If I Apply for a Card but Decide I Don’t Want It, Can I Refuse It?

The only way to back out is to cancel the card, which can hurt your credit score. Think before you apply.
Lindsay Konsko
By Lindsay Konsko 

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Ever heard of “buyer’s remorse?” Well, there’s also “credit card application remorse,” in which you apply for a credit card, but you later realize you don’t want it. Can you refuse the card? Not really, although you can effectively do so in certain cases, depending on your credit history.

It’s really a matter of semantics if you are approved for a card, then call up the company and say you want to “refuse it.” What you’re really doing is asking them to cancel the card. They can absolutely do this. Is it a good idea? Well, let’s look at the scenario from a couple of different angles.

If you have great credit

If you have a long credit history, lots of credit cards, are considered a prime borrower, and as a result, have a stellar credit report, then you have options. You can cancel the credit card right away, and there will be minimal impact on your credit report.

The reason is that canceling the card only impacts the “new credit” portion of your FICO score, which accounts for just 10% of the overall score. Canceling a new card right away isn’t going to even account for all of that 10%. It’s going to be like adding a bucket of water to a lake.

Because you have great credit, I would wait a month for your credit report to update, and if there is not a material change in the FICO score, go ahead and apply for a card that better suits your needs.

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If you have nonprime or near-prime credit

Now the situation changes. If you are relatively new to the credit world, if you don't have a long credit history or lots of credit cards, and your FICO score isn’t stellar, you need to more carefully select your options.

You can still cancel the card, but the impact on your score will be greater. You want to try and avoid mucking up your score. If you want to refuse the card, but there are others that would work better for you, then you can call the issuer and try and swap it out for a different one.

Before you do that, though, make a list in order of preference of the ones you’d like. Go to NerdWallet’s comparison charts and find all the cards offered by the same bank.

Be aware that the cards aren’t just interchangeable. Some have stiffer underwriting standards than others.

During the call, you will likely be offered a few choices. Weigh them carefully. There will be trade-offs in terms of annual fees, APRs, rewards and even credit limits. Chances are you’ll be able to swap.

If you truly find you have no use at all for the card, you can cancel it. But even then, I’d suggest not doing so. It’s rarely a bad thing to have credit you aren’t using. It can be used for emergencies. It also will decrease your credit utilization ratio, which actually helps your credit.

The moral: Be careful before applying

The moral of the story: Be careful before applying for any card. Look over all the information on the offer carefully. Use comparison charts. Think about how and when you plan to use the card. Don’t get sucked in by a great rewards offer without looking at things like APR if you plan to carry a balance.

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