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Waiting about six months between credit card applications can increase your chances of getting approved. Apply more frequently than that, and issuers may see you as a riskier bet and reject your application.
The exception? If you have excellent credit, a high income and a history of on-time payments, you can probably apply for new credit cards more frequently and still get approved. That’s because you’re the kind of customer card issuers see as having a low risk of defaulting on future payments.
On the other hand, if your credit is average or worse, you might need to wait even longer between credit card applications — possibly as a long as a year — to increase your chances of approval.
» MORE: What is a credit score?
Multiple applications suggest risk
Credit card issuers view multiple card applications in quick succession as a sign of financial distress. It raises red flags about your ability to make future payments and keep your accounts in good standing. In fact, FICO says that people with six or more inquiries on their credit reports are eight times more likely to declare bankruptcy compared with those who have no inquiries on their reports.
However, FICO also says there are more important factors in your risk profile than the number of credit applications: whether you pay your bills on time and your overall debt burden. That’s why people with great credit can get away with more frequent applications and still get approved. If you have excellent credit, waiting three months between card applications is a good guideline, but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
When to be extra cautious
A few special circumstances require extra caution when it comes to timing your credit card applications:
When you’re buying a home. If you'll be applying for a mortgage in the near future, take extra care to space out your credit card applications at least six months apart. Each credit card application typically knocks a few points off your score. You don’t want to risk lowering your score, even a little, when it could increase the cost of your mortgage. Even a slight increase in your home loan rate can cost you thousands of dollars over time, so you want your credit score to be as high as possible when you apply. Wait until after you’ve signed the mortgage to apply for a credit card. Whatever the sign-up bonus is, a higher rate on a home loan will cost you more.
When you’re trying to rebuild your credit. If your credit has been damaged in the past, you’ll want to re-establish it slowly and carefully. You’ll also want to avoid temptations that may have gotten you into trouble before. Even if you think you could get approved, wait at least six months between applications to make sure you won’t get into trouble again.
» MORE: 8 ways to build credit fast
When you have bad or limited credit. Having 5 points knocked off your score because of a credit card application isn’t a huge deal if your score is 800. It’s a much bigger problem if your score is 500 or 600. If you have poor credit or no credit, you should apply for new cards less frequently than someone with excellent credit. Also, be sure you are applying for cards appropriate for your credit score. Rewards credit cards and those with generous 0% interest offers are generally aimed at customers with good to excellent credit. Others, such as secured cards, are designed with credit builders in mind.
When you have been rejected recently on a card application. Your instinct might be to immediately apply for several other cards, but doing so could further hurt your chances of approval. Instead, consider calling the card issuer to ask why your application was rejected. You may learn something that you can address, such as fixing an error on your credit report or establishing a longer period of on-time bill payments.
You can then work toward improving your credit by paying bills on time and reducing your outstanding debt. Then, after waiting at least six months, try applying again with a stronger chance of approval.