Key takeaways

  • An instant use credit card is one where you can use it right away for purchases and enjoy the benefits immediately, instead of waiting for a physical card to arrive in the mail.
  • Not all credit cards fall under the “instant use” category, but ones that do can be incredibly useful for the cardholder.

Opening a credit card means having access to a line of credit ,but  you  can’t always use it right away. Most credit card issuers make you wait until you receive the physical credit card in the mail — which can take up to 10 days. Yet a handful of credit card companies are making instant-use credit cards available as soon as you’re approved.

With instant use cards, you receive a 16-digit credit card number or virtual card on approval, allowing you to use it immediately. These digital cards offer fantastic convenience for those who need access to credit sooner versus later. Here’s how they work and where to look for them.

How do instant-use credit cards work?

An instant-use credit card is like a virtual credit card that allows you to apply, get approved and begin using your line of credit almost right away or within a day. You’ll still receive a physical credit card in the mail, which generally takes around 10 business days after approval.

Store credit cards are a common example of instant-use credit cards, where you can take advantage of the credit line almost right away without a physical card. Many airline cards also allow you to apply online and, if approved, use the card immediately to pay for travel.

Instant-use cards are like a digital version of your regular credit card. You receive either the actual card’s account number or a virtual card number once you’re approved. American Express is an example of an issuer offering instant credit card numbers to select applicants when you’re approved. You can then use your card to shop online and use your cardholder benefits without the wait.

You can add instant credit card numbers to a digital wallet like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, which allows you to pay with your mobile device in person, too.

Benefits of an instant-use credit card

Immediate access to a credit line instantly is a major benefit of instant-use cards, but there are a couple of other advantages you may benefit from too. For starters, many retailers offer discounts you can take advantage of right away, such as 30 percent off your entire purchase or additional savings on top of store coupons.

Accessing and accruing rewards right away is another major perk of an instant-use card. You can begin accumulating points or rewards as soon as you make your first purchase, which comes in handy when you have a large purchase — like airfare — or a lucrative rewards program you can leverage.

If you have a large purchase on the horizon but you don’t have enough cash at the moment, then an instant-use credit card can help you cover it as you save up to pay for it. This can be especially beneficial with bigger purchases, such as for a room full of furniture or a suite of new appliances.

Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t spend more than you’ve budgeted for or can comfortably pay off. After all, the best way to maximize any rewards or discounts is by paying off your card balance in full, before you accrue any interest.

Top credit cards you can use instantly

Picking the ideal instant-use card depends on your specific financial needs and budget. Here are our top picks.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Our pick for cash back

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a valuable card for everyday purchases on groceries, streaming, gas and transit. Members can earn a $250 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first six months. The card also includes a 12-month 0 percent introductory offer on both purchases and balance transfers.

Card details

  • 6 percent cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent) and select U.S. streaming subscriptions
  • 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select transit purchases
  • 1 percent on all other purchases

How to use your instant-use card

This instant-use card can make an ideal companion if you’re planning a last-minute road trip or stocking up on groceries. Or plan ahead and use the card for multiple purchases throughout the day while earning cash back in multiple popular categories.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Our pick for introductory offer

You maximize cash back with the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card by choosing from bonus spending categories, and you can change it up each month — all with no annual fee. The card comes with a $200 welcome offer after you spend 1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of membership. A 15-month 0 percent introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, plus instant-use availability, makes it a super choice for planned large purchases.

Card details

  • 3 percent cash back on a category of choice, including gas (plus electric vehicle charging stations), online shopping (plus cable, streaming, internet and phone services), dining, travel, drugstore or home improvement ($2,500 spending cap each quarter, then 1 percent)
  • 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs ($2,500 spending cap each quarter, then 1 percent)
  • 1 percent on all other purchases

How to use your instant-use card

If you know you have a large expense and it matches one of the higher-earning categories, such as a travel reservation or online purchase, then you can use this card to maximize rewards potential and use the introductory offer to stretch out payments, if needed.

Prime Visa: Our pick for online shopping

The Prime Visa card offers serious cash back potential for Amazon shoppers with no annual fee. It also makes an ideal travel companion since it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and it comes with travel protections and Visa Signature benefits including Luxury Hotel Collection perks and concierge services. Amazon Prime members may also qualify instantly for a $100 Amazon Gift Card on approval

Card details

  • 5 percent cash back on all Amazon, Whole Foods and Chase Travel purchases.
  • 2 percent cash back at restaurants, gas stations, local transit
  • 1 percent on all other purchases.

How to use your instant-use card

Use this card instantly for your larger purchases on Amazon to maximize your cash back earnings.

Which card issuers offer instant-use credit cards?

Some credit card issuers make it easy to use your credit card right away, while others either offer instant-use cards for specific cards or for none at all.

Issuer Cards offering instant use Additional notes
American Express All American Express cards Available for eligible customers only authenticated through security questions
Bank of America All Bank of America credit cards Instant card added as part of your mobile wallet and available only if you apply for through the mobile app
Barclays Several co-branded airline or travel cards, including the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®* and the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®* Confirm instant-use availability with each Barclay credit card
Capital One Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card* Card number must be added to your Walmart Pay for instant use
Chase Hotel, airline and Amazon co-branded cards Instant-use credit card number provided by Chase directly to the partner brand, such as Amazon or Southwest Airlines
Citi Some store cards or airline cards eligible, such as the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi* or the co-branded American Airlines cards Confirm instant-use availability with each Citi credit card
Discover Not available
Goldman Sachs Apple Card only
Wells Fargo Not available

The bottom line

Approval for a traditional credit card often means waiting for up to 10 days before you can receive and use a physical card. Yet many card issuers are offering a way around the wait with instant-use credit cards that allow you to use your account and take advantage of cardholder benefits right away. American Express and Bank of America are issuers offering instant use for all of its cards, while other issuers pick and choose the cards — and even applicants — eligible for this convenience.

*Issuer-required disclosure statement
Information about the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®*, Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®, Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and Apple Card has been collected independently by Bankrate. Card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.