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Got Bad Credit but Need a Card? See If You’re ‘Pre-Qualified’

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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Got Bad Credit but Need a Card? See If You're 'Pre-Qualified'

Getting a credit card when you have bad credit can be difficult. And applying for one and being denied doesn’t help your confidence — or your credit. Every application creates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can knock points off your credit score.

To improve your chances of getting approved, many credit card issuers offer online tools that ask basic questions about you and then list credit cards for which you’re “pre-qualified.” This process results in a soft inquiry, which doesn’t affect your credit score. But whereas applying for a card for which you’re pre-qualified gives you a better chance of approval, it doesn’t guarantee it. When you actually apply for the card, the full information on your credit report will be the deciding factor. (And the application will trigger a hard inquiry.)

See if you’re pre-qualified

Almost all major issuers offer pre-qualification tools, but each requires different information to process the request. The table below provides links to issuer pre-qualification pages, as well as what’s required from you:

Issuer

Required Information

*If you currently have an American Express card that you manage online, you may have to clear your browser cookies to see the pre-qualification page.

American Express*

Full name, address, last 4 digits of your SSN, what kind of card you want

Bank of America®

Full name, address, date of birth, last 4 digits of your SSN, what kind of card you want

Capital One

Full name, address, date of birth, your full SSN, what kind of card you want, how you rate your credit

Chase

Full name, address, last 4 digits of your SSN

Citi

Full name, address, last 4 digits of your SSN, what kind of card you want

Discover

Full name, last 4 digits of your SSN, whether or not you’re a student

US Bank

Full name, address, last 4 digits of your SSN, what kind of card you want

In addition to issuer sites, NerdWallet offers prequalification tools for both Chase and American Express, although these may not surface offers for those with bad credit. Checking takes only a moment, and it will not harm your credit score.

Improve your chances of approval

If you find that you have no pre-qualified offers, it may be wise to wait to apply until your credit score improves. During this time, there are a few things you can focus on to rebuild your credit.

Review your credit report. Get a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and review it to see what’s holding you back. Pinpoint collection accounts, delinquencies and other negative items that you can easily fix. Dispute any errors you find. Then check for other negative marks for an idea of what to work on next.

Pay your bills on time, every time. If you’ve been lagging in your bill payments, get up to speed as quickly as possible, then make sure to make all payments on time going forward. This includes all bills, not just debt payments. Your payment history is the biggest factor in your score, and while you can’t change the past, you may see improvements fairly quickly once you start keeping up.

Pay down credit card balances. If you have credit card debt, get those balances paid as quickly as possible. The amounts you owe make up the second largest factor in your credit score, and high credit card balances can do major damage.


Credit score simulator

What happens if…

I pay off this much debt:

Get your score!

Your new score:


The bottom line

If you have bad credit, applying for credit cards willy-nilly is likely to make things worse. Taking the extra step to see if you are pre-qualified for any offers can give you better direction as to which cards you can reasonably consider. If you’re in a position where you feel you should work on your credit before applying, don’t hesitate to follow that feeling. It may take time to get to where you need to be, but it’ll be worth it to get the best offer you can.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bluthi@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @benluthi.


Image via iStock.