When and how you apply for a credit card can make all the difference in your credit limit, terms and even whether you are approved. Some factors you can’t really change, such as a history of bankruptcy or missed payments. Some require a change in behavior. But some can be altered just before you apply, and a little planning can help you qualify for the credit card you want.
Some easy credit cards to get
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers one of the lowest minimum deposits in the business: depending on your credit score, a deposit of $49, $99 or $200 will get you a credit limit of $200, and you can even pay in installments if it’s hard to make the initial investment. Among the big banks, they’re known for being more willing to lend to people with a spotty credit history. The $29 annual fee is one of the lower fees in the business.
The Harley-Davidson Secured offers no annual fee and 1 H-D rewards point per $1 on your purchases – not bad for a secured credit card! Granted, H-D points aren’t as good as cash, but no fee on a secured card isn’t bad at all. The credit limit ranges from $300 to $5,000, and you have to put in your entire deposit at once.
Why aren’t we recommending unsecured credit cards?
Truth is, if you have bad credit, you’re pretty much stuck with a secured credit card (which means you have to put in an initial deposit). If you really really really want an unsecured credit card, the offers you’ll see are borderline usurious, with annual fees above $75, sky-high interest rates and fees for doing something as simple as raising your credit limit. We don’t support credit cards with these terms, and refuse to endorse them here.
4 Tips on Applying for a Credit Card
1. Get your finances in shape
There’s nothing you can do about a history of missed payments or a bankruptcy. Thankfully, your credit score considers your most recent behavior more important than what happened 3 or 5 years ago. If you show that you’ve cleaned up your previously spotty payment history, credit card companies are more likely to consider your application.
This means keeping current on all your debts, not just credit card debt: personal, auto and other loans all count towards your score. Plus, stay away from cash advances and going over your credit limit.
2. Don’t apply for too many cards at once
Every time you apply for a loan, a credit card issuer (or other lender) looks into your credit score. If you initiated the lender’s inquiry by applying for the card, your credit score takes a hit. If the card company runs the credit score check without your knowledge to pre-approve you, then you’re off the hook.
What this means in practical terms is that you shouldn’t apply for two or three cards all in one go, or even space your credit limit increases too closely. Even though it may seem like a good idea to apply for a backup credit card in case you’re rejected for your top choice, it looks to lenders like you’re suddenly asking for a lot more credit. They’re more likely to look at you nervously.
The exception to the “spread out your applications” rule is mortgages, student and auto loans, and any other loans that involve rate-shopping. In that case, you’re expected to go from bank to bank, comparing their rate offers. Fair Isaac (the company that computes your credit score) lumps all of those types of applications made in 14 or 45 days as just one inquiry. (The old way of scoring used 14 days, and the new uses 45; lenders choose which version to use).
3. Lower your debt utilization ratio
One of the best ways to prove your creditworthiness is showing that even though you’re trusted with credit, you aren’t relying on it. The way to demonstrate this is by lowering your debt utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you’re using compared to all the credit available to you. For example, if you have two credit cards with $5,000 limits and you carry $1,000 of debt on one and $4,000 on the other, your debt utilization ratio is 50%. Generally, 30% or less is considered a healthy ratio.
When you apply for your card, make sure you haven’t racked up a lot of debt on your cards. Even if you’re planning to pay off your debt at the end of the month, before you have to pay any interest, lenders still count it as debt. A good time to apply, then, might be right after you’ve paid off your credit card.
4. Set your sights on the right credit cards
We mentioned that your credit score gets dinged every time you apply for a card. You can minimize your applications by having realistic expectations about what you’ll qualify for – you probably won’t get the AmEx Platinum with a 650 FICO score. While you’ll get the pick of the litter with excellent credit, if you have average or bad credit, you’ll need to consider other options.
Capital One explicitly tells you for what credit score each card is recommended. For example, there are two versions of the Capital One Cash Rewards: one for average credit, and one for excellent credit. It’s worth taking a look at their offers, and using those terms and rewards as a baseline for measuring non-Capital One cards.
Secured credit cards have few or no restrictions on who qualifies. Capital One and Orchard Bank, for instance, will lend you a secured credit card right out of bankruptcy, regardless of your credit score. Other lenders might have a waiting period after bankruptcy, or consider your FICO score. One thing to keep in mind: you’ll have to post collateral upfront. The Capital One Secured requires you to give a deposit of $49 to $200, while the Orchard Bank card’s minimum deposit is $200.
Prepaid debit cards will not help your credit score at all. Since you’re not being extended a line of credit, Fair Isaac won’t factor them in. Plus, they’re often riddled with hidden fees, so be very, very careful if you get one.
Use our prepaid card finder to save money and find better deals.