How to Apply for a Credit Card

Learn what to do before applying, the steps to apply, when to apply and more

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

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

What to Do Before Applying for a Credit Card

Sure, you could probably go online and apply for a credit card right now. But you might find a card that’s better for you if you take some time and follow these steps:

1. Check Your Credit Reports and Scores 

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

If you know your credit score, it could help you figure out which cards you have a better chance of being approved for. And even if your credit score is a work in progress, there are still cards for less-than-perfect credit.

Keep in mind that you have different scores. That’s because there are many credit-scoring models—mathematical formulas used to calculate credit scores—and each formula is a little different. Formulas can use information from just one credit report or a combination of different credit reports.

Want to see what’s in your credit reports? You can get free credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—by visiting There may be a limit on how often you can obtain your report. Check the site for details.

You can also monitor your credit health with tools like CreditWise from Capital One, even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder. With the CreditWise app, you can access your free TransUnion credit report and weekly VantageScore® 3.0 credit score anytime—without hurting your score. And with the CreditWise Simulator, you can explore the potential impact of your financial decisions before you even make them. 

2. Figure Out What Type of Credit Card You Need

Before you pick a particular card, it can be helpful to understand the different types of credit cards available. For example, Capital One’s offerings include:

When considering what type of card to apply for, you can ask yourself how they match up to your needs, your credit score or the kind of rewards you want to earn. It’s also important to know the fees, interest rates and other charges associated with each type of card. 

The next step is choosing a specific card. Capital One has a useful credit card comparison tool that helps you search by credit requirements, rewards type and other factors.

3. Find Out If You’re Pre-Approved

Checking to see if you’re pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card can be a great way to compare options and find the right fit before applying. 

When you see “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” on a credit card offer, it typically means your credit score and other financial information matched at least some of the initial eligibility criteria needed to become a cardholder. So when you get one of these offers, it likely means the information pulled by the credit card company indicated you’d be a good potential customer.

Some issuers even have online tools that show you which cards you might qualify for before you apply. Pre-approval at Capital One is quick and only requires some basic info. And it won’t hurt your credit score.

Another perk of pre-qualification and pre-approval? They can help you apply more confidently for credit—and may limit the impact of multiple applications on your credit score.

What Are the Requirements to Apply for a Credit Card?

Get ready—things are about to get personal. Here’s an idea of the kind of information your lender might need from you when you’re applying for a credit card:

Age Requirements

You typically have to be at least 18 years old to open a credit card in your own name. 

If you’re under 21, you’ll also have to prove that you can independently make the minimum payments on the account. If you can’t, you may need an older co-signer. This person would need to show they’re able to make payments if you’re not. But keep in mind that not all card issuers allow co-signers.

Information Needed

While some credit card issuers might require documentation to prove your income and that you have a U.S. address, others might not. 

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. 

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. But as an example, the personal information Capital One requires includes your full name, date of birth, SSN, physical address (not a P.O. box) and estimated gross annual income. 

Do You Have to Apply for a Credit Card Online?

You don’t have to apply for a credit card online, but it can be the easiest and quickest option. You could get an instant answer to your application. And if you’re approved, some lenders give you a virtual card number you can start using straight away.

You can also apply for a credit card in person, over the phone or by mail. But you might have to wait longer—for opening hours or for the lender to mail you back, for example. 

When Should You Apply for a Credit Card?

Now that you know a little more about how to apply for a credit card, you might be wondering if it’s the right time. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. You might apply for a credit card when you’re about to make a big purchase. Or maybe you’re a first-time card user looking to build your credit from scratch.

The right time to apply for a credit card is different for everyone. Just like all financial decisions, it depends on your own individual circumstances—like your financial readiness, income, existing debt and more. 

What If Your Credit Card Application Is Denied?

If your credit card application is denied, don’t be discouraged. You can still get approved for a card in the future. Here are a few steps you can take to help improve your chances of a successful application next time: 

  • Find out why. Knowing why your application was denied this time might help you work on strengthening your next application. Capital One applicants can find a secure letter online explaining the details or ask for a paper copy by calling 1-800-903-9177.
  • Check your credit reports. You might be able to see how previous actions have affected your credit score.
  • Keep working on your credit history. A stronger credit history can give you a better chance of being approved when you apply next time. Check out these tips to improve your credit.

What If Your Credit Card Application Is Approved?

Congratulations on your new line of credit. If you use it responsibly, a credit card can help you meet your spending needs, give you more flexibility and help you build strong credit for the future.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

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

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it can be one accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

The CreditWise Simulator provides an estimate of your score change and does not guarantee how your score may change.

Find Out if You’re Pre-Approved

Check for pre-approval offers before you apply for a credit card—with no risk to your credit score.

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