How to activate a credit card

3 min read
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When you receive a new credit card or replacement card, it must be activated by the account holder in order to be used. This process is designed to verify your identity and ensure the card has reached its rightful owner, in turn protecting you from credit card fraud.

Anything can happen between the time the credit card company mails your card and the day it arrives in the mail (i.e., your card could be sent to a different address by mistake), making it important to activate your credit card as soon as you receive it.

What you need to activate a credit card

Most major credit card companies make it simple to activate a credit card by phone or online. Your new card may come with a welcome letter explaining how to activate it, 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, there should be a customer service number on the back of the card.

What information will I need?

The activation process is to verify your identity. Make sure you have the following information available before you start the activation process:

  • Welcome letter/packet that came with the card, if applicable
  • Credit card number
  • CVV (the three-digit number stamped on the back of your card)
  • Account number (if separate from the credit card number)
  • Credit card pin (usually comes in a separate letter from the credit card)
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Phone number, email, address and ZIP code used to open the account
  • Information from your credit report (this may be asked to further verify your identity)

How to activate a credit card by phone

Activating a credit card by phone is usually a simple process; you can find the number to call on the activation sticker placed on the front of your credit card.

When you call, there may be an automated messaging system that will ask you to input information either by voice or numeric keypad. The purpose of this is to verify your identity and make sure the correct card is in your possession. Here’s a breakdown of what to do next:

  1. Call the phone number on the activation sticker found on your card.
  2. Follow the recorded prompts to input your verification information.
  3. Once you’re told the card is activated, remove the sticker and sign the back of your card.
  4. If you have problems, the automated system should redirect you to a customer service representative. If not, contact the number located on the back of the card to get help from customer service.
  5. The activation should trigger an email verification, so be sure you get that email. If not, contact customer service.

If phone activation doesn’t work, online activation is your next option.

How to activate a credit card online

Online activation is easy, especially if you already have an existing credit card with the issuer.

  1. Go to the activation web address provided on your card’s activation sticker or in your welcome packet.
  2. Verify you are at the right address and enter the information it asks for.
  3. You should get a verification that your card has been activated and a prompt to register for an account/log in to an existing account.
  4. Your activation should also trigger an email verification, so be sure you get that email.
  5. Remove the activation sticker and sign your card.

Should you have problems activating your card, contact customer service using the number located on the back of the card.

What happens when you don’t activate a credit card

If you’re feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse when your credit card comes in the mail, don’t think that if you never activate it, the account will close on its own — it won’t. In fact, not activating your credit card can 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, an account is opened in your name and a report, along with your new credit limit, is sent to any one of the three credit reporting bureaus. If you throw your card in a drawer, any fees related to that card will still take effect when due.

For instance, fees associated with secured credit cards or annual fees will still be charged to your account regardless if the card is activated or not. If you’re not paying attention, late fees and interest will accrue on your card while late payments and poor credit utilization will be reported to credit bureaus.

What to do if you want to close the account

If you wait too long to activate, some credit card companies may reach out to you. A call from the credit card company may remind you about the card, and if you want to close the account, you can do so over the phone at that time. However, closing the card may negatively affect your credit score by reducing your overall available credit and increasing your credit utilization ratio.

The bottom line

While the steps to activate your credit card are quick and easy in most cases, doing so as soon as you get your card in the mail is of utmost importance and can prevent credit card fraud and damage to your credit score.

If you’re looking to add a new card to your arsenal, check out Bankrate’s list of the top cards for 2020.