What is the shopping cart trick and does it still work in 2020?

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If you are at all familiar with retail credit cards, you might have heard of the shopping cart trick. This trick, which involves filling an online shopping cart with items in order to trigger a credit card preapproval invitation, suggests that you can get approved for a credit card without a hard credit inquiry. Since hard credit pulls generally lower your credit score by a few points, some people do everything they can to avoid hard credit inquiries—and this includes using the shopping cart trick to apply for credit cards.

Does the shopping cart trick work in 2020? We don’t think so. Although some people still report using the shopping cart trick to get approved for credit cards without a hard credit check, others report no such luck. That said, if it works for you the shopping cart trick might be a good way to get pre-approvals for store cards.

The shopping cart trick: What is it?

The shopping cart trick is a strategy to get approved for a store credit card without a hard credit inquiry. Since hard credit inquiries often lower your credit score by a few points, some people try to avoid hard credit pulls whenever possible. However, it’s hard to get a new line of credit without a lender conducting a hard credit inquiry as part of the approval process—which is why the shopping cart trick started making the rounds.

In theory, the shopping cart trick works like this: When you visit an online retailer and fill your shopping cart with potential purchases, you might trigger a pop-up ad inviting you to get preapproved for a store credit card. The preapproval process requires a soft credit inquiry, which does not affect your credit score—and in some cases, people have reported being both preapproved and accepted for a new store credit card with only a soft credit inquiry.

While the shopping cart trick sounds like a good way to avoid the minor credit score drop that comes with a standard credit card application, there is no proof that the shopping cart trick actually works. Even though some people claim that they were able to use the shopping cart trick to get a store credit card with only a soft credit inquiry, other people report that the trick didn’t work for them at all.

Who should try the shopping cart trick?

If you would like to try getting a store credit card without a hard credit pull, you can try the shopping cart trick. However, you should be prepared for the lender to perform a hard credit pull as part of the application process. If losing a few credit score points to a hard credit inquiry would take your credit from good to fair (or from fair to poor), you might want to avoid trying the shopping cart trick.

Benefits of using the shopping cart trick

If the shopping cart trick works, you’ll be approved for a store credit card without a hard inquiry into your credit. Even if the shopping cart trick doesn’t work exactly as advertised, filling your shopping cart with items, triggering a preapproval ad and going through the preapproval process is still a good way to determine whether you are eligible for a store credit card. In fact, doing the shopping cart trick and going through the preapproval process might save you from applying for a retail credit card and getting declined.

How to do the shopping cart trick

How do you do the shopping cart trick? If you want to try the credit card shopping cart trick—keeping in mind that it might not work for you—here’s what you need to do:

  1. Visit the website of a retailer that offers a store credit card.
  2. Fill your online shopping cart with items. (You can ultimately purchase these items if you want, but you don’t have to.)
  3. As you start the checkout process, look for a pop-up inviting you to become preapproved for the retailer’s credit card. (If you have pop-up blockers installed, you’ll need to disable them first.)
  4. Go through the preapproval process.
  5. If you are preapproved, immediately apply for the credit card.
  6. If the shopping cart trick works, your application will be accepted without a hard credit inquiry.

The credit card shopping cart trick is not reliable, so don’t try it if you can’t afford to lose a few credit score points to a hard credit inquiry. Assume the shopping cart trick won’t work, and you might be pleasantly surprised if you find out that it does.

Where can you use the shopping cart trick?

What stores do the shopping cart trick? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive list of stores that allow the shopping cart trick—so you’ll have to try your favorite retailers on your own and see what happens.

If you try the shopping cart trick at Walmart, for example, Walmart might give you the option to apply for the Capital One® Walmart Rewards™ Card, which is one of Bankrate’s favorite credit cards for online shopping. However, the fine print states that credit approval is required—which means that Walmart is probably going to do a hard pull on your credit when you apply for the card.

Popular preapproved store cards and how to get them

Even though the shopping cart trick might not work, it’s still a good way to learn whether you can pre-qualify for store credit cards. Some of the most popular retail credit cards are offered through Comenity Bank—so if you like shopping at Victoria’s Secret, Big Lots, Ann Taylor or any of the other 140+ retailers included in the list of Comenity Bank issued credit cards, you might be able to use the shopping cart trick to get a preapproval invite for one of these popular store credit cards.

If the shopping cart trick doesn’t yield a prequalification offer, and removing pop-up blockers and ad blockers doesn’t help, you might have picked a retailer that is not handing out as many preapproval invitations as usual. (Credit card issuers sometimes pull back on offers during economic downturns, for example.)

There’s one more trick to getting preapproved for popular store credit cards: Visit the retailer in person and put at least one item in your actual shopping cart. When you go through the checkout process, the cashier may ask if you’d like to see if you’re preapproved for a store credit card—and if they don’t, you can always ask them yourself.

On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a cash back or rewards credit card, CardMatch™ can be a perfect place for your search. Easy to navigate and designed to provide personalized offers, CardMatch can give you access to prequalified credit card offers, cards for your credit profile and even elevated intro bonuses.

The best part is, checking offers on CardMatch won’t knock any points off your credit score. Using the tool only triggers a soft inquiry that allows it to provide you with a list of personalized card offers and gives you a better idea of which cards you can be approved for. On top of that, you might even get a targeted sign-up bonus offer for a higher amount of cash back or points.

Bottom line

The credit card shopping cart trick might not be a good way to get a store credit card without a hard pull on your credit. Although some people report that the shopping cart trick works for them, other people do not have the same success—even when completing the same process at the same retailer. However, the shopping cart trick can be a good way to see if you pre-qualify for store credit cards. It might even save you from applying for a retail credit card and getting declined.