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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. This can be frustrating, especially if you were hoping to get access to your new line of credit right away.

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.

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 takes only a few minutes to get approved for a credit card. In some cases, however, it takes a few days for a lender to evaluate and respond to your application.

Here are the credit card approval process steps that every application goes through:

  • You submit your application. 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.
  • The lender checks your credit. The issuer will conduct a ”hard pull” on your credit report to review your credit history and determine your creditworthiness.
  • You may be required to verify information. If there are any discrepancies between your application and credit report, the issuer may contact you to verify your income, monthly housing payment or any of the other information included on your application.
  • The issuer lets you know if your 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. It could take even longer if you mailed in an application.
  • If approved, you receive a credit card in the mail. If you’ve been approved for a new credit card, the bank or lender might issue you a virtual 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 seven to 10 business days). You can often request expedited shipping for a fee.

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. Most pending applications resolve fairly quickly, however, so patience may be all you need.

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.

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.

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:

  • Check your credit score before you apply. This 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.
  • Take time to improve your 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.
  • Find your ideal card matches. Utilize Bankrate’s CardMatch™ tool to find prequalified credit card offers unique to you without impacting your credit score.

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.

Understand the credit card approval process steps above so you know what to expect, and know that you can always contact the bank or credit card issuer to check on the status of your application.

To increase the odds that your application will be approved immediately, make sure the card is a good match for your credit situation, double-check your application for any errors and make sure your credit reports are unfrozen and ready for lenders to access.

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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