance transfers. But consider the length of the introductory period and the standard variable APR that will apply after the promotional rate has expired.

What are the fees?

Credit card companies can assess other fees, including:

Understanding the fees you might pay and when they might be triggered can give you a clearer idea of how much it might cost to have a particular card.

Will I get approved?

Some credit cards offer an easier approval process, depending on your credit history and credit scores. If you have excellent credit, for instance, then you might have a much wider selection of cards to choose from compared to someone with fair credit. So you may want to consider the target credit profile for a particular card.

What is a bad time to apply for a credit card?

When should I apply for a credit card? is a good question to ask but it’s also important to think about when you shouldn’t. There are several scenarios where it might make more sense to hold off on new credit card applications.

You don’t meet the credit score requirements

If you’re still working on building a positive credit history, you may benefit by waiting until your score is a little higher to apply for a new card. Otherwise, you could be denied a card.

You don’t meet age or income requirements

The 2009 Credit CARD Act established age and income guidelines for credit card applications. Specifically, you can’t apply for a credit card under age 21 unless you have a co-signer or income to establish an independent ability to repay the loan.

You’re about to apply for a loan

Waiting to apply for a credit card can also be a good idea if you’ll soon apply for an auto loan or mortgage. Credit card applications can trigger a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could cause your credit score to go down. This could affect your ability to get a mortgage or car loan or qualify for the best interest rates.

If you’ve recently missed any payments on loans or credit cards, you may want to check your credit reports. Late or missed payments can hurt your credit score so you may need to wait until your score rebounds a little to apply for a new card. Keep in mind that checking your own credit score won’t hurt.

Ready to apply for a new credit card? With Discover, you can see if you’re pre-approved with no harm to your credit score. 2

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  1. Cashback Match: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods. You’ve earned cash back rewards only when they’re processed, which may be after the transaction date. We will not match: rewards that are processed after your match period ends; statement credits; rewards transfers from Discover checking or other deposit accounts; or rewards for accounts that are closed. This promotional offer may not be available in the future and is exclusively for new cardmembers. No purchase minimums.

  2. 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.