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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 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.

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

Some easy credit cards to get

Capital One Secured MasterCard Credit Card
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on Capital One's
secure website

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. It has an annual fee of $0.

US Bank Harley-Davidson Visa Secured Credit Card
Apply Now

on US Bank's
secure website

The Harley-Davidson 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 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. The card’s annual fee is $0.

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 The Platinum Card® from American Express 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.

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 give 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, Fair Isaac won’t factor them in. Plus, they’re often riddled with hidden fees, so be very, very careful if you get one.

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  • 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

    • 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 will need a deposit and you get deposit back in time after good history builds a little while..

  • 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 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 its something very important in life..good luck everyone..☺