There are four ways to apply for a credit card: online, by phone, in person and through the mail. All of the options are easy, but they’re not equal in terms of convenience or how long they take. Sometimes, you can also get slightly better terms by applying a certain way. This could be a bigger initial bonus or a 0% APR that lasts longer, for example.
The best way to apply for a credit card is online. Applying online is the fastest, most convenient method because you can do it any time, from anywhere. It also makes the most sense after comparing credit card offers online, which you really need to do if you want to find the best deal. Plus, it gets your application to the card’s issuer sooner and gives you the chance to be approved instantly.
When you get down to it, applying for a credit card is pretty easy. You can actually break it down into a simple 7-step process that includes everything from doing the legwork to find the best card to apply for, to getting approved and receiving your card in the mail.
How to Apply for a Credit Card:
- Get pre-approved / pre-qualified first
- Check your latest credit score
- Compare credit card offers
- Pick the best card for your needs
- Fill out an online credit card application
- Submit your application and wait for a decision
- Get your card within 14 days of approval
It’s important to know all of your options for how to apply for a credit card. So we’ll highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each below, in addition to taking a closer look at the best method – applying online.
Ways to Apply for a Credit Card
|Category||Credit Card Comparison Website||In Person||By Phone||By Mail||Bank Website|
|Quick & Easy||Yes||-||-||Yes||Yes|
|Compare Offers Across Issuers||Yes||-||-||-||-|
You can apply for a credit card online, over the phone, by mail or in person. Applying online is the best, most convenient option, but the others have virtues, too.
Applying for a credit card in person offers the opportunity for instant approval, much like applying online. But it only works if you already know you want a particular store’s credit card, or a card from your bank or credit union. Applying in person also requires a lot more effort than applying online, without giving you nearly as good of a selection to work with.
Applying for a credit card by phone isn’t much different than doing so online, though you may be limited to business hours.
Finally, applying for a credit card by mail is the worst option simply because it takes the longest. Instead of the issuer receiving your application immediately, you have to wait for it to physically travel to them before getting the party started. Besides, if you receive a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail, you can usually apply online with a code provided in the offer.
How Not to Apply for a Credit Card:
However you decide to apply for a credit card, make sure not to overdo it. Some might call it the lottery approach, with the idea that submitting as many credit card applications as possible will increase the odds of getting at least one. But applying for credit cards in bulk is a terrible idea. Every application that you submit results in a “hard inquiry” on your credit report, which leads to temporary credit score damage. The more applications you submit in a short time period, the worse the damage will be and the longer it will last.
So if you don’t get approved for the first credit card that you apply for, don’t just mindlessly apply for similar offers from other banks. Instead, consider why you were rejected, which the issuer is required to inform you of in writing. And check your latest credit score to see if you should target a slightly lower level of card.
Here’s the Best Way to Apply for a Credit Card:
- Get Pre-Approved First: Most major credit card companies allow you to see which of their cards you’re pre-approved for before actually submitting an application. Pre-approval only involves a soft credit pull, which will not hurt your credit standing. And if you do get pre-approved, your chances of being approved for an account will be very high.
- Check Your Latest Credit Score: Your credit standing will tell you which credit cards to focus on. You’ll be able to apply for a card with high approval odds and avoid wasting time on cards you can’t get. Plus, credit scores can change a great deal in a limited amount of time. You can check your latest credit score for free on WalletHub.
- Compare Credit Card Offers: You don’t know what you’re missing unless you look. Comparing credit cards based on their minimum credit requirement and the features you’re most interested in will allow you to quickly identify the best deal.
- Pick the Best Card for Your Needs: If you plan to pay your bill in full, we recommend a rewards credit card. If not, look into low interest credit cards, particularly those offering 0% purchases and 0% balance transfers. It’s best not to carry a credit card balance from month to month for too long. And all else being equal, no annual fee is better than the alternative. But you might be able to get better rewards and save more overall by paying a fee.If you’d like a specific recommendation, try WalletHub’s free CardAdvisor tool.
- Fill Out an Online Credit Card Application: You typically need to list your name, address, Social Security number, income, bank account balance, and the amount of your monthly housing payment. Some credit cards are available without an SSN, and some credit card companies may require additional information.
- Submit Your Application and Wait for a Decision: You could receive a decision immediately, depending on the issuer and whether you’re an obvious candidate for either approval or denial. But in most cases, you’ll receive a decision within 10-14 business days of submitting a credit card application.
- Get Your Card Within 14 Days of Approval: In other words, it generally takes up to 28 days to get a credit card from the time you apply. Many credit card companies offer expedited delivery if you ask for it, though, and it’s often free.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a closer look at the types of information you’ll have to list on your credit card application, just so you know what to expect.
How to Fill Out a Credit Card Application
There’s no secret to filling out a credit card application. That’s the easy part, compared to finding the right credit card to apply for in the first place. You just have to complete the required fields accurately and honestly. Lying on a credit card application is fraud. You can see exactly what information you’ll need to provide by taking a peak at your chosen card’s application online. But all credit card applications require the same fundamental information.
Here’s what you’ll need to list on your credit card application:
- Mailing Address (cannot be a P.O. box)
- Phone Number
- Social Security Number
- Total Annual Income
- Monthly Expense Toward Rent/Mortgage
- Whether or Not You Have a Bank Account
- Total Balance of Bank Accounts
This information serves the dual purpose of helping a credit card issuer verify that you’re a real person and determine whether or not you can afford a new line of credit. Some issuers may ask for a few extra data points but nothing major.
2021’s Best Credit Cards to Apply For
Figuring out how to apply for a credit card is one thing. Determining which credit card to apply for is quite another. The best way to approach this task is to make a list of the credit card features that are most important to you. Prioritize, in other words. No credit card offers perfection across the board, after all.
Once you figure out what type of credit card you’re looking for, you’re all set. WalletHub’s editors have already done the heavy lifting, comparing more than 1,000 offers to identify the best credit cards in the most popular categories.
Here are 2021’s best credit cards to apply for:
|Best for…||Card Name||Min. Credit Required|
|Travel Rewards||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Good|
|Cash Back||Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer||Good|
|0% Purchases||U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card||Good|
|Balance Transfer||Wells Fargo Platinum card||Good|
|Students||Journey Student Rewards from Capital One||Limited History|
|Small Business||Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card||Good|
|Initial Bonus||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Good|
|International Travel||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Good|
|Fair Credit||Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Limited History|
|Limited Credit||Capital One Platinum Credit Card||Limited History|
|Bad Credit||Discover it® Secured Credit Card||Bad|
For more great offers, check out the rest of WalletHub’s best credit card picks. Our quarterly Credit Card Landscape Report can also come in handy, giving you a basis for comparison with average rates, fees, rewards and more.