The other day I was surprised to discover a credit card solicitation in my LinkedIn mailbox.
It was structured as email from one of the issuer's executive vice presidents with the subject line touting a lucrative sign-on bonus and a little "Apply Now" button positioned just over the signature.
There's a good chance you've received something similar. According to LinkedIn, "Sponsored InMail" has been a part of its marketing solutions portfolio since 2009 and the financial services industry is one of its leading patrons.
It's easy to see why issuers might use the network to send out product offers. One click of the mouse takes a prospective customer directly to the card application. Issuers can also utilize LinkedIn to attract specific demographics.
"Companies can use targeting filters which include such categories as title, seniority, geography, industry, just to name a few," said Fenot Tekle, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn, in an email. "What members receive is based on the audience a company is looking to engage."
Of course, it's important not to confuse the targeting power of social media sites like LinkedIn -- or Twitter or Facebook -- for a sign you should apply for a particular product. (The offer I received, for instance, was for a business charge card, which I definitely don't need, given that I don't actually own a business.)
Instead, you should vet each card offer carefully before taking the issuer up on their offer. Credit card applications typically generate hard inquiries on your credit report. These inquiries can do some damage to your credit score -- particularly if it's already on the margins -- so you should only apply for a card if your score can take the potential hit. (Keep in mind that the offer doesn't guarantee you will actually be approved for the product.)
You also should only apply for a card that you’re apt to use and/or benefit from. Check to see if the issuer is offering competitive interest rates. (Bankrate's weekly interest rate roundup can give you an idea of where the average annual percentage rates on fixed and variable credit cards are at.)
Additionally, consider whether any annual fee is worth it and make sure sign-on bonuses aren’t attached to spending thresholds you can’t afford. Paying interest on the purchases will only negate the points you earn.
Follow me on Twitter: @JeanineSko.