Do credit card pre-approvals hurt your credit score?

Receiving a prescreened offer and using a tool to check for pre-approval can be great ways to understand your credit card options. But you might be asking yourself: What’s the difference between terms like prescreen, pre-approve and prequalify? And will an offer affect my credit scores? 

Keep reading to learn how the terms are used, what the “pre” in pre-approval means, and how card issuers can check your eligibility without hurting your credit.

Key takeaways

  • You might receive a pre-approval offer from a credit card issuer if your financial profile matches basic cardholder eligibility requirements. Or you could check whether you’re pre-approved on your own, often through an online experience.

  • Credit card pre-approval doesn’t typically impact your credit scores because the process usually involves a soft inquiry.

  • Applying for a credit card typically requires a hard credit inquiry, which could cause credit scores to drop temporarily. 

  • Getting pre-approved doesn’t guarantee approval, but it can give you an idea of what cards you’re likely to be approved for.

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What is a credit card pre-approval?

If you’re thinking of applying for a new credit card, you may see an option to get pre-approved. Or you may have gotten an invitation in the mail to check offers.

If you’re trying to figure out what it all means, it’s important to remember a couple things:

  • Terms like pre-approve, prequalify and prescreen typically refer to a process that allows potential cardholders to check credit card offers, often without harming their credit scores. But there’s no legal standard. So different issuers might use different terms. Or terms could be used interchangeably.

  • Whether you checked yourself, were invited to check or received an offer, it usually means your credit reports have been reviewed and you match the basic requirements to be a cardholder.

What are prescreened credit card offers?

In general, prescreened offers are sent by mail, email or other electronic channels. If you receive a prescreened offer, it generally means that a credit card issuer has reviewed your credit history and determined you’re a good candidate for a credit card. 

Here’s how the process might look:

  1. Credit card issuers look at things like your payment history and credit scores. They generally ask a credit bureau like Experian®, TransUnion® or Equifax® for the names of people whose credit reports match their pre-approval criteria. 

  2. Credit card issuers might invite those qualified customers to check for pre-approval or apply for certain cards. These might come by mail or by email. Or if it’s a person’s existing credit card issuer, the offer could be through an online experience. 

Keep in mind that offers don’t guarantee that you’ll be approved for a new credit card. It simply means that the credit card issuer has determined you’re a good candidate based on the information in your credit report. If you’re pre-approved and want to follow through with the credit card offer, you’ll still need to apply.

Does checking for pre-approval hurt your credit?

No, because prescreened offers and pre-approval involve a soft inquiry. Also known as a soft pull or soft credit check, a soft inquiry doesn’t affect your credit scores. The soft inquiry is simply a way for lenders to determine whether you may qualify for their credit card offer.

While you might receive prescreened offers in the mail, there are also ways to check yourself. One option is Capital One’s pre-approval tool. It lets people check for credit card offers without impacting their credit scores. By using the tool, you can find out about Capital One credit cards you’re pre-approved for. It often takes less than a minute. You’ll just need to fill out some basic information to get started.

Does a prescreened or pre-approved offer require a hard inquiry?

Pre-approval doesn’t require a hard credit inquiry. But if you choose to apply for the credit card offer, it’ll trigger a hard inquiry. This occurs when a lender is considering extending a line of credit to you. Hard inquiries show up on your credit reports and could cause a slight dip in your credit scores. 

Although hard inquiries can remain on your credit report for two years, scoring agencies may only consider inquiries from the last 12 months. And applying for a credit card probably won’t cause a large drop in your credit scores. But experts advise against applying for many credit cards in a short time period. Doing so could result in multiple hard inquiries on your credit reports and could negatively affect your credit scores.

Does prequalification affect credit score?

Remember, the terms pre-approval and prequalification are often used interchangeably—sometimes by the same credit card issuer. But they both indicate that a credit card issuer has checked your credit to determine whether you might be a good fit for its card. And neither should affect your credit score.

Whether it’s pre-approval or prequalification, understanding the details of any offer is important before making any decisions about applying.

What are the benefits of credit card pre-approval?

Pre-approval offers can help you find the credit card that best meets your needs and one that may come with appealing benefits. Credit card companies often use pre-approval to market promotional offers. They might include perks like competitive interest rates, better annual fees and rewards

Here are some other potential benefits of pre-approval:

  • Take the guesswork out of your credit card search. With pre-approval, you can compare interest rates and rewards.

  • Explore your options before applying in order to minimize the impact on your credit scores. 

  • Potentially lock in better interest rates and rewards than those offered to the general public.

How can I increase my chances of getting pre-approved for a credit card?

Pre-approval offers may provide appealing introductory rates and rewards. And if you’re in the market for a new credit card, boosting your credit scores can help you attract better offers. 

Here are some ways that can help increase your credit scores and pre-approval odds over time:

  • Check your credit reports. If you find errors, dispute them with the credit bureau. You can get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also monitor your credit and get your free TransUnion credit report with CreditWise from Capital One. CreditWise is free and available to everyone—even if you don’t have a Capital One card. And using CreditWise won’t hurt your credit scores.

  • Stay under your credit limit. Experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of available credit you’re using across all your revolving credit accounts, below 30%. 

  • Use credit responsibly. You can do this with things like making on-time payments and not opening too many accounts at once.

Is there a way to opt out of pre-approved offers?

If you’d rather not receive pre-approval offers, you can either opt out for five years or permanently by going to optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688). If you want to stop getting pre-approval offers permanently, you can also fill out and send back a permanent opt-out form.

Credit card pre-approvals and your credit in a nutshell

Exploring your pre-approval options can help you make informed decisions about opening a new credit card. And being selective with credit card applications may minimize the number of hard inquiries that appear on your credit report—and decrease the impact on your credit scores.

You might consider Capital One pre-approval to browse your options without harming your credit. Once you fill out some basic information, you’ll have your pre-approval results in minutes. Check out this guide for getting pre-approved for a Capital One credit card to learn more.

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