What to do when you’re not immediately approved for a credit card

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Many people who apply for credit cards get approved or declined as soon as they complete the application — but not all credit card applications are immediately approved. What should you do when you apply for a credit card online, only to receive a message from the card issuer stating that your application is pending?

Knowing what to do when you’re not immediately approved for a credit card all comes down to understanding the credit card approval process and why certain applications take longer than others. A credit card issuer may need to verify your address, Social Security number or income before making a decision, for example, which means you’ll have to wait until the verification process is complete before you learn whether or not your application has been approved.

What are the credit card approval process steps? What should you do if your application is pending? And, while we’re on the subject, why do credit cards take so long to arrive?

Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about the credit card approval process.

How long does it take to get approved for a credit card?

In many cases, it only takes a few minutes to get approved for a credit card. However, in some cases, it takes a few days for a lender to evaluate and respond to your application — which can be frustrating, especially if you were hoping to get access to your new line of credit right away.

Here are the credit card approval process steps that every application goes through, whether you get approved immediately or need to wait a little bit longer:

Complete the credit card application

Before you can get approved for a credit card, you need to apply for the credit card. (Even if you’ve received a preapproved credit offer, you still need to complete the official application process.)

Knowing how to apply for a credit card will help your application go as quickly and smoothly as possible. Most credit card applications are fairly easy to fill out, and as long as you have your personal information — including your address, income and Social Security number — close at hand, you should be able to complete the application within a short period of time.

It’s also a good idea to know what to do before applying for a credit card. You might want to check your credit score to learn whether you have the recommended level of credit for the card you’re considering. You might also want to compare credit card rewards to ensure you’re getting the best rewards outcome for every purchase. Lastly, you might want to consider a card with an introductory 0 percent APR offer. The more you know about what type of credit card you want and whether you’re eligible for that card, the more likely you’ll be to find a good match.

Wait for the lender to conduct a credit inquiry

The next step in the credit card approval process involves a credit inquiry. The bank or lender will conduct a hard credit inquiry, or “hard pull,” on your credit report to review your credit history and determine your creditworthiness.

Complete any verification requests

If the credit card issuer notices any discrepancies between your application and credit report (such as a different address or Social Security number) it may contact you with a verification request. You may also be asked to verify your income, monthly housing payment or any of the other information included on your application.

Learn whether you’ve been approved

Once the lender has checked your credit history and confirmed the information included on your credit card application, you’ll learn whether or not your credit card application is approved. In many cases, this process takes just minutes to complete. Yet in some cases, it can take a few days to evaluate and verify your application. If you apply for a credit card through the mail instead of completing the application online, it could take even longer for your application to reach the credit card issuer and go through the approval process.

Receive your credit card in the mail

If you’ve been approved for a new credit card, the bank or lender might issue you a credit card number right away. These instant credit card numbers are useful for online purchases and digital wallets, but you’ll still want to keep an eye out for your physical credit card (which should arrive in the mail within 7 to 10 business days).

Why do credit cards take so long to arrive? The answer is that your new card has to be processed, packaged and shipped, all of which take time. If you need a physical credit card as quickly as possible, you can request expedited shipping—but be prepared to pay an extra fee.

Reasons your application’s status may be delayed

There are several common reasons why your credit card application status might be delayed. If your credit card application is pending, it could be due to one of the following issues:

Your credit reports might be frozen

Freezing your credit reports to protect yourself from identity fraud is a smart move. However, many people forget to thaw their credit reports before applying for a new credit card. If your credit reports are frozen, identity thieves won’t be able to take out new lines of credit under your name, but you also won’t be able to take out new lines of credit.

Your personal information may need to be verified

When banks conduct credit inquiries prior to issuing credit cards, they aren’t just looking at whether you pay your credit card bills on time. They’re also checking to see whether the personal information you included on your application matches the personal information on your credit card report. If you’ve moved recently, for example, your credit reports might not yet reflect your new address, and that might cause a delay in your credit card application status.

If a credit card issuer spots a discrepancy between your application and your credit file, they may contact you to verify your personal information.

Your income may need to be verified

In some cases, a credit card issuer may contact you to verify the income information you included on your credit card application. Occasionally, people try to inflate their income in order to appear more financially stable or score a higher credit limit, but lying on your credit card applications is a federal offense and people who deliberately misrepresent their income could end up facing criminal charges.

There may be mistakes on your application

Some people accidentally make a mistake while filling out their application forms. If you mistyped your address or phone number, for example, a credit issuer may notice that your personal information does not match the information on your credit report and contact you for additional verification.

You may have too many recent credit inquiries

If a bank pulls your credit report and sees that multiple lenders have recently conducted credit inquiries on you, the bank may hesitate before offering you a new line of credit. Applying for too much credit at once is a bad move as multiple credit inquiries can lower your credit score and lenders may wonder whether you are going to use that credit to take on debt that you can’t pay off.

In general, it’s a good idea to wait three to six months between credit card applications — especially if you don’t want to have to wait for lenders to decide whether you’re a credit risk.

The credit issuer may be experiencing an overflow of applications

Sometimes credit issuers receive more credit card applications than they can process. This is particularly common after banks release a new credit card or increase a credit card’s sign up bonus. If you’re trying to apply for the latest and greatest credit card at the same time as everyone else, you might have to wait for the credit card issuer to get through all of the outstanding applications.

What to do if your application is pending

If your credit card application is pending, don’t worry. The credit card issuer is likely to contact you within a few days to either update you on the status of your application or request additional information.

If you don’t get an update on your application within a week, you can always contact the bank or issuer associated with the credit card. However, most pending applications resolve fairly quickly, so patience may be all you need.

Improve your chances of future credit card approval

There are a few things to know before getting a credit card that will increase your chances of being approved:

  • Checking your credit score before you apply will help you decide which credit card offers are best for you. Bankrate has guides to credit cards for people with poor credit, fair credit, good credit and excellent credit.
  • If your credit score isn’t where it should be, there are tips to help you improve your credit score quickly, which can improve your chances of future credit card approval.
  • Credit card preapproval offers can be a great way to access a new line of credit as you are more likely to be approved if you’ve been preapproved
  • Some people wonder why they aren’t receiving credit card offers. Remember that you don’t have to wait for credit card offers to come to you; many lenders allow you to input your information online in order to learn which credit cards you pre-qualify for.

The bottom line

Nobody likes getting an “application pending” notice after submitting a credit card application online, but in most cases, you’ll learn the results of your application within a few days.

Understanding the credit card approval process steps will help you deal with the waiting process, and you can always contact the bank or credit card issuer if you don’t hear back within a week.

To increase the odds that your application will be approved immediately, learn what to do before applying for a credit card. Check your credit score to confirm that you’re a good match for the card, double-check your application for any errors and make sure your credit reports are unfrozen and ready for lenders to access. If all goes well, you’ll get your approval status as soon as you complete your credit card application.