Key takeaways

  • Getting the timing right on your credit card application may increase your chances of approval while potentially reducing the impact to your credit score.
  • If your balance is high, you’re making a big purchase, you’re preapproved or referred, or you meet other metrics, it may make sense to apply for a new card.
  • But if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage, your finances are in bad shape or you have too many recent inquiries, it may be best to wait.

If you’re applying for a new credit card, the process can result in any number of emotions. For some, it can cause anxiety, while others may feel anticipation and excitement. But the process of applying for a new card may not be an emotional roller coaster if you time it correctly. By finding the right timing for your card application, it can cut down on the anxiety from the process.

The right timing can also improve your chances of approval. While credit card issuers may offer more promotions or bonuses at certain times of the year, these offers shouldn’t be the primary reason for your decision to apply. In general, the best time to apply for a new credit card is typically based on your personal financial circumstances and needs instead.

So, how do you know when to apply for a credit card? If you’re wondering when to get a credit card, and when to steer clear, take into consideration the tips outlined below. You may be able to maximize your approval odds and reduce the impact a card application can have on your credit score. Here’s what you need to know:

When you should apply for a new credit card

Applying for a new card may be worth considering if one of the following reasons fit:

You have a balance on a high-interest credit card

If you’re carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card, that could be the perfect time to apply for a new credit card that offers a 0 percent introductory annual percentage rate (APR) on balance transfers. Ideally, you’ll pay down your balance before the intro APR expires to avoid paying interest charges. To help you do this, it’s a good idea to use a balance transfer calculator to make a plan for paying down your balance during your intro APR period. If done properly, this move could help you save a lot of money on interest charges.

The best balance transfer cards on the market could mean having as long as 21 months to pay off your debt interest-fee.

You’re planning a big purchase

If you’re planning a big purchase soon, a new credit card can be useful for two reasons: You can get a promotional 0 percent APR on purchases to avoid paying interest on your purchase for a limited time, and it’ll be easier to earn a credit card sign-up bonus, also called a welcome bonus.

Many card issuers offer welcome bonuses for new cardholders if they meet certain spending requirements on the card within a specified time period. These bonuses often come in the form of cash back, a statement credit or a certain number of rewards points. If you know you have a large purchase coming up, you can time your application so a purchase you were going to make anyway can help you meet the spending requirement for a sign-up bonus.

If you don’t anticipate any single large purchase, you can plan your new credit card application around a time when you’ll be shopping the most. For many people, the holiday season is a time for lots of spending.

You’ve got good (or excellent) credit

If your credit score is in the good to excellent range (670 to 850), your chances of being approved for a new credit card are much better than if you are in the poor or fair credit score range (300 to 669.) If you are confident about your credit score, it could be a good time to apply for a new credit card.

However, if you don’t have a pressing need for a credit card right away, it could be beneficial to spend a few months building up your credit score. Depending on your starting point, boosting your credit score could take you from fair to good credit or from good to excellent credit, making you eligible for cards you might otherwise have been ineligible for. A better credit score can also help you to get a better interest rate.

You’d like to build your credit profile

If you want to build your credit, applying for a new credit card is a great way to start. Credit cards are an accessible way for you to establish your credit history, expand your credit mix and, with responsible use, create a track record of on-time payments. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your FICO score, while your length of credit history accounts for 15 percent and your credit mix makes up 10 percent of your score. All of these factors play an important role not only in calculating your credit score but also in how lenders perceive you in terms of credit risk.

People with little to no credit history, including college students looking for a first card, can begin their credit-building journey with a secured credit card, starter credit card or a student credit card. These entry-level cards, when used properly, can help you establish a positive credit history, which could help you qualify for better credit card offers down the road.

You’ve been pre-approved

You may receive a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail if you’ve met a card issuer’s initial criteria for a certain credit card, inviting you to apply for the card. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll be approved for the card in question, but it’s a way to gauge your odds of approval. If you apply for the pre-approved offer, your chance of getting approved is much better since you’ve already been screened for the offer.

You’ve been referred

Some card issuers provide existing card users with a referral link they can give to friends and family. These referral links may not necessarily improve your chances of being approved for a new card, but if you are approved, you (and your referrer) could be eligible for a referral bonus in the form of cash, rewards points or both. Of course, be sure to check out a card’s benefits and requirements before applying to make sure the card is a good fit for you (and your credit score).

You want to earn a limited-time welcome offer

Earning a generous welcome bonus certainly shouldn’t be the only reason you apply for a new credit card, but it can definitely play into the equation. If the card checks off a number of other boxes and will otherwise fit well into your personal finance profile, making sure you can cash in on a lucrative bonus offer is icing on the cake.

Furthermore, card issuers sometimes offer excellent limited-time bonuses. If the timing is right for you, jumping on a limited-time bonus can fetch you hundreds of dollars worth of cash back or travel rewards.

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Keep in mind: No welcome bonus, no matter how generous, will make up for going into credit card debt to earn it or otherwise taking on a credit card you aren’t prepared to responsibly handle. Only open a card for the signup bonus if you have a firm grasp on your finances and can properly manage the new card.

When you shouldn’t apply for a new credit card

You should probably hold off on applying for a new card if the following reasons apply:

You’re about to get a mortgage or other loan

If you’re shopping around for a mortgage, personal loan or car loan, it’s best to avoid applying for a new credit card. Whether you are approved or not, the increased number of hard inquiries on your credit report could drop your credit score. A lower credit score, coupled with multiple recent hard inquiries, signals to lenders you are in need of credit, potentially making you more of a credit risk. In this case, your application for a mortgage or personal loan could be denied. If it is approved, you may not get the best terms if your credit score has dropped.

You’ve got recent hard inquiries

Most credit card applications involve a hard credit inquiry, which will lower your credit score. Too many recent inquiries can cause you to be denied a new credit card — especially if an inquiry did not result in approval. Instead of continuing to add more hard inquiries to your credit, it might be a good time to press the pause button on your credit card applications. We recommend waiting three to six months between new card applications.

A good practice is to check your credit report for the number of hard inquiries before applying for new credit cards. Ideally, you’ll only apply for a new credit card once excessive hard inquiries have dropped off. If you already have multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, the good news is they’ll generally only stay on your report for two years — but they’ll typically stop affecting your credit score after 12 months.

Your finances aren’t in good shape

A credit card should add to your financial standing, not compromise it. If you already have a lot of debt, are struggling to pay your existing creditors on time or have a low credit score, a new line of credit may not be a good idea right now. It may make sense to step back, assess how you’re managing your money and work to improve your finances as a whole. Once you get in a better place financially, a wise use of a new credit card can enhance and support your financial goals, instead of hindering them. Plus, you’re more likely to be approved for a new credit card if you have a better credit score.

The bottom line

The best time to apply for a new credit card is when you’re financially ready to take on a new card. No matter your financial aspirations and personal goals, some of the best credit cards offered today can help you achieve them. Assessing your specific needs will be the key to finding a card at the right time that works perfectly for you.