By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | January 17, 2020 in Cards
Your lunch break just started. Before it’s over, you want to buy something and pay for it with a credit card. But you don’t have a credit card. Can you pull it off? It’s not a trick question. The Internet and automated algorithms make instant approval credit cards possible.
But instant approval does not mean instant use. To use an instantly approved card, well, instantly, you also need an instant credit card account number. And only a handful of card issuers will give you an account number to use before you get the actual card.
As with most things in modern life, the reality of instant approval credit cards is complicated, and there are no guarantees. But if you truly want it right now, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of obtaining an instant account number for a new instant approval credit card.
If you’re seeking instant approval and use—and you’re not standing at the register at Banana Republic or Hollister or another store asking for an instant approval store credit card—an online application is likely your best bet. Most credit card issuers process such applications in real time. Some also offer instant approval (but not instant card numbers) for applications made over the phone.
There are three steps to getting an instant approval credit card that you can actually use immediately:
Online credit card applications are typically simple and take just a few minutes to complete. Once you click “submit” there are three possible outcomes—approved, denied, or pending:
A couple of factors can push your application into pending status:
Experts say the better your credit the more likely you are to get instant approval.1 But that doesn’t mean that only people with excellent credit score should seek instant approval.
It’s worth noting that retail store credit cards (the Banana Republic/Hollister/Etc. option) exist somewhat outside this typical process. You can apply for most co-branded/store credit cards in-store at the time you make a purchase, and you’ll likely be approved or denied on the spot. Of course, instant approval store credit cards may only be used in the issuing store.
Being approved for a credit card is not the same as being able to use it. And instant approval is not instant access. Most cards are still mailed, in which case it will typically take seven to 10 days to get to you. If you want it sooner than that, many credit companies will expedite shipping (even overnight), but they usually charge for that service.
If you truly want to use the card during the same lunch hour in which you apply, you’ll need to choose a card that offers an instant credit card number—and, of course, most don’t. Besides the co-branded/store cards, only a small number of card issuers will give you an account number that you can use for online purchases right away, and which you can keep using until you receive your actual card. You can find online resources that identify creditors that offer instant credit access, or you can ask any credit card provider whether it offers that option.
Unless instant approval is literally the only factor that matters to you, experts remind you to read the fine print. Several factors determine how much a card costs and how you can (or will want to) use it:
Experts also suggest that you apply for cards that generally match your credit profile. For example, rewards cards are usually only available to people with very good to excellent credit scores.
Don’t be confused by offers that sound similar to instant approval but aren’t—like pre-approval or guaranteed approval.
Only with Instant approval credit cards will your application be evaluated and a decision made in real time. Instant decision is probably more accurate—since it’s always possible that your application will be instantly declined.
Pre-approval means a lender has looked at your credit profile and extended you a conditional offer. Creditors may do this proactively (have you ever received a letter or email saying you’re pre-approved for a new card?) or may offer you a pre-approval option online. But either way, you must still make a formal application and there’s no guarantee that it will be approved.2
Guaranteed approval Is generally for people with poor credit (also known as subprime borrowers). The cards are “guaranteed” because they don’t require a credit check. However, you may still be declined if you don’t meet certain basic criteria, such as having a valid bank account.3
All these serve different needs, but they’re not all instant approval credit cards.
Technology makes it possible to be approved for a credit card—and even start using it—within minutes. But instant approval credit cards with instant account numbers that you can use the same day are not simple or easy to find—you have to know what you’re looking for to get one.
1 "Instant Approval Credit Cards: What You Need to Know,” Credit Card Insider
2 “What You Should Know About Instant Approval Credit Cards,” US News and World Report