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We are living in a time when we are able to do things faster and faster due to new technology. Something like buying a plane ticket used to require going to a travel agent, but can now be done from the comfort of your home with a few clicks.

The same is true of applying for a credit card. Gone are the days when you had to fill in a blocky paper form to send off in the mail and wait. Now you can apply online just by filling out a brief form. And you can often find out if you’ve been approved within moments of submitting your application.

Preparation

Before applying for a credit card, it’s a good idea to take a look at your credit report to see where your credit score stands. Knowing your credit score is important to finding your ideal credit card, and checking your credit report is free. Bankrate offers a tool to help you get started, as well as in-depth reviews of the best credit cards on the market that include their ideal credit score ranges.

Once you know your credit score, you can use this information to choose a credit card that’s a good fit. For example, if you’re just getting started with credit, you’ll want to apply for cards that don’t require a credit history. If your credit score is 670 or higher, you can look at cards in the ‘good to excellent’ score range.  And if you find that your ideal card is out of your credit score range, you can work to raise your credit score before you apply.

Another thing to consider before applying for a credit card is how you will use your new credit. How will your new credit card fit into your current financial situation? What amount are you hoping for your credit line? What purchases do you intend to make with your new card and how will you pay them off? The answers to these questions will help you to choose a card that is a good fit for your current financial situation. And if you want help exploring these questions, you can check out Bankrate’s credit card guide.

Application

Once you’ve chosen your ideal credit card, it’s time to apply. To complete your application, you’ll need to have certain information on hand before you start. Make sure you have your legal name, social security number, address, date of birth, and annual income information on hand. You may also be asked to provide your U.S. citizenship status, current employer, phone number, and how much you pay for housing each month.

Once you have that information ready, go to the website for the card you want. For example, if you want to apply for the Discover it® Cash Back card, you would go to the Discover website. Or if you want to apply for the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you would go to the Capital One website. Once on the company’s website, find the “credit cards” tab and click there. This tab will usually be at the top of the page. You’ll be taken to a credit cards landing page where you can click on the card of your choosing and follow the instructions to apply.

While on the company’s website, you can also see if you pre-qualify for a card. Just click the ‘pre-qualified’ or ‘pre-approved’ link on the credit card landing page. You’ll need to know your credit score to check for pre-approval. Being pre-approved will make you one step closer to being fully approved for your card, and will allow you to avoid having a hard inquiry on your credit report.

As a general rule, when applying for a credit card online, you want to make sure that you are using a private connection. Submitting applications over public wifi can present a security risk to your personal information. Another thing to check before you apply is if the page you are using to enter your personal information is secure. You can do that by making sure that there is a closed padlock icon before the site url in the address bar.

Next steps

Once you’ve submitted your application, you’ll have to wait to see if you’ve been approved. For most online applications, you will find out about your approval within moments of submitting your application. However, some card providers may have you wait up to a few days.

After you are approved, you will receive your credit card in the mail along with your card agreement. This usually takes about five to ten days. Once you receive your card, it’s important to read your card agreement thoroughly to understand the terms of use. Some important things to note are your credit limit, APR and fees.

If you find that your application has been rejected, don’t be discouraged. It just means you haven’t found the right card yet. You should expect to receive word from the credit card company within 10 days explaining why you weren’t approved. This will be helpful information for your next card application.

Other things to consider

Now that you know how easy it is to apply for credit online, it can be tempting to apply for multiple cards at once. However, each time you apply for a credit card a hard inquiry is done into your credit report. Multiple hard inquiries on your report are seen as a credit risk to many lenders. To avoid having a mark on your report, it is better to only apply for new credit as you need it.

If you are interested in adding multiple cards to your rotation, take your time to submit your applications. A hard inquiry affects your FICO score for a year, and stays on your credit report for two years. Spacing out your applications for new credit will allow you to minimize the mark of hard inquiries on your credit report and maximize your ability of being approved.

The bottom line

Applying for credit online is a fast and easy way to potentially add a new credit card to your wallet. To have a better chance of being approved, make sure you do your research and choose the best card to fit your financial situation. And when your new card arrives, be sure to have a plan in place for how you will pay off any purchases you make.