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

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Applying for a new credit card can bring out many emotions. For some, it can induce anxiety. For others, it can prompt anticipation and excitement.

If you choose the best time to apply for a credit card, it might not be such an emotional roller coaster. Timing your credit card application right can reduce some of the anxiety around the process, while raising your chances of being approved.

Though there are some times of the year when credit card issuers may push more promotions and bonuses, this should not be the driving factor for your decision. The best time to apply for a new credit card is based mainly on your personal financial circumstances and needs rather than anything else.

The first thing you should do is take a look at your financial situation and current spending habits. Whether you’re a college student applying for your first credit card or a seasoned travel hacker, it’s a good exercise to help identify the best credit card candidates. Take note of some immediate and long-term financial goals and needs you have. Could a credit card help? If so, you’ll look at cards with features that might support or complement those goals.

Here are some credit card hunting tips that could improve your likelihood of being approved, reduce the impact on your credit score, and, in some cases, help you take advantage of beneficial, time-sensitive credit card promotions and perks.

You have a balance on a high-interest credit card

Sometimes, you may need to transfer an existing balance from a higher-interest credit card to one that offers a lower interest rate. If done properly, this move could help you save money on interest charges.

If you’re carrying high-interest debt, now is the perfect time to apply for a new credit card offering a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 12 or more months. Ideally, you’ll pay down your balance before the intro APR expires to avoid paying interest charges.

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.

You’re planning a big purchase

If you’ve got a big purchase planned, a new credit card can be useful for two reasons. You can get a promotional APR to avoid interest on your purchase, and you can earn rewards from a credit card sign-up bonus.

For example, some card issuers will offer sign-up or welcome bonuses in the form of cash back, a credit statement or a certain number of rewards points if you meet spending requirements on the card within a specified time period. 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 spending requirements for a sign-up bonus.

The most common time frame to meet those spending requirements is three months after opening your account. If you don’t normally spend $3,000 to $5,000 (common spending requirements) in such a short time, a large purchase could help you meet the requirements so you don’t miss out on your sign-up bonus.

If you don’t anticipate any single large purchase, you can plan your new credit card application around times 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 range of good to excellent (670-850), your chances of being approved for a new credit card are much better than if you had a poor or fair credit rating (350-669.) If you are confident about your credit score it could be a good time to apply for a new credit card.

As long as 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 not otherwise have been approved for and helping you 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 could help in terms of credit mix and establishing a history of on-time payments. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your FICO score, while your credit mix accounts for 10 percent. Both categories 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 can start their credit-building journey with a secured credit card or a “starter credit card.” These entry-level cards, when used properly, could help you qualify for better credit card offers down the road.

You’ve been preapproved

A prequalified credit card offer means you’ve met a card issuer’s initial criteria for a certain credit card before you actually apply. 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 without getting a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Applying for a prequalified offer triggers a “soft credit” inquiry and will not affect your credit score. By applying for these offers, 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.

When you shouldn’t apply for a new card

There are definitely times when you shouldn’t be applying for new credit cards. If you apply for a card at the wrong time, you risk being rejected, taking a hit on your credit score or getting turned down for other types of credit you’ll need later on. Here are some examples of times you should avoid applying for a new credit card.

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

Each credit card application involves a hard credit inquiry, which will lower your credit score. Too many recent inquiries can cause you to be denied new credit cards—especially if the inquiries 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.

If you already have multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, the good news is they’ll only stay on your report for 24 months—and they stop affecting your credit score after 12 months.

A good practice is to check your credit report for the number of hard inquiries before applying for new credit cards. Ideally, you’d time your new credit card application once excessive hard inquiries have dropped off.

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 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 with 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 it on. We’ve all got financial aspirations and personal goals that can benefit from the perks that the best credit cards offer. Assessing your specific needs will be the key to finding a card at the right time that works perfectly for you.

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Associate Editor
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