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 prescreening process works.

  1. Pre-approved vs. pre-qualified for a credit card
  2. What does it mean to be pre-approved for a credit card?
  3. What are pre-approved credit card offers?
  4. What does it mean to be pre-qualified for a credit card?
  5. How to get pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers
  6. Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers in the mail
  7. Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers online
  8. Do pre-approved and pre-qualified credit card offers mean I’m approved?
  9. Should I still apply if I’m not pre-approved or pre-qualified for a credit card?
  10. Does pre-approval or pre-qualification affect your credit score?
  11. Can I still get a credit card if I don’t prequalify?
  12. How can I improve my chances of being pre-approved or pre-qualified?

1. Pre-approved vs. pre-qualified for a credit card

Some credit card issuers use pre-qualified and pre-approved interchangeably, but in other cases, pre-approved may mean you’ve been screened more carefully. For example, some issuers may use only the information you provide when considering whether you’re pre-qualified. For pre-approval, they may also check information contained in your credit report. Other issuers may have other definitions for pre-approval and pre-qualification.

2. What does it mean to be pre-approved for a credit card?

Pre-approved means that the credit card issuer believes you’re likely to be approved, but approval is not guaranteed. You’ll still have to submit an application, and the credit card issuer will then do what’s known as a “hard pull” of your credit report. After reviewing your credit score and report, along with evaluating your income and expenses, the credit card issuer will make the final decision on whether or not you qualify for the card.

3. What are 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 by doing a soft credit check, which does not 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 are not guaranteed).

4. What does pre-qualified mean for a credit card?

Many issuers use “pre-qualified” to mean the same thing as “pre-approved,” but in some cases, pre-qualified has less strict criteria. For example, pre-qualified might mean your credit score 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.

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

Sometimes, people receive a pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offer in the mail, in which they have the opportunity to apply for a specific card offer. Other times, in order to become pre-approved or pre-qualified, you will need to complete an online form that provides credit card issuers with some basic personal and financial information.

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

Here’s how it works: One way to be pre-approved for a credit card is by applying for an offer received in the mail. These are also known as “prescreened” offers. You may receive prescreened 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.

What are the benefits? The benefits of receiving pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers in the mail is that you can sometimes get very 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 rewards programs and member benefits associated with each card and select the one that best fits your particular lifestyle and financial needs.

7. Pre-approved or pre-qualified credit card offers online

Here’s how it works: An online approval tool like Discover’s pre-approval form involves filling out a short online form where you provide your basic personal and financial information. 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.

What are the benefits? Filling out Discover’s credit card pre-approval form will have no impact on your credit, because there is no hard inquiry on your credit until you choose to apply for the card. Furthermore, since you are giving the issuer information about yourself, your offers will be personalized.

Another benefit of getting pre-approved or prequalified 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.

With Discover, if you decide to fill out the actual application for a credit card, 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.

8. Do pre-approved and pre-qualified credit card offers mean I’m approved?

Keep in mind that even if you receive a pre-approved credit card offer, you will still have to apply for the card once the pre-approved offer is presented. It is important to understand that even if you have been pre-approved, you are 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 are declined, you will receive a letter explaining the reason why you were not approved, and you will also be entitled to a free copy of your credit report.

9. 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 is keeping you from meeting the qualifications for pre-approval. You may want to 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.

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

Pre-approved and prequalified credit card offers typically do not affect your credit score. Credit card issuers often do a soft inquiry for pre-approval, so it will not impact your score. But if you apply for a pre-approved offer, a hard inquiry will be placed on your credit report, which will likely impact your score.

11. Can I still get a credit card if I don’t prequalify?

If you don’t pre-qualify or get pre-approval for one credit card, you may pre-qualify for another card with different requirements. Since pre-approval and pre-qualification likely won’t hurt your credit score, you can check more than one credit card to see if you pre-qualify.

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

If you don’t prequalify for a credit card, you can take steps to improve your credit score so that you can may be eligible for pre-approval offers down the road. It’s important to pay your bills on time each month. Missed and late payments can bring your credit score down and hurt your chances of prequalifying for a credit card. Using too much of your available credit can also lower your score, so it’s a good idea to keep your balances low.

Published February 17, 2015

Updated November 25, 2021

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