When is the best time to apply for a new credit card?

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Whether it’s your first credit card or your fifth, applying for a new credit card can be just as anxiety-inducing as it is exciting. You might find yourself wondering when the right time to apply for a new credit card is, and if you can expect an approval or a denial of your application.

The fact of the matter is there is no one right time to apply for a credit card that is universal for all people. You’ll find that the choice to forge ahead or exercise some patience depends largely on your personal financial situation. To help you decide whether you’re ready for a new card, here are some of the factors to consider first.

When you should apply for a new credit card

After you’ve done your research

Applying for a new credit card is a big financial decision – kind of like purchasing a new car. You don’t want to walk onto just any lot and take home the first car you see. It’s a good idea to take time to assess your needs and determine which vehicle will serve you now and for years to come.

Similarly, you want to determine what your motivations are for wanting a new credit card. Research cards that will suit your lifestyle and financial needs and apply only when you have narrowed your list down to the perfect candidate. Some things to look at when deciding on a credit card include:

  • your spending habits
  • specific perks and rewards that suit your lifestyle
  • what kind of fees you’ll have to pay to own the card
  • how the card will fit with any others in your wallet

For example, if you are someone who rarely travels, a credit card that earns miles and offers benefits specific to frequent flyers won’t reward your unique lifestyle. On the other hand, if you’ve got a big family to feed and spend lots of money at the grocery store every month, you may want to consider a cash-back card that earns cash on groceries. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a popular choice, and earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000/year in purchases, and then 1% thereafter.

Planning to transfer a balance from one or more credit cards you already own? You’ll want to make sure you’re choosing a balance transfer credit card with a long-enough 0% intro APR on balance transfers to let you pay down your debt, as well as one with a balance transfer fee you’re comfortable paying. Utilizing a tool like Bankrate’s balance transfer calculator can be a big help in narrowing down the best card for your situation.

When the timing is right

For the most part, the time of year you apply for a new card doesn’t matter much, but there are some exceptions – such as if you’re looking to take advantage of a long 0% intro APR on purchases during or after the holidays. In that case, timing is everything.
If you’re looking at buying that new refrigerator on Black Friday, it makes the most sense to apply for your new credit card a few weeks prior. That way, you’ll have the card in your hands when it’s time to make the purchase, but you won’t be wasting any of the precious introductory period, since those start when you open your account. Similarly, if a credit card earns specific types of rewards at different times of the year, like Discover it® Cash Back with its quarterly rotating cash back categories, you might want to consider whether there’s a right time to apply that would net you more bang for your buck.

When you’ve never had one (or your credit needs improving)

Credit cards are a fantastic credit-building tool, on top of all the other great benefits they can offer to a person (such as improved fraud protection over debit cards). If you’ve never owned a credit card, then you would be wise to do your research and consider getting a card that suits your lifestyle and spending habits.

A good way to start building credit without risking over-burdening debt is to use a credit card sparingly— just enough to keep the card active and open (like charging a recurring expense, such as your Netflix subscription, and paying that off every month). You’ll not only be improving your credit scores and building a healthy credit history, but you’ll have a line of credit available to you in case of a financial emergency. And if you have poor credit or limited credit, you’re in luck because plenty of great options exist to help people rebuild their credit – such as secured credit cards.

Learn more: Best Credit One credit cards

When you shouldn’t apply for a new credit card

If you’re about to take out a mortgage or other loan

If you are considering an application for a personal loan or shopping for a mortgage, you will want to avoid anything that could jeopardize your chances of approval. When you apply for a new credit card, whether you are approved or not, there will be an impact to your credit reports and scores. A recent inquiry, as well as a new account, could make you appear riskier to creditors, leading to a denial of your loan or mortgage application – therefore, if obtaining other kinds of new credit is on your horizon, it’s probably not a wise time to apply for a new credit card.

If you’ve had recent inquiries

Likewise, if you have recently taken out a mortgage or loan, or you’ve already applied for one or two credit cards within the past few months, you will want to exercise caution. Too many inquiries in a row can spell disaster for your credit scores, and it also makes you more likely to be denied new credit – especially if those inquiries didn’t result in an approval.

If your finances aren’t in order

As alluring as huge intro bonuses and amazing perks can be, if you aren’t in the right financial shape, a new credit card application could put you in dire straits. You will need to assess several aspects of your finances to decide if now is the right time to apply for a new card. First, you’ll want to look at your credit scores. Most credit cards are targeted toward people with scores in a certain range, like good to excellent credit, and if you fall close to or below the minimum threshold, you may get rejected. Or worse, you may only qualify for a card with an exorbitant interest rate. It’s also important to consider your debt-to-income ratio – if you’re living above your means or have high existing debt, it may not be a great time to add a new line of credit (and you could struggle to get approved).

If it’s not going to be put to good use

Already have a bunch of credit cards in your wallet? Then you will want to strongly consider if a given card will be useful to you in the short term as well as years from now. If you already have a go-to credit card that you use for certain kinds of purchases, getting a new one with the same (or similar) categories likely isn’t going to do you much good. If a new credit card is more likely to collect dust than get some use, then you should think twice about applying – especially since having old credit cards closed due to inactivity can impact your credit utilization ratio and average account length, thereby denting your good credit history.

Although there isn’t one right time across the board to apply for a new credit card, with some planning and research, you can determine the best time for your individual needs. Get started with Bankrate’s thorough credit card reviews.

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.