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Applying for credit cards can damage your credit scores.
Just a single application may shave a few points off your score. But multiple applications for cards in a short span could suggest you are a riskier borrower than someone who applies less often.
This can be especially frustrating if you are trying to build a good credit score. One way to establish credit is by getting a credit card and using it responsibly. And in order to get a card, you have to apply.
People can and do get multiple credit cards. And you can, too, if you apply strategically for the right cards and space out applications.
Before you apply for a card
Consider these factors :
Whether your application is approved or rejected makes no difference in your score. That’s why it makes sense to be almost certain you will qualify before you apply. You don’t want to lose points and still not have the credit you needed.
Applications can affect people’s credit differently. For example, an applicant with a high credit score and a long history of on-time payments is unlikely to lose as many points as someone with a lower score and shorter, imperfect track record.
Points lost as a result of credit applications are likely to return in about six months. So if you are planning to apply for a loan for, say, a car or home, it’s a good idea not to apply for any other credit for at least six months before that loan’s final approval.
Want to try out a few scenarios about applying for credit and how it might affect your score? As part of NerdWallet’s free credit score tool, you can use the credit score simulator to estimate the effect of various actions.
Why applying for a credit card hurts your score
Statistically speaking, a new application can represent more risk for the card issuer. The impact is greatest if you have just a few accounts or a short credit history.
A credit “inquiry” is any review of your credit profile, but only so-called “hard inquiries” can affect your credit score. A hard credit inquiry is performed when you apply for a loan or credit card, and it will stay on your credit report for up to two years, though it generally does not affect your score after six months.
You can check your credit reports from each of the three major bureaus for free once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. It will show both hard inquiries (when your report is pulled as a result of a credit application) and soft inquiries, when you check your own credit or it is checked for a preapproval offer and you have not applied for credit. (You can keep tabs on your credit more often with NerdWallet’s free credit report summary, which updates weekly.)
Remember, your credit score is meant to predict how likely you are to repay borrowed money. If you’re showing a behavior that’s correlated with mismanaging credit, your score will drop to reflect this.
Checking your own score does not affect it. It’s a smart way to stay aware of how lenders and card issuers are likely to view you and could potentially alert you to identity theft. It can also let you see how your money management habits affect your credit profile.
Former NerdWallet writer Lindsay Konsko contributed to this article.