Applying for a new credit card can be intimidating. That’s due in no small part to the fact that almost all credit card applications trigger a hard credit inquiry, which temporarily drops your credit score and stays on your credit report for two years. What’s worse, there’s no guarantee of approval, so you could end up hurting your score with no new card to show for it.
Luckily, prequalified credit card offers can help you take a lot of guesswork out of the application process, allowing you to get a sense of where you stand before you apply. Checking for prequalified offers should give you some peace of mind and help you narrow your list as you try to find the best credit card for you, but each issuer handles prequalification a bit differently.
Here we explore how prequalified offers work, how to improve your odds of getting a prequalified offer and how different issuers handle prequalification on their cards.
What is a prequalified offer?
Prequalified offers are how credit card issuers let you know that you’ve met their initial criteria for approval before you apply for a card. You can check for prequalified offers on many issuers’ websites, or you may receive prescreened credit card offers in the mail that have been put together by issuers in partnership with credit bureaus.
Since they only trigger a “soft” pull of your credit report and have no impact on your credit score, prequalified offers can help you get a sense of your approval odds without putting your credit score at risk. You’ll only face a “hard” pull if you submit a formal card application.
While it’s no guarantee of approval, getting a prequalified offer for a given card means you have very good odds of being approved should you apply.
How to boost your chances of scoring a prequalified credit card offer
Issuers typically consider factors like credit score and history, income and debt obligations when screening customers for prequalified offers, with many offering an array of products for different types of customers and stages of credit-building.
And while each issuer—indeed, each individual card—has its own approval requirements, there are a few basic steps you can take to improve your odds of getting a prequalified offer.
Pay on time
One of the first and most important steps you can take to improve your credit profile and your approval odds is to keep up with payments on your existing accounts. Payment history makes up a whopping 35 percent of your FICO credit score, so if you have any payments outstanding or have recently been late paying your credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans or other bills, be sure to pay on time, every time going forward.
While you can try out prequalification tools with no impact to your credit score, repairing credit damaged by late payments takes time, so you may want to hold off on actually applying for new cards while you work to establish a positive track record. You can’t easily undo the negative impact of previous late payments, but several months of on-time payments can go a long way toward improving your score and showcasing your creditworthiness.
Keep card balances low
Another key step is to pay down as much of your existing card balances as you can—and to pay them off completely if possible. That’s because credit utilization—the amount of money you’ve borrowed relative to your total available credit—is one of the biggest credit scoring factors, accounting for 30 percent of your FICO credit score.
Additionally, high credit utilization that’s negatively affecting your score can be resolved within just a few weeks, while the credit impact of missteps like late payments or bankruptcy can take years to fade.
While you should aim for as low a credit utilization ratio as possible, a good rule of thumb is to try for a ratio of 30 percent or less. In other words, if you have a total credit limit of $10,000, aim to keep your card balances below $3,000.
Check your credit report
If you aren’t getting a prequalified offer on the card of your dreams, it’s worth requesting a free copy of your credit report and reviewing it to get a better sense of where you stand. Not only will this allow you to see any negative items that may be holding you back and better focus your credit repair efforts, but you may also come across credit reporting errors that need to be disputed. Credit reporting errors are all too common, and you may even find you’ve been a victim of identity fraud.
Improve your credit with more accessible products
If your credit score is in rough shape or you have a limited credit history, many of the prequalified offers you’ll receive will carry harsh terms and high fees. These so-called “fee-harvester” cards often do more harm than good.
Instead of going with whatever issuer will have you, it’s wise to take your time to build or rebuild your credit with a safer option, like a no annual fee secured card or a credit-builder loan. These options are typically easy to qualify for, relatively low cost and, in the case of secured cards, sometimes offer you a chance to upgrade to an unsecured product after you’ve demonstrated responsible use.
Update your income
While income is not included in your credit report, it can still be a factor when it comes to getting prequalified card offers. Card applications almost always ask for your income when you apply, but you can also update your income with card issuers voluntarily once you become a customer. If your income has increased since you first became a customer of your current card issuer, updating it may get you more prequalified offers for higher-tier cards.
Prequalified credit card offers by issuer
Each issuer approaches prequalification in its own way, with some giving applicants an easy way to check for prequalified offers across cards and others only featuring this option on select cards or via prescreened offers they put together themselves.
Prequalification tools typically ask for basic information such as your name, Social Security number, income and employment status to determine your eligibility. Here’s a look at how some of the major issuers handle prequalification.
Chase offers prequalification on only a select few of its cards. You can check for a prequalified offer on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® using the issuer’s online tool, but you’ll have to hold out for a targeted offer on most other cards.
To use the Chase prequalification tool, you’ll need your first and last name, street address, city, state and zip code, as well as the last four digits of your Social Security number.
If you don’t find any prequalified offers from Chase it’s likely because your credit profile doesn’t match the requirements, you’ve recently applied for or received a Chase card or you’ve opened five or more card accounts in the last 24 months (a disqualifier per Chase’s “5/24” rule).
American Express also offers a prequalification tool on its website, with a robust list of card options eligible, including the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and The Platinum Card® from American Express. Not only will the Amex tool let you know whether you’re prequalified for a given card based on your credit profile, but you may also find you’re eligible for a personalized offer, such as a higher welcome bonus or lower APR.
To try out the tool, you’ll need your name, address, zip code, city and state, as well as the last four digits of your Social Security number. You can also provide your total annual income and non-taxable annual income; while it’s wise to include them to ensure Amex has the most accurate picture of your financial profile, both of these items are optional.
You can also find special “Just for You” offers on individual card landing pages, so if you prequalify for a card, it’s worth checking out that card in a private browsing window to ensure you’re applying for the highest possible offer. A number of Amex cards are also available for prequalification through Bankrate’s CardMatch tool.
Like Amex and Chase, Capital One offers a prequalification tool on its website that lets you see cards you may qualify for with no impact to your credit score.
Unfortunately, however, the Capital One prequalification tool currently only lets you check your eligibility for three of their cards—the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Platinum Credit Card and Secured Mastercard® from Capital One—all of which are geared toward credit-builders or those with a fair credit score.
If you have your eye on a higher-tier Capital One card, you’ll have to accept a hard inquiry and submit a formal application.
To use the Capital One prequalification tool, you’ll need a bit more information than is required by some other sites. Along with the basics like name, date of birth and address, this tool requires your email address, primary phone number, full Social Security number, employment status, total annual income, monthly rent or mortgage payment and which types of bank accounts you have.
Bank of America
Bank of America also offers a prequalification tool on its website, and if you already have a credit card or banking relationship with the issuer, you can get customized card offers by simply signing into your account.
Otherwise, you’ll need to provide your name, date of birth, address, city, state, zip code and the last four digits of your Social Security number. You’ll also be asked what you’re looking for in a credit card and, if you have a preference, can choose from cash rewards, travel rewards, points rewards, a lower interest rate and credit-building.
Once you submit your information, you’ll get a list of cards you’re prequalified for, with a top recommendation based on this your credit profile and preferred card type. Bank of America offers a wide range of cards for prequalification, including the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card and BankAmericard® credit card (secured and unsecured versions alike).
Wells Fargo is one of the few issuers that doesn’t offer prequalification with only a soft inquiry. If you’re in the market for a Wells Fargo card and want to protect your score, you’ll need to do your research about each card’s credit requirements and take your chances with a formal application or hold out for a targeted offer or card invitation via mail or email.
Discover also lets you check for prequalified offers on its website with no impact to your credit score. You’ll need to provide quite a bit of information, however, including your name, address, date of birth, highest level of education, total annual gross income, monthly housing payment, whether you rent or own, bank accounts owned and full Social Security number.
The form, like Bank of America’s, also lets you choose your preferred card benefit, whether that’s cash back, travel rewards or a balance transfer offer.
You typically have one week to claim any Discover prequalified offers you receive. If you aren’t prequalified for any of Discover’s cards, the issuer will give you a reason and allow you to check again in eight days.
Credit One Bank
Credit One Bank specializes in cards for people with poor credit, but some of its cards require a higher score. The issuer features a soft pull prequalification tool on its website and also lets you check for prequalified Credit One offers via Bankrate’s CardMatch tool.
If you try out Credit One’s tool, you’ll need to provide your name, address, email address, phone number, full Social Security number, date of birth and total monthly income (careful not to enter your annual income here).
After submitting your information, Credit One directs you to a page that gives you the option of getting a preapproval decision immediately or via mail.
Use CardMatch to compare your prequalified offers today
Along with keeping an eye out for prescreened card offers in the mail and checking issuer sites, you can take advantage of third-party prequalification tools like Bankrate’s CardMatch to search for cards that fit your goals and credit profile. The key advantage of CardMatch is that it allows you to streamline your search by reviewing prequalified offers across card types, credit tiers and issuers, all in one place.
You’ll just need basic information like your name, address, email address and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Once you create an account, you’ll see a list of matched offers from Bankrate issuer partners, which include American Express, Chase, Credit One Bank and more. You may also qualify for exclusive or limited-time special offers, such as an elevated welcome bonus on the Amex Platinum.
Whenever possible, try to prequalify for a new credit card before you apply. It costs nothing, has no impact on your credit score and is usually as easy as entering in a few bits of personal information and clicking Submit. Prequalification will not only give you a good sense of your chances before you apply, but may also allow you to score a better sign-up bonus or APR.
That said, just because you prequalify doesn’t mean you need to apply. Be selective with your new card applications, as too many hard inquiries and too many new accounts can hurt your credit score and keep you from qualifying for other cards in the future. And if the card you’re after doesn’t offer prequalification, be sure to read up on its credit requirements and check where you stand before you put your score at risk.