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The rejection letter from Barclays felt surprisingly personal — even though I knew it was just business.
“But … but … my credit is excellent," I assured myself. "I’ve never had a credit card application denied before. I’m a total catch! What’s the issue?”
Turns out the bank mailed me a pretty detailed accounting of its reasons for saying "no." Chief among them was “the number of bank cards opened within the last 24 months.”
Fair point. In the two years before my application in April, I had opened several credit cards, with the most recent only a couple of months earlier. In the back of my mind, I knew that might raise some red flags.
“There's no guarantee that a bank will give you a break, but you never know unless you ask. And often, it's best to do it by phone.”
Still, denial stings. After all, I’m a responsible user. My credit scores reflect that. And by the way, I’m already a Barclays customer. I’ve got a savings account and an older credit card with the bank. I thought we were buds! Or, at least, I thought I had a case.
Apparently, I was right. Barclays ended up reconsidering its decision and approving me for the card I wanted. It required a few steps but by far the most important one I took? Picking up the phone and calling.
There's no guarantee that a bank will give you a break, of course — but you never know unless you ask. And with credit card issuers, it’s often best to do it the old-fashioned way: by phone.
Appealing a denial
Like many people in the digital age, I’d much rather email, text or direct message than make a phone call, especially in cases where I need to collect my thoughts beforehand. Phone calls get me flustered; typing gives me time.
And calling customer service? Not exactly my idea of a party. But when you're pleading a case, it often requires background, negotiation and simple courtesy on your part. You typically need to speak with a person, not a bot.
Fortunately, NerdWallet had a detailed template, which you can use to find the phone numbers to call for most major issuers and the steps to take before doing so.
“When you're pleading a case, it often requires background, negotiation and simple courtesy on your part. You typically need to speak with a person, not a bot.”
I’d already reviewed Barclays’ letter and my credit, so the next step was to organize my talking points on paper (well, in Google Docs) so I could reference them as I spoke to customer service.
Then, I was ready to dial. The process took about 30 minutes, and by the time it was over, I’d spoken with three different representatives. But through it all, I remained polite and respectful. I repeated myself frequently, but there’s really no limit to how many times you can say “thank you, I really appreciate it.”
After all, Barclays didn’t have to do anything for me.
I was asked to clarify some details about my finances, including my line of work and job title, and the specifics of a home-improvement loan I’d taken out several years ago. But perhaps the most important question I was asked came near the end of the call: “To open a new card, would you be willing to transfer some of your credit line from your existing account with us?”
In other words, Barclays wasn't willing to extend any new credit to me, but the bank was giving me a different way in, through the Barclays card I was already carrying — assuming I could be flexible.
Fortunately, that wasn't a problem. I had a large enough credit limit on that card (the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®) to spare, so moving some of it wouldn't hurt my credit utilization ratio.
I readily agreed to the proposition. When the representative asked how much I’d like to transfer, I deferred to her guidance: “Whatever you think is best. Would this amount be enough?”
Ultimately it was. After a brief hold, I heard those magic words: “We are pleased to approve you for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®.” It arrived in the mail six days later.
Asking for a product change
What if you’re not looking to open a brand-new credit card account? What if you just want to see whether you can improve the card you already have?
“Some issuers allow you to initiate a product change online. But actually speaking with a customer service rep can help you better understand your options and steps.”
In that case, you can call your issuer and request a product change, which allows you to switch your card to one with better rewards, a lower interest rate, no annual fee or some other feature that's more appealing to you. The advantages are many:
Product changes aren’t available for every card, and the process isn’t uniform. For example, some banks may let you apply for the new product without a hard pull, but you’ll still have to close your existing account. The trade-off may not be worth it.
Over the years, with a simple phone call I’ve upgraded:
In each case, my needs had changed since opening those original accounts. Back then, I was seeking lengthy intro APR periods. Now, I wanted rewards.
Some issuers allow you to initiate a product change online. But actually speaking with a customer service rep can help you better understand your options and steps.
Seeking a credit limit increase
Perhaps you need more headroom to handle a large purchase, or maybe you’re simply trying to improve your credit utilization ratio. Either way, if you’re seeking more purchasing power, you can call your issuer and ask for a credit limit increase.
“Requesting a credit limit increase could result in a hard pull and a temporary ding to your credit scores. All the more reason to call the issuer and get the details first.”
Be aware of the drawbacks, though. Depending on the bank and the circumstances, such a request could result in a hard pull and a temporary ding to your credit scores.
All the more reason to call the issuer and get all the details before you proceed.
In my case, for example, Citi wasn’t able to grant a product change for my Citi Simplicity® Card, but the representative did offer to increase the card’s credit limit with no hard inquiry.
Requesting a late-fee waiver
So your billing statement got lost under a pile of papers and the due date just slipped up on you? If you’re a day or two late, you don’t necessarily need to panic — but you do need to call your issuer as soon as possible and explain.
If it’s your first offense and you’ve been an otherwise exemplary customer, the bank may forgive the oversight and waive the late fee. Just make sure you take steps to avoid another mishap, whether it’s setting up autopay or opting into account alerts.
“You're asking the bank to do you a favor, and that may require more than an email. Be honest, polite and patient — and don't be afraid to pick up the phone.”
I'd had a credit card account with Chase for nearly 15 years before missing a due date recently. It was a stupid mistake, and I didn't have a good excuse; I just totally spaced on it. When I realized it a couple of days after the fact, I immediately made the payment. My second step was to call Chase, apologize and ask the rep if there was any recourse. She thanked me for being a longtime customer, and the fee was waived within the week.
In each of these cases, remember that you're asking the bank to do you a favor, and that may require more than an email or live-chat window.
Be honest, polite and patient — and don't be afraid to pick up the phone and make a call.