If you have bad credit or a limited credit history and are having trouble qualifying for a credit card, “instant approval” credit cards may hold special appeal. Instead of waiting days for an approval decision only to be turned down, you can pick the card you want, apply online and find out within seconds whether your application was approved or declined.
While many cards give you a chance to be approved instantly, the cards that list this feature front and center are typically geared toward people with a less-than-ideal credit score. But like many so-called “guaranteed approval,” “no-credit-check” or “soft pull” credit cards, cards marketed as offering approval in seconds may not be your best option long term.
That said, a few cards both offer instant approval and hold their own as credit-building or rewards cards. Read on to learn more about how instant approval works, which cards offer it and how it differs from preapproval and an instant use card number, as well as some of your best instant approval card options.
What is instant approval and which cards offer it?
Instant approval allows you to find out whether your application for a new credit card has been approved or denied within seconds (or, at most, a few minutes).
Most major card issuers give you a chance to be instantly approved for some of their credit cards. However, the cards that make instant approval the norm for applicants are typically credit-building cards, which are designed for people with a damaged or limited credit history. Such cards offer a low entry barrier, making approval more likely for most cardholders.
To start, you’ll fill out an online application form with basic information including your name, address, annual income and Social Security number. The card issuer will then run a preliminary credit check and, if you meet the basic requirements, approve your application on the spot. This is typically only a conditional approval, however — the issuer may examine your credit history more thoroughly before making a final approval decision.
While instant approval can save you some time and take some of the guesswork out of the application process, standard approval decisions generally don’t take too long (usually a few days or a couple of weeks at most). Indeed, according to federal guidelines, an issuer is required to let you know whether your application has been approved or denied within 30 days.
What credit score do you need to get instant approval?
No specific credit score threshold guarantees instant approval. As is true with all credit card applications, your odds of instant approval will vary considerably depending on the card you’re applying for and your credit profile; the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved instantly.
For example, if you have a good — but not excellent — credit score, it’s unlikely that you’ll be instantly approved for a luxury travel credit card. But, you may still be approved in the end. If, on the other hand, you applied for a card that required only an average credit score, you’d have a much better chance of getting an instant approval.
Instant approval vs. preapproval
While there is some overlap between instant approval and preapproval, it’s important to distinguish between the two.
With instant approval, your application is approved and you’re able to open a new credit card account in seconds, whereas with preapproval, an issuer performs a soft pull of your credit report and lets you know whether or not you meet the basic requirements for getting the card.
Getting preapproved gives you a good sense of your odds of approval, but it doesn’t guarantee approval. You’ll still have to put in a formal application and face a hard pull of your credit report.
You can typically prequalify for a new card via an issuer’s website or a tool like CardMatch in less than 60 seconds, but even if you’re instantly preapproved and apply straight away, an actual approval decision may take longer.
Instant approval vs. instant use
Similarly, you may be instantly approved for a new credit card, but that doesn’t mean you can you use it right away.
While some cards offer both instant approval and a card number you can use immediately, the inclusion of one feature does not guarantee the other. This means that even if you complete a card application and see that you’re approved a few seconds later, you may still have to wait a couple of weeks for your physical card to arrive in the mail.
If you’re looking for a card that gives you access to your account information as soon as you’re approved, search for an “instant use” credit card instead of an instant approval credit card. Approval decision times vary on instant use cards, but once you’re approved, you’ll be able to see your credit card number online or via an issuer’s mobile app and can start using it to make purchases immediately.
A number of major issuers — including American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Goldman Sachs and Synchrony Bank — offer instant use on some of their cards.
Best instant approval credit cards
While instant approval is possible on a number of popular credit cards, including some of the top rewards cards on the market, the majority of cards that market themselves as “instant approval cards” are designed for cardholders with a damaged or limited credit history. These typically include secured credit cards and some store credit cards.
Because of their target market, many instant approval cards are hard to recommend due to their numerous fees, high APRs or bare-bones (or nonexistent) rewards programs. Still, a handful of cards marketed as offering instant approval may be useful if you want to get a quick approval decision and start building credit or earning rewards.
|Card||Minimum credit required||Credit limit||Annual fee||Best for|
|OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card||Bad credit||$200-$3,000 (based on security deposit)||$35||Credit-builders who want to avoid a credit check|
|Self Visa Credit Card||No credit history||Varies based on how much you’ve saved in your Self Credit Builder Account (minimum $100)||None (Self account carries a one-time nonrefundable administrative fee of $9)||Credit-builders who want to build their security deposit gradually, instead of coming up with hundreds of dollars upfront|
|Amazon Prime Store Card||Fair credit||Varies||None||Users who want to earn rewards on online shopping (the card offers Amazon Prime members 5% back in rewards on Amazon.com purchases)|
|UNITY Visa® Secured Credit Card||Bad credit||$250-$10,000 (based on security deposit)||$39||Credit-builders who want a high credit limit to keep their credit utilization in check.|
Instant approval is a nice perk and may ease the frustration of applying for cards and waiting for days only to have your application denied.
Nevertheless, a quick approval decision shouldn’t be your top priority when you’re looking for the best credit card for you. Instead of focusing on how long an approval decision takes, work on finding and applying for the cards that best fit your goals and credit profile.