How to Apply for a Credit Card So You’ll Get Approved - NerdWallet
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How to Apply for a Credit Card So You’ll Get Approved

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When and how you apply for a credit card can make all the difference in your credit limit, terms — even whether you are approved in the first place. 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.

If you have a good or excellent credit score, feel free to skip right to our handy tool comparing hundreds of credit card offers.

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 that initial deposit. Among the big banks, Capital One is known for being more willing to lend to people with a spotty credit history. It has an annual fee of $0.

US Bank Harley-Davidson Visa Secured

Apply Now on US Bank's secure website

Pros

  • Qualify with limited / bad credit
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • High APR

Bonus Offer

None

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • Purchase: 23.24%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 24.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on purchases
  • Credit line varies from $300 to $5000, corresponding with how much money you send in to collaterlaize your account

The US Bank Harley-Davidson Visa Secured offers 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 the annual fee is $0, which is great for a secured card. The credit limit ranges from $300 to $5,000, depending on your deposit, 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 down an initial security 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 we 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 missed payments or a bankruptcy in your past. Thankfully, your credit score considers your most recent behavior more important than what happened three or five 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 credit, the lender (including a credit card issuer) looks at your credit. When that happens, your credit score takes a hit. (If someone checks your score for a reason other than a credit application that you submitted, then you’re off the hook.)

What this means in practical terms is that you shouldn’t apply for two or three cards all at once, 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 loans, auto loans or any other loans that involve rate-shopping. In that case, it’s expected that you’ll go from bank to bank, comparing their rate offers. Credit scoring models lump all of those types of applications made within 14 or 45 days as just one inquiry. (Older scoring models use 14 days, and newer ones use 45; lenders choose which version to use.)

3. Lower your credit 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 credit 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 a card, make sure you haven’t racked up a lot of debt on your existing 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 Platinum Card® from American Express with a 650 FICO score, for example. While people with excellent credit get the pick of the litter, if you have average or bad credit, you’ll need to consider other options.

Secured credit cards have few or no restrictions on who qualifies. The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® is a good choice for people trying to build or rebuild credit, but remember that it requires you to put down a deposit of $49 to $200. Luckily, its annual fee is $0, making it an economical choice compared to other secured cards.

Prepaid debit cards will not help your credit score at all. Since you’re not being extended a line of credit, scoring models don’t include them at all. Plus, they’re often riddled with hidden fees, so be very, very careful if you get one.

  • Did you find this article helpful?
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  • Babystar Td

    Thanks for the heads up, ty

  • Linda

    So glad I found this site. I received the post card for Net First also. Just trying to rebuild my credit also. I appreciate the the up front post Scammer on Net First. Just rore the card up in my shredder. I have enough problems with out anything else opened without my knowledge. People will look in the trash and if they see s pre approval that I did not want well then they will take it and run with it.Thankyou for the heads up.
    7/7/2012

  • Janet venceller

    Thank you for this information.I just received netfirstplatinum little advertizement that i was approved for $500 credit limit.I was ready to apply somehow I ran across this website.I can’t thank you enough,it got torn up and right in the garbage.You saved me from making a terrible mistake.I want to thank you again. sincerely Janet Venceller

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Glad we can help, Janet!

  • laura marie

    very imformative, thank you

  • laura marie

    very imformative, thank you

  • Emily Robinson

    +thank you I was about to enter my personal info …..

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks Emily! It’s always important to be careful about giving out personal information online.

  • Emily Robinson

    +thank you I was about to enter my personal info …..

  • Traci Myers

    Thank you for helping with this information. I was almost taken. You are a God send..

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks Traci! Glad we can help.

      • Traci Myers

        Anytime..let me know what I can do…

  • Traci Myers

    Thank you for helping with this information. I was almost taken. You are a God send..

  • TravisTaylor14

    Will a secured credit card have the same effect as a non secured card? I need another line of credit to really help rebuild by credit. I already have one secured card. Would another secured card help? Or should I try and get a unsecured card?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      I’d try to move to an unsecured card as quickly as fast as possible because unsecured cards tend to have lower fees and potentially rewards. That said, if you can’t qualify for an unsecured card, another secured one will help.

      • mjf

        Both of my secured credkt cards were made into unsecured cards with good payment history..so they do become umsecure after you make your payments on time

    • Sidnac Enal

      Search first premier bank fill out the app for a credit card and it should help. I had 521 credit score had the card 2 month and now it’s a 641. I got the card in February it is now 3 months and I have 2200 in credit cards all unsecured since the first….

  • TravisTaylor14

    Will a secured credit card have the same effect as a non secured card? I need another line of credit to really help rebuild by credit. I already have one secured card. Would another secured card help? Or should I try and get a unsecured card?

  • hope

    bad advice

  • hope

    bad advice

  • jessica w

    Who do i contact if i think some one is useing my personal info . To get home loans and car lones cause its makeing a huge impacct on me being able to get creadit card i surely dont have a off the lot car but my creadit is saying i have a car loan in my name cAn some one please help me so i can solve this problem

  • jessica w

    Who do i contact if i think some one is useing my personal info . To get home loans and car lones cause its makeing a huge impacct on me being able to get creadit card i surely dont have a off the lot car but my creadit is saying i have a car loan in my name cAn some one please help me so i can solve this problem

  • Kristina R

    I am in the midst of divorcing my spouse of 16 years, who was emotional abusive and irresponsible as they come. I had decent (post college) credit at time of marriage, but he destroyed it quickly. I worked hard to get my scores back up…..found out he had been using my name to open various accounts (CC, mobile phone carriers, utilities, you name it. I even had a vehicle put in my name without ever signing or evening seeing the car. I am hoping an atty will be able to help these issues in divorce proceedings. Having said that….Why was it so easy for him to set up accounts and services in my name?? I have tons of outstanding unpaid balances build up over the past 5 years esp…..(when I had rebuilt & had good credit…before he destroyed again). I can’t get Cell service, a cc….my banking history is impeccable still…will that help me at all. it’s the one thing I could control that he didn’t have access to. Sorry for the length..as you can see, I’ve got a mess to clean up:( Thanks for any advice you might have in advance.

  • Kristina R

    I am in the midst of divorcing my spouse of 16 years, who was emotional abusive and irresponsible as they come. I had decent (post college) credit at time of marriage, but he destroyed it quickly. I worked hard to get my scores back up…..found out he had been using my name to open various accounts (CC, mobile phone carriers, utilities, you name it. I even had a vehicle put in my name without ever signing or evening seeing the car. I am hoping an atty will be able to help these issues in divorce proceedings. Having said that….Why was it so easy for him to set up accounts and services in my name?? I have tons of outstanding unpaid balances build up over the past 5 years esp…..(when I had rebuilt & had good credit…before he destroyed again). I can’t get Cell service, a cc….my banking history is impeccable still…will that help me at all. it’s the one thing I could control that he didn’t have access to. Sorry for the length..as you can see, I’ve got a mess to clean up:( Thanks for any advice you might have in advance.

  • michael kenney

    I don’t understand credit I am trying to build my credit after it was in the 570 range and now I have a $650 limit with les swaub tires but I try to apply for a secured card and I was denied even though I am willing to pay the full depositso they have no worry I am so confused.

    • http://www.ultraslimpills.com Courtney Doty

      Get an acct with Credit Karma . Com It is a great place to start learning what is showing on your credit. Although credit karma is associated with Trans Union and not the other two agencies it is a great website to see what is going on with your credit. It monitors your credit lets you know any inquiries, collections, and all the accts reporting under your name. It also lets you see what the agencies see as your information. You will be surprised how many errors our credit shows and its not our fault. Let me know if you have any questions I would love to help you out I was in your shoes not too long ago and love giving teens advice to successful credit. creditrepairspecialist@hotmail.com

      • Ty Osburn

        Credit Sesame is another service just as free as Karma and it is endorsed by one of the other agencies, Then Quizzle it is endorsed by the 3rd big agency, all 3 of these offer unreal free credit services!

  • michael kenney

    I don’t understand credit I am trying to build my credit after it was in the 570 range and now I have a $650 limit with les swaub tires but I try to apply for a secured card and I was denied even though I am willing to pay the full depositso they have no worry I am so confused.

  • Zay

    So what about me? I’m trying to get my first credit card. I’m 18, have a steady income and want to start building for my future. Are secured cards my only option?

  • Zay

    So what about me? I’m trying to get my first credit card. I’m 18, have a steady income and want to start building for my future. Are secured cards my only option?

  • She is Me

    so im trying to get my first credit card no credit no nothing, can i not get one because of my income. i have a steady job.. how much do you have to make

    • Elizabeth Valenzuela

      apply for a secured credit line with Capital One. As long as you have employment, Capital One will approve you with a deposit.

      • Ilove2travel

        I applied for a secured card with Capital One, and was denied due to income. I work full time with a checking account, and I don’t understand why I was denied. They told me I could reapply after 30 days, but I’m afraid I’ll have too many inquiries. I really need a secured card to build my non-existent credit. As of today, I have no credit score with all three bureaus.

    • http://www.ultraslimpills.com Courtney Doty

      That happened to me when I was 18 and just starting my credit. I decided that I would apply for capital one Journey and was approved for 300$. The information I provided was that I was a student full time and that I had a 50,000 income. The application states that you include the income responsible for the debt. That meant that I could include my mom who at the time was working a part time and myself who was also part time. That was enought to get approved. I hope you get approved. Also ! Citi has a card for students as well and I applied with the same info and was approved. Hope this helps. On a side note, Dont forget to always use the same name and address. Using multiple addresses and different name variations will lower the chances of getting approved. :)

      • disqus_PWYsjM75fl

        agreed!! i did the same journey is awesome!

    • mirza

      Try to get first premium card and pay the annual fee
      after one month apply capital one card

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hi @she_is_me:disqus,

      It’s great that you want to build your credit! Getting approved for your first credit card can be difficult, so we recommend you start with a secured card like the Capital One Secured card. They require a refundable deposit, but as you make payments on time your credit score will improve so that you can qualify for other cards in the future. Best of luck!

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      @she_is_me:disqus and @disqus_TJOLBkh0Uu:disqus – I also want to share an article about the First Premier credit card. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/first-premier-aventium-centennial-review/?utm_source=zendesk&utm_medium=comments

    • jkhall

      Actually the easiest way to get a CC is to get a new bank and savings account at a credit union. After 3 months of not over drafting your account they should approve you for a low limit card.

      This is how I rebuilt my credit and it has worked wonderfully. And, I might add… My credit union treats me very well. its the best banking experience I have ever had.

      • Enri Rodriguez

        Quite true. My mother filed for bankruptcy three years ago. I took her to open a savings and checking with my Credit Union, and because they run her credit, the employee said it wouldn’t hurt to apply for a credit card. I said “sure go ahead” never imagining she would get approved. I was thrilled and in disbelief when she was offered the credit card with a $500 limit. Not much but beats an unsecured credit card (my CU also offers an unsecured CC option). So happy she can start rebuilding her credit. I highly recommend CUs, it has also been our best banking experience.

    • mjf

      Ask your bank about a secured credit card amd your situation, also apply with capital one..two good ways to start credit..pay on time and i would not spend more than 30% on the card and pay it off fast as possible..id always pay more than your min..payment due

  • She is Me

    so im trying to get my first credit card no credit no nothing, can i not get one because of my income. i have a steady job.. how much do you have to make

  • Anthony Evans

    The credit system is a joke. all have on my record are student loans (still a student) and cant get approved for anything. Yet I know people who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt and get whatever the hell they want they never pay for it and still have no issues.

  • Anthony Evans

    The credit system is a joke. all have on my record are student loans (still a student) and cant get approved for anything. Yet I know people who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt and get whatever the hell they want they never pay for it and still have no issues.

  • http://www.onlinebeautyplace.com/ Beauty Diva

    I thought that it was better to apply for more than one credit card at once. It would give me a higher chance to get approved for one at least. :) Now I know that it is not a good thing to do after all! Lol! This is an informative article, thanks for sharing!!!

    • disqus_PWYsjM75fl

      I am a nursing student, with terrible credit (due to being 18-23 yrs old and making poor decisions) I am now 30 , have a student loan that i do pay monthly and on time, and two days ago I applied for Capital Ones JOURNEY card….strictly for a student! no crazy questions or demands for documentation,proof, etc the application is simple annnnddd I GOT APPROVED!!! started out with just a $300 limit but it raises after 3 months I feel like youll have luck with this…best of lluck oh and it is not a secured one where u have to give money first

      • http://www.onlinebeautyplace.com/ Beauty Diva

        Thanks for sharing! I recently got approved for a Capital One Platinum Card, which is an unsecured credit card. :)

        • mjf

          Its honestly a good card

        • mjf

          Its honestly a good card

      • http://www.onlinebeautyplace.com/ Beauty Diva

        Thanks for sharing! I recently got approved for a Capital One Platinum Card, which is an unsecured credit card. :)

      • LilBrandy

        When it asks total annual income per year wat do u write? Nd when it asks own rent other nd how much a month on rent or mortgage wat is da best thing 2 put? I have NEVER been excepted 4 a credit card EVER! I don’t know if it’s wat I’m puttin is not enough income or wat!

  • http://www.onlinebeautyplace.com/ Beauty Diva

    I thought that it was better to apply for more than one credit card at once. It would give me a higher chance to get approved for one at least. :) Now I know that it is not a good thing to do after all! Lol! This is an informative article, thanks for sharing!!!

  • Trudy

    I know what your saying. These people are in debt to their eyeballs; but what sets them apart is the fact that the bank owns them and they have a collateral, such as a house/car/toys to use this credit card against. More debt = more credit cards and the wheels on the bus go round’ and round. I feel sorry for people like this because they are entrapped like a hamster on a wheel for the rest of their lives. I’ll keep my low interest/ low limit cards and pay them dutifully thanks.

  • Trudy

    I know what your saying. These people are in debt to their eyeballs; but what sets them apart is the fact that the bank owns them and they have a collateral, such as a house/car/toys to use this credit card against. More debt = more credit cards and the wheels on the bus go round’ and round. I feel sorry for people like this because they are entrapped like a hamster on a wheel for the rest of their lives. I’ll keep my low interest/ low limit cards and pay them dutifully thanks.

  • Alex

    So, I have a list of 10 people I owe money to, according to my credit history. I want to pay each back one at a time. If I use a credit card to pay them off monthly, and as long as my I pay off my credit card, my credit score will increase… right?

  • Alex

    So, I have a list of 10 people I owe money to, according to my credit history. I want to pay each back one at a time. If I use a credit card to pay them off monthly, and as long as my I pay off my credit card, my credit score will increase… right?

  • Missy

    ain’t that the truth!!!

  • Missy

    ain’t that the truth!!!

  • Brittney

    Try looking at the capital one journey card it says for students but u dont have to be one. It is not s secured card which i thought it would be. I got approved for a 500 dollar limit with no job and no credit. I put in that I am in school and that I get about 6000 dollars put into my account a year. It says if someone puts money into your account every week and I get payed under the table so its true.I never thought I would get approved without a co-signer but I did the card is coming in the mail as we speak.

    • Matilda

      Be careful with that card and understand how credit cards work. I got a Capital One card in college and didn’t. My paycheck was to come 2 days after the minimum payment was due. Instead of paying the $25 minimum payment I thought I would wait the two days and pay the entire $200 off. The interest after all was 15% over an entire year, right? NO! Capital One doubled my bill because of the ” late” payment. I called and explained to no avail. Capital One told me it was buried in the small print: no grace period. I have a credit score in the 750s now but Capital One ended up being the only card I’ve ever had go to collections. 7 years of bad credit (which is actually better than no credit) because I could never catch up. Capital One preys on college students that don’t understand the terms.

      • mjf

        Honestly, i did not have that experience with capital one, i spend and pay off fully soon as i spend as you done, never any issues..and its helping my credit score and building history..i also got a wells fargo bank one and their so slow to increase card limit..capital ones raised my limit like five times, after two years with wells fargo i never got an increase until i called them to ask for one telling them look, ive never missed or been late at all for two years, they only increased it like $200.00 extra, where capital one increased it like $1,000.00 already and about to raise it again..

      • mjf

        Honestly, i did not have that experience with capital one, i spend and pay off fully soon as i spend as you done, never any issues..and its helping my credit score and building history..i also got a wells fargo bank one and their so slow to increase card limit..capital ones raised my limit like five times, after two years with wells fargo i never got an increase until i called them to ask for one telling them look, ive never missed or been late at all for two years, they only increased it like $200.00 extra, where capital one increased it like $1,000.00 already and about to raise it again..

  • Brittney

    Try looking at the capital one journey card it says for students but u dont have to be one. It is not s secured card which i thought it would be. I got approved for a 500 dollar limit with no job and no credit. I put in that I am in school and that I get about 6000 dollars put into my account a year. It says if someone puts money into your account every week and I get payed under the table so its true.I never thought I would get approved without a co-signer but I did the card is coming in the mail as we speak.

  • ElleryFamilia

    if you’re gonna be carrying a high balance on your card, then it’ll likely decrease until you get it back under 50% utilization

  • ElleryFamilia

    if you’re gonna be carrying a high balance on your card, then it’ll likely decrease until you get it back under 50% utilization

  • Brittney

    Ive been applying since I started school last Spring. For emergencies like when my truck engine locked up and I had to replace the routers on my other vehicle. Being a college student and working full time is difficult, but not being accepted for the slight help that a card would provide is a downer. I’v epaid off all my existing loans and I don’t understand what more I could possibly do to change the status of my applications.

  • Brittney

    Ive been applying since I started school last Spring. For emergencies like when my truck engine locked up and I had to replace the routers on my other vehicle. Being a college student and working full time is difficult, but not being accepted for the slight help that a card would provide is a downer. I’v epaid off all my existing loans and I don’t understand what more I could possibly do to change the status of my applications.

  • SandiBeach22

    If you have a 0% intro credit card, you can pay them off without interest & much quicker. As you utilization goes down, your credit score will go up.

  • SandiBeach22

    If you have a 0% intro credit card, you can pay them off without interest & much quicker. As you utilization goes down, your credit score will go up.

  • Latandra Session

    I’ve tried to get cards with bad credit they keep turning me down how can you fix it if no one will give you a chance to prove yourself I give up

    • nicdiva2

      Call Lexington Law. They rid your credit report of negative items and outstanding debts. I recently got approved for 4 credit cards. It works. Good luck 😉

      • mjf

        Yeah, ive heard of them.,,i went to score crafters locally and sat down in their office face to face and they handled it..legit good company

      • Ochoriosgrl

        Lexington law is highly expensive at $99a month. And they just submit the bare minimum challenge to the Credit Bureaus so it takes a long time of clearing your credit report picture 9 months tines $99. Not very encouraging

        • ron

          they have had mine for 9 months went from 580 to 750 just approved a unlimited American express and a 50k capital 1 and a 25k chase sapphire whats that worth lot more than they charged me

    • mjf

      You need to get a secured credit card first..then after you show you pay on time every month they in time will make the card an unsecured card..get two, one from capital one bank, other from your local bank..you will need a deposit and you get deposit back in time after good history builds a little while..

    • darrell me

      sleep with the manager

  • Latandra Session

    I’ve tried to get cards with bad credit they keep turning me down how can you fix it if no one will give you a chance to prove yourself I give up

  • mjf

    No quick fix to bring up your score, its gonna take some time for you to prove your responsible..after economy collapsed and lost job, i gained some bad credit..but once back to work i got a capital one secured card which really has helped a lot, this might be the best credit card to rebuild credit out there, then i also got a second secured credit card from my wells fargo bank..so i have had both these cards for about two years and my scores jumped from 578 to about 640 in two years..ive never spent on these cards unless i have the cash to pay it fully off right then..ive learned you dont ever go over 30% of your credit line on that card..and also dont get more than two or three credit cards..i also just met with a company called score crafters and their helping me with old depts i paid off that are on my credit report so my score should jump up once these get cleared off my report.i dont know how much it will jump until it clears..but sign up free with credit karma and watch your credit, check it every few weeks..i set a goal to now buy a home once my score reaches like 750..i want best deal and interest rate for low monthly payment..set goals and discipline yourself,,i was younger and not responsible as i should of been, but have learned now and see how important good credit is to have a home or new vehicle, whatever you may need..so its something very important in life..good luck everyone..☺

  • mjf

    No quick fix to bring up your score, its gonna take some time for you to prove your responsible..after economy collapsed and lost job, i gained some bad credit..but once back to work i got a capital one secured card which really has helped a lot, this might be the best credit card to rebuild credit out there, then i also got a second secured credit card from my wells fargo bank..so i have had both these cards for about two years and my scores jumped from 578 to about 640 in two years..ive never spent on these cards unless i have the cash to pay it fully off right then..ive learned you dont ever go over 30% of your credit line on that card..and also dont get more than two or three credit cards..i also just met with a company called score crafters and their helping me with old depts i paid off that are on my credit report so my score should jump up once these get cleared off my report.i dont know how much it will jump until it clears..but sign up free with credit karma and watch your credit, check it every few weeks..i set a goal to now buy a home once my score reaches like 750..i want best deal and interest rate for low monthly payment..set goals and discipline yourself,,i was younger and not responsible as i should of been, but have learned now and see how important good credit is to have a home or new vehicle, whatever you may need..so its something very important in life..good luck everyone..☺

  • Latandra Session

    What if you’re credit score is 501

  • darrell me

    may i say something?

  • Bob Sacamano

    l have 2 Visas and 2 MasterCards and they are from The Biggest Banks ln USA, 2 of the Credit Cards Don’t have Any Foreign Fees and All of them have NO Annual Fees…………………..l see that Discover and American Express are NOT Accepted ln many places and that ls why l don’t bother with them.