Should You Apply for Multiple Credit Cards at the Same Time?

Applying for too many credit cards at once — or doing so randomly or repeatedly — can hurt your credit scores. Here's what to do instead.
Craig Joseph
Erin El Issa
By Erin El Issa and  Craig Joseph 
Edited by Kenley Young

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There are many reasons you might want to apply for a new credit card. Maybe you want to earn rewards or finance a big purchase, or maybe you’re surrounded by a growing pile of bills and think a new card might provide some breathing room.

But without a plan, applying for more credit, even as a stop-gap, can lead to negative consequences. The risks and limitations of doing so may easily outweigh the benefits, especially if you apply for multiple cards over a short period of time.

Here’s what you should know about submitting random or repeated credit card applications.

Impact to your credit scores

You’ll receive a hard inquiry on your credit report for every card application you submit, with each inquiry temporarily decreasing your FICO scores by around five points. Accumulate too many inquiries all at once and you could be looking at a larger blow to your credit score than you would expect.

If your application is declined — or if it’s approved but with a smaller credit line than you want — you may be tempted to continue applying for cards. But frequent and repeated hard inquiries can look to card issuers like a desperate attempt to acquire credit, which will further decrease your odds of approval. As a general rule, you don’t want to act in a way that will make potential lenders leery of investing in you.

For these reasons, we recommend waiting at least six months between applications if you have a good to excellent credit score (FICO scores of 690 or higher), and up to a year otherwise.

Potential for unintended debt

Every new account you open can add complexity to your financial situation, increasing the likelihood that you will miss a payment and be charged fees and interest. As of this writing, the average APR on credit card accounts assessed interest is almost 23%. That can be a tough cycle to break if you’re strapped for cash and miss a payment.

Debt isn’t the only issue with missing a payment. On-time payment history comprises around 30% of your FICO scores, meaning a single missed payment can have major consequences. And since each derogatory payment stays on your file for seven years, that impact can have lasting negative effects well after you pay off the account balance. Carrying a balance will also drive up your credit utilization, further impacting your credit scores until you pay off the debt.

What to do instead

The first step in applying for a new credit card is to know what’s in your credit profile. This will help you understand what cards you may qualify for and save wasted hard inquiries. An easy way to do that is with NerdWallet’s free credit score dashboard, which helps track details about your existing credit file. Checking your credit scores on NerdWallet prompts only a soft inquiry on your credit report — not a hard inquiry — and won’t impact your credit, no matter how often you check it.

From there, you can identify the type of credit card that matches your needs. Think about what you’re looking for: Do you plan to carry a balance? Do you have existing debt you want to pay down? Do you want to earn rewards? Then, head to one of our roundups and find the best credit card for you. Some examples include:

Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

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