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Facing unexpected expenses? Need to take a last-minute trip? Sometimes you find yourself in situation where you need a new credit card—stat!

While instant approval credit cards do exist, they are not common. It’s not unheard of for even the strongest credit card applicants to wait up to a couple weeks to get approved.

Here’s what you need to know about the instant credit card approval process, and what you can do to speed it up.

How instant credit card approval works

When you apply for an instant approval credit card, you’ll typically start by filling out an online application form. You will likely be asked to supply some basic information such as name, address, annual income and Social Security number. The card issuer will then run a preliminary credit check. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved. So, before applying for a credit card, be sure to pay other cards on time and check your credit report once a year to make sure it is correct.

Once the basic credit check is complete, the credit card issuer may offer an instant decision on whether or not you are approved. However, even if you are approved instantly, this approval may be conditional. Creditors often reserve the right to examine your background and credit history more thoroughly before making a final approval. This process can take weeks, and in the end, card issuers can still deny you a credit card.

One exception: Many large retailers offer instant store credit cards to encourage you to make big in-store purchases. However, beware that these cards may have high annual fees and often carry much higher interest rates than you would receive at a major bank.

Can I speed up the process?

If you don’t get instant approval, there are steps you can take that may help move the application process forward. First, you can try calling your bank to find out why you weren’t approved instantly. They may tell you that they simply need extra time to check your credit history or examine your finances, or they may have questions that you can help them answer right away.

Then, if they do approve you, request overnight shipping to get your new card faster. If you don’t ask, credit card issuers typically send your card through standard mail.

Shop around for the best credit card deals

Even if you are in a hurry to get a credit card, it’s important to take your time and shop around to find the card that’s best for you. Before applying for a card, carefully consider the terms and conditions of the credit card contracts you’re considering.

Look for a card with a low interest rate, which will determine your cost of borrowing. Examine the fees that you may be charged, such as annual fees, late payment fees and cash advance fees. Also weigh the benefits of any reward options the card may offer, such as cash back or points earned toward air travel.

Use Bankrate’s calculator to figure out what it would take to pay off your credit cards.