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How to Apply for a Credit Card

Applying for a credit card is a fairly straightforward process, but it’s good to be prepared. This guide may help ensure you have the information you need at hand.

By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

5 Min Read | December 22, 2022 in Cards



Careful planning will improve your odds of getting approved for a credit card, though there are no guarantees.

Research your options and be discriminating about which credit card(s) you apply for.

Take the process seriously. A credit card agreement is a legally-binding document – and opening a new account can affect your credit score.

You want to apply for a credit card. Do you assume the process will be like applying for a passport or a pet license – that is, approval is essentially guaranteed once you present the necessary information? Or do you assume that it will be like applying to a college or for a job – you focus on your qualifications, identify a good fit, and then present yourself in the best possible light?


Although you won’t have to write an essay or go to an interview to apply for a credit card, the process actually is more similar to applying for a job than for a passport. Yet approval rates suggest that many people either make wrong assumptions about the process or overestimate their qualifications. Federal Reserve numbers show that in June 2022, for example, about 17% of credit card applicants were turned down.1 Declined applications can knock points off your credit score if the card issuer uses a hard inquiry to determine your eligibility.


Although there are no guarantees, careful planning can boost the odds that your credit card application will be approved. Here are some suggestions for how to apply for a credit card.

how to apply for credit card


How to Apply for a Credit Card—The Basics You Need to Know

In order to apply for a credit card, you typically need to:

  • Be at least 21 years old,
  • Have a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN),
  • And have a source of income. 


There are some exceptions, however. You may be able to get a credit card at 18 if you have proof of regular income, or if you become an authorized user on someone else’s account. A Social Security number or ITIN aren’t always required, but are necessary prerequisites for some card issuers. And while being unemployed won’t necessarily bar you from getting a card, not having income could. The good news is that several types of non-wage income, like investment returns, child support, or Social Security payments might suffice.


Know Your Credit Score

Your credit score isn’t everything (your income is also a major factor), but it’s a baseline in many lending decisions, including credit card applications. Put simply, the higher your credit score, the greater the chance of approval. 


Here are two common ways to find your credit score:

  • Check your monthly credit card or bank statements. Some creditors and banks include a monthly snapshot of your credit score for free 
  • Use a credit score service, like MyCredit Guide.


Choose the Credit Card You Want

Literally hundreds of credit cards are on the market. Before applying for any of them, you’ll likely want to do some research and choose your target. For example, consider how you want to use the card – do you simply want to start building credit, or do you want to earn rewards? Options include:

  • Secured cards, which require a deposit and are designed for people with no credit history or poor credit history. They can be an effective way to build credit.
  • No-frills credit cards, which are intended to help you manage cash flow and build your credit history. They generally don’t have an annual fee, and might offer a simple rewards structure with few additional perks.
  • Balance-transfer cards, which are designed to help you consolidate your debt. These cards typically have a 0% intro APR period for balance transfers or no balance transfer fees, making them a cost-effective way to pay off debt – as long as you pay off the transferred balance before the intro period ends.
  • Rewards cards, which offer perks (such as reward points, cash back or travel miles) for using them. The more rewards – and other card benefits – offered, the higher the annual fee tends to be. 

You may want to consider a couple of other things as you narrow the field. Experts say that your odds of approval are generally higher if you apply for a card issued by a bank or credit union with which you already have a relationship.2 That may be particularly true if your account is in good standing.


Also, keep in mind that not all cards are equal – differences in interest charges, fees, and other factors can make a big difference. In other words, experts encourage you to read the fine print. To help make that easier, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) maintains a database of credit card agreements from more than 600 credit card issuers.3


Complete an Application

You can apply for most credit cards by filling out an application online, but you might also be able to complete a paper application and mail it to the card issuer. The advantage of applying online is that you usually get a decision in minutes, rather than weeks. Either way, be prepared to provide:

  • Name, date of birth, and Social Security number or ITIN;
  • Gross annual income;
  • Your address;
  • Your signature (actual or electronic), and the date. 


If you’re applying to transfer balances from existing cards, you will also need to have the specifics of those cards, such as creditor names, account numbers, and balances.


The Takeaway

Applying for a credit card can be more like going for a job interview than getting a passport. But if you prepare carefully and have a sufficient income and credit score, you can increase your odds of approval. Don’t be discouraged if your application is declined. Another bank may approve you. And if there are negative factors working against you, you can work to correct them and apply again.

Allan Halcrow

Allan Halcrow is a freelance writer concentrating in business, human resources, and diversity and inclusion. He is also the author of four books on management.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.