How to activate a credit card

1
Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock.com
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

Before you can use your new credit card or replacement card, you need to activate your credit card—a quick, easy step that helps to protect both you and the credit card issuer from credit card fraud.

Why is credit card activation so important? When a credit card issuer sends you a credit card through the mail, there’s no guarantee that the credit card will reach the right person. If you recently moved and didn’t update your address with your credit card issuer, your credit card could be sent to a previous address by mistake. Your credit card could also be stolen before it has the chance to reach you—a rare occurrence, to be sure, but not impossible.

This is why it’s important to activate your credit card as soon as you receive it. Completing the activation process verifies your identity and ensures the credit card has reached its rightful owner.

But how do you activate a credit card? Today, most credit card activation processes can be completed online or through a mobile app, although you can also activate your credit card by phone.

Here’s what you need to know about credit card activation—including what might happen if you don’t activate your new credit card.

Learn more: How long does it take to receive a credit card?

How to activate a credit card by phone or online

Most major credit card companies make it simple to activate a credit card by phone or online. Your new credit card may come with a welcome letter explaining the activation process, or there may be a sticker on your card with an activation phone number and website address. If the sticker is missing or there’s no letter—or if you still have questions about the activation process—you can always call the customer service number on the back of the card.

The credit card activation process includes two major steps:

  • Verifying your identity
  • Verifying the card details

In the first case, you may need to provide basic identifying information such as your name, your Social Security number and your date of birth. In the second case, you may need to provide basic credit card information such as your credit card number, the CVV (card verification value—the three- or four-digit code on your card) and the credit card PIN. Have your new credit card close at hand as you begin the verification process.

When you activate a credit card online, you can often streamline the process by logging into your credit card account first. This step helps to verify your identity and prove that the credit card has reached its rightful owner. Many credit card issuers offer activation websites that don’t require you to log into an account first, but some credit card issuers require you to set up an online banking account before you can activate your credit card.

In many cases, you can also activate your credit card by opening your credit card issuer’s mobile app. Some credit card mobile apps allow you to use your phone’s camera to verify and activate your card, saving you the trouble of entering your credit card information manually.

If you prefer to activate your credit card via phone, call the number on the activation sticker attached to your card—or, if the credit card issuer doesn’t provide a separate activation phone number, call the number on the back of your card. Then, be ready to provide basic information that will verify both your identity and the credit card you received—your Social Security number, the CVV, and so on.

If you have any concerns or issues with the activation process, you can always contact your credit card issuer’s customer service department. Most credit card issuers have multiple customer service options, including phone, email and Facebook message—all of which can help you get your questions answered and your credit card activated.

How to activate a credit card by issuer

Although nearly all credit card issuers allow you to activate credit cards over the phone or online, each major credit card issuer has a slightly different activation process.

Here’s what you need to know about how to activate a credit card by issuer.

How to activate a credit card with American Express

To activate a credit card with American Express, visit American Express Credit Card Set Up or call the number on the back of your credit card. You may also be able to activate your American Express card by logging into your online or mobile account.

If you have questions about the credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact American Express customer service at 1-800-528-4800.

How to activate a credit card with Bank of America

Before you can activate a credit card with Bank of America, you’ll need to create a Bank of America online account. From there, you can log into your online account and activate your Bank of America credit card.

If you have questions about the online account or Bank of America credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact Bank of America customer service at 1-800-732-9194.

How to activate a credit card with Capital One

Before you can activate a credit card with Capital One, you’ll need to create a Capital One online account. From there, you can log into your online account and activate your Capital One credit card.

If you have questions about the online account or Capital One credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact Capital One customer service at 1-800-227-4825.

How to activate a credit card with Chase

To activate a credit card with Chase, visit the secured website link provided on the sticker attached to your credit card. You can also call the number on the back of your card, and you may also be able to activate your Chase card by logging into your online or mobile account.

If you have questions about the credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact Chase customer service at 1-800-935-9935.

How to activate a credit card with Citi

To activate a credit card with Citi, visit Citibank Card Activation or call the number on the back of your card. You can also activate your Citi card by logging into your online or mobile account—and if you don’t have a Citi mobile account yet, you can activate your card when you download and set up the Citi mobile app.

If you have questions about the Citi credit card activation process or the Citi mobile app, call the number on the back of your card or contact Citi customer service at 1-800-950-5114.

How to activate a credit card with Discover

To activate a credit card with Discover, visit Discover’s New Card Activation or call the number on the back of your card. You can also activate your Discover card by logging into your online or mobile account.

If you have questions about the credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact Discover customer service at 1-800-347-2683.

How to activate a credit card with Wells Fargo

To activate a credit card with Wells Fargo, log into your Wells Fargo online or mobile account or call the number on the back of your card.

If you have questions about the credit card activation process, call the number on the back of your card or contact Wells Fargo customer service at 1-800-642-4720.

What happens when you don’t activate a credit card

Some people don’t activate their credit cards right away. They might misplace the envelope containing the credit card, decide they’re no longer interested in the credit account or tell themselves they can always activate their credit card tomorrow.

Don’t assume that if you never activate your credit card, the account will close on its own—it won’t. In fact, not activating your credit card may negatively affect your credit score and leave you open to credit card fraud.

How not activating a credit card affects your credit score

As soon as you’re approved for a credit card, your credit card issuer begins reporting information on your new line of credit to the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). The reports, which are sent every month or so, include your new credit limit, any new or transferred balances, as well as any payments made—or missed—on your new credit card.

This is why it’s important to activate your credit card right away. If you ignore your credit card activation or throw your card in a drawer, any fees related to that card will still take effect when due. Many people don’t realize that credit card annual fees, as well as fees associated with secured credit cards, will be charged to your account regardless of whether the card is activated or not. If you’re not paying attention, late fees and interest will start to accrue on your card while late payments and poor credit utilization will be reported to credit bureaus.

What to do if you don’t want to activate your credit card

If you wait too long to activate, some credit card companies may reach out to you. Your credit card issuer may even call you to remind you about the card—and if you want to close the account, you can do so over the phone at that time. You can also contact your credit card issuer directly to begin the process of closing the account on your own. Keep in mind that closing a credit card account may negatively affect your credit score by reducing your overall available credit and increasing your credit utilization ratio.

After you activate your card

After you activate your new credit card, you’ll want to start using your credit card responsibly. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your new line of credit:

  • Have a plan—or create a budget—that allows you to make purchases on your credit card without going into credit card debt. By only making purchases that you can afford to pay off in full, you’ll not only save money on interest charges but also improve your credit utilization ratio and your credit score.
  • Understand your credit card’s rewards structure. What kind of purchases earn the most cash back, points or miles? Knowing how to get the most out of your credit card rewards—whether you’re earning or redeeming them—can save you a lot of money over time.
  • If your credit card offers a sign-up bonus, make sure you take advantage of it. Earning your sign-up bonus is one of the best ways to collect valuable credit card rewards!
  • Use your credit card grace period to borrow money without paying interest. If you pay your statement balance in full before your grace period expires, your credit card issuer won’t charge interest on new purchases. Once you miss a payment or begin carrying a balance on your card, your grace period disappears and your card issuer will begin charging interest on both your current balance and new purchases.
  • If you do end up carrying a balance on your new credit card, you can still maintain good credit by making on-time payments every month and paying off your balance as quickly as possible. Avoid missing payments and maxing out your credit card, both of which can do serious damage to your credit score.

The bottom line

Activating a credit card is quick and easy—and once you know how to activate a credit card, you can complete the process in just a few minutes. By activating your new credit card as soon as you receive it, you can help to prevent credit card fraud and avoid unexpected damage to your credit score. Once you’ve activated your new card, use your credit card responsibly to maintain good credit, earn credit card rewards and avoid going into credit card debt.