Saturday, March 17, 2012

How to Apply for a Credit Card

So although my first few posts were about why you should use a credit card and my recommendations for credit cards, I have yet to actually describe the process of applying for one.  I thought I'd spend this week's post explaining the process in detail, specifically applying online and receiving the card in the mail a few weeks later.

Generally, when you apply for a credit card, you first find a link to the actual application.  This can be on the credit card company's website such as or, or you can get there through a referral link from a person's blog or other website.  For example, offers you a variety of credit card links to the applications.  When applying for a credit card, it would be useful to know what type you want.  For example, if you are sure you will spend responsibly and pay all your bills on time, you can probably focus on finding a card with very high cash back or mile rewards.  You probably won't have to pay too much attention to APR.  However, if you plan on using your credit card as a small loan to spend more money than you have right now (which I would generally recommend against since you are charged fairly high interest), then a lower APR might be your priority.

When choosing whether to apply to a credit card on the main website or from a referral site, it is generally good to compare the incentive associated with that application.  Many websites have several reward promotions for applying for a credit card.  For example, recently I applied for Citi's Dividend Visa credit card.  It came with a promotion of $200 cash back if I spend $1000 in the first three months.  I found another site which featured the same card except with a promotion of $200 cash back after spending only $600 in the first three months.  Another example was when applying for Chase Freedom, there were several different promotions floating around like $50 cash back after your first purchase or $100 cash back if you spend $500 in the first three months.  It is generally good to do at least a google search to see what promotions banks are running for their cards and pick the one most suitable for you.

The application itself is online.  I haven't dealt with credit card applications in paper form since I find filling them out online to be much more convenient.  Also, any paper applications through the mail are generally not very good offers since it is much easier to find something more suitable for my needs online.  Also, if a company is paying the money to reach out to you through mail to promote this card, there may be something specific about it that allows them to earn more fees off of you so you should take a closer look at the terms and conditions.

There are usually some restrictions to apply: you have to be over 18 years of age and have a valid social security number to submit the application.  It asks general questions such as your name, address, email, date of birth, and social security number.  There is also generally some financial information required such as your annual salary and other income; your residential status and mortgage or rent payments; and whether or not you have a checking, savings, or money market account.  Credit card companies prefer offering credit cards to people with a higher annual income and lower mortgage or rent payments, all else equal.  Also, it is much better if you own both a checking and savings account prior to applying.  Of course, if you are a student applying for a student credit card, banks won't expect you to have a high annual salary.  The primary source of information they base their decision on whether to accept or reject an application is your credit report which they will request with your social security number.  This request to credit rating agencies may affect your credit score, so beware of applying to several credit cards within a short period of time.  My score is probably lower than it should be if I had applied to fewer credit cards in the past few years, but I believe that these effects should mostly disappear by the time I actually need my credit score.

Generally, after applying online, the credit card company will tell you right away whether or not you have been rejected.  You could be rejected if there is some red flag somewhere on your credit report, or your annual salary and rental payment combination was not suitable enough for the standards of that credit card.  You may or may not get approved right away.  Usually, if you aren't rejected, you will receive a notice that says that you should get an answer within the next couple of weeks as someone looks over your credit report and determines the amount of credit to extend to you.  You may be asked to call to speak with a representative to finish the application and I have had instances where they wanted a utility bill or bank statement to confirm the address I listed in my credit card application.

After getting approved, you should be getting your card in your mailbox within a week or so.  When it arrives, make sure you sign the back of the card and call the number provided to activate it.  When you call to activate, you also should get the opportunity to change the statement end date if you want your statements to end on a particular date.  These dates are initially determined by the day of the month you apply for the credit card and when you get approved, but if you have multiple cards it may be easier to try to get the statements to end on the same day.  This can help make record keeping easier and you will only have to remember once a month to go pay all your credit cards at the same time.

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