Trying to choose a credit card can feel like deciding who to swipe right on in a dating app — especially if you’re new to the game or have been out of it for a while.
With both, you might revise your wish list of qualities if the pool of possibilities is smaller than you had hoped. Unlike dating, however, the advice to “just get out there and try” isn’t useful with credit cards. Lots of applications close together hurt your credit.
But focusing on a card you can get will help you build a strong credit history and eventually qualify for one you want.
Find out what kind of customer they want
Credit cards are designed for specific audiences — there are cards for people recovering from mistakes, cards where you earn rewards for travel and cards that won’t charge you a fee the first time you pay late.
First, find out how creditors will see you. If you don’t know your credit score, you can check it for free at several personal finance websites or you may have access to scores through a credit card issuer or bank.
If you’re unsure what credit scores are acceptable for a particular card, call the issuer and ask, says Kelley C. Long, a certified financial planner in Chicago.
Cards that allow you to earn rewards or cards offering 0% APR for transferred balances typically go to customers with good credit profiles. If the card you want is out of reach, apply instead for a card that is designed for customers similar to you.
How to improve your odds
A qualifying score is often just the first hurdle in getting approved for credit. Income, debt obligations, credit age and history can also play a role.
Still, there are ways to tilt the odds in your favor, says Leslie H. Tayne, a financial attorney in the Long Island, New York, area.
- Request your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com and check for mistakes. Dispute errors that could be holding your score down, such as an account that isn’t yours and shows credit missteps.
- Build a savings account. It won’t directly affect your score, Tayne says, but it can affect whether you are approved and for how much.
- “Money in the bank is super key to lending,” she says. “They want to see security so you don’t have to go to credit if there’s some change in your circumstances. Money in the bank can help you improve your odds.”
If you’re a credit newbie
If you don’t have enough of a track record to qualify for credit, you can get on the radar by:
- Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. That lets you benefit from their credit history, so ask someone with a long record of on-time payments.
- Taking out a credit-builder loan. Unlike traditional loans, you get the cash after the loan has been paid off, which minimizes the lender’s risk.
- Getting a secured credit card by putting down a cash deposit.
You should have a VantageScore in a couple of months and a FICO score, the kind used for most credit decisions, in about six months. Being added as an authorized user to an established account can speed up the process, says Can Arkali, senior director of Scores and Predictive Analytics at FICO.
Don’t expect excellent credit right away, because your score is based in part on the age of your accounts. You can’t do anything about the time it takes to build credit, so focus on factors within your power.
“Something you can control is paying bills on time every month,” Long says. Paying on time and using a small portion of your limit are the most important of the factors that influence your credit score.
If you’re recovering from mistakes
While it’s easier to start with a clean slate, it’s possible to rebound from major slips. You can use a secured card or credit-builder loan to add more positive information to your credit reports. Also:
- Keep credit accounts open unless there is a compelling reason to close them, like a high annual fee.
- Look for cards or loans designed for people with low credit scores.
If there is an option for prequalification, take it, says Long, who serves as a volunteer consumer financial advocate with the American Institute of CPAs. While prequalification doesn’t guarantee your application will be approved, being unable to prequalify is a strong signal you shouldn’t apply.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.