1. Check Your Credit Score
As you probably already know, your credit score is a creditor’s first line of defense in determining your creditworthiness. This means a lot of weight will be put on your credit score when you apply for a credit card. So knowing which credit score range you fall in will help you identify the right cards to apply for and what you qualify for. For example, if a credit card company designates cards for people with excellent credit, such as those with an 800+ credit score, and you fall in the fair credit range, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of that specific card.
Credit scores are based on your payment history, credit usage, credit age, and how often you apply for new credit. You can check your credit score through a credit card issuer or by ordering it from one of the 3 main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.
2. Consider What Your Needs Are
After checking your credit score and gaining a better understanding of the type of card you might qualify for, you can now start thinking about what your needs are when it comes to a credit card. For instance, if you’re an applicant with no previous credit card history or credit score, you’ll want to look for a credit card that doesn’t require credit history, such as a secured credit card. Secured credit cards are commonly used to build credit and only require a cash deposit to open.
In addition to a secured credit card, consider a retail credit card if you are new to credit. Some other needs to consider include rewards, such as cashback or travel rewards. There are lots of different types of credit cards out there, so do your homework to figure out which ones cater the best to your needs.
3. Understand the Terms and Conditions on the Card
Once you’ve decided on the type of credit card you’re interested in applying for, do some research to familiarize yourself with common credit card terms and conditions before you apply. Knowing what these terms and conditions actually mean will make you a more savvy applicant.
Here are just some of the terms you’ll see:
- Annual fee — A yearly fee charged by the card issuer. Some cards don’t carry annual fees at all, or they’ll waive them for the first year. The ones that do have annual fees usually offer great rewards, like travel perks.
- Annual percentage rate (APR) — The interest that will be applied to your credit account during a billing cycle. You’ll generally pay this interest if you carry a balance or pay a bill late. There are different types of APRs, such as for balance transfers or cash advances.
- Transaction fee — The amount charged in addition to the APRs associated with your account for each type of transaction that you make. For example, a foreign transaction fee is charged when a cardholder uses their card in another country.
- Balance transfer — When you move debt from one account to another account. Some credit card issuers will charge you a fee to transfer a balance onto your card.
- Late fee — A fee a cardholder must pay if they go over their credit limit or make a late payment.
- Cash advance — A loan you take out against your credit card limit. Many credit card issuers charge a cash advance fee per transaction.
- Minimum interest charge — The minimum amount you’ll be charged each month if you carry a balance on your card from one billing period to the next.
Aim for a card with low or no annual fees and a low interest rate. If you plan to pay your bill in full every month, focus on comparing the cards’ rewards and fees.
4. Check for Preapproval
Some credit card issuers allow you to see if you’re “preapproved” or “prequalified” for their credit cards. To do this, you will need to fill out a form and submit your personal information via the card issuer’s website. Once you’ve submitted the form, a soft inquiry will be made on your credit report. A soft inquiry will not affect your credit score.
If you receive a preapproval notice, it means you’ve met all the lender’s criteria thus far. A preapproval means you are likely to get approved, but approval is not guaranteed. You’ll still need to apply for the card to be fully approved.
5. Decide How to Apply
Now that you’re ready to apply for your credit card, you’ll need to choose how you want to do it. You have a couple of options.
Applying online will probably be the quickest and most convenient way to apply — you may even get approved instantly. If you prefer a face-to-face experience, you can also apply in person. Applying in person will allow you to receive a quick response on approval, and you can ask questions in real time. You may also apply over the phone, but keep in mind that you might be put on hold for a while. The last and least convenient option is applying through the mail. If you opt for this method, consider that it could take weeks to receive a response.
How to Apply for a Credit Card: A Step-by-Step Guide is written by Katana Dumont for www.chime.com