How to Apply for a Credit Card

Learn what to do before applying for a credit card, when to apply and more


You’ve been thinking it might be time to apply for a credit card. But where do you even start? What are the requirements to get a credit card? And when’s the right time to apply? It’s enough to make your head spin.

So let’s get down to basics. Here are a few things to know about how to apply for a credit card and what you might consider before applying.

What to Do Before Applying for a Credit Card

1. Check Your Credit Score

You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—every 12 months. 

But keep in mind that each agency uses a different credit scoring model to determine your score. That means you might get three different scores from each of the agencies. A 20-point difference in your credit scores isn’t unusual, and larger gaps are possible, too. 

You can also monitor your credit with tools like CreditWise® from Capital One®. With CreditWise, you can discover key factors that impact your VantageScore® 3.0 credit score, provided by TransUnion.*

It’s free and available to everyone—not just Capital One customers—and your CreditWise score is a good measure of your credit health. And with CreditWise, you can check your score as often as you like. 

Why does your credit score matter when you’re applying for a credit card? Creditors will likely use your credit score—along with other factors—to decide whether to approve or decline your application.

Knowing your credit score can help you figure out which cards you should apply for. And even if your credit score is a work in progress, there are still cards for less-than-perfect credit.

2. Find Out if You’re Pre-Qualified 

Some credit card issuers—like Capital One—let you check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any credit cards. This can trigger a soft inquiry. But don’t worry—soft inquiries won’t hurt your credit score.

So you check if you’re pre-qualified for a card and find out you are. But what does that mean? Generally, the credit card issuer worked with a credit bureau to look at your basic credit information and decided you might be a good potential customer.

Pre-qualification can help you find a card to apply for. But it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be approved. Once you apply, the credit card issuer will likely do a more comprehensive credit check before deciding whether to approve or decline the application.

3. Prepare for Either Outcome 

You found a credit card, filled out your application and now all you can do is wait for the answer. 

If you’re approved—congratulations! You have a new line of credit that can give you more flexibility and help you meet your spending needs. 

If you’re declined—don’t get discouraged. It doesn’t mean you won’t get approved for a card in the future. Plus, you have the right to know why the application was declined. And that can give you some valuable information about how you might improve your chances next time around.

What Are the Requirements to Apply for a Credit Card?

You typically have to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card in your own name. And if you’re under 21 and applying for a credit card, you have to prove that you can independently make the minimum payments on the account. Or, if you can’t, someone with the ability to make payments will need to co-sign for you.

Those age requirements are the same across all credit card issuers, but other requirements to get a credit card can vary from one issuer to the next. Some credit card companies require a Social Security number (SSN) as proof of identity. Other companies might accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead. 

What about actual documents required to apply for a credit card? Same answer here: It varies from issuer to issuer. While some credit card issuers might require documentation to prove your income and that you have a U.S. address, others might not. 

If you want to know more before you apply, you can call the issuer or search its website for more information on its specific requirements. For example, Capital One requires personal information, including your full name, SSN, physical address (not a P.O. box), estimated gross annual income and more. 

When Should I Apply for a Credit Card?

Now you know a little more about how to apply for a credit card. The next question that comes to mind might be, when should I apply for a credit card? You could be ready to apply for a credit card today, but is it the right time? 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here. You might apply for a credit card when you’re about to make a big purchase. Or maybe you’re planning a vacation and want some more spending flexibility.

The right time to apply for a credit card is different for everyone. Just like most financial decisions, it depends on your spending needs, credit history, income, existing debt and more. And remember, credit card applications trigger hard inquiries, which can negatively affect your credit score and stay on your credit report for up to two years.

Ready to Apply for a Credit Card?

Once you learn more about your own credit history and the requirements to get a credit card, you can figure out if it’s the right time to apply—it may be time to choose a card. 

There are so many different types of cards out there. Hopefully, with all the information you gained, you’ll find one that works for you.


*The CreditWise® score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many score models used by lenders. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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