Credit cards are useful financial tools. They give you access to greater spending power and valuable rewards. Even more important, credit cards can help you build a positive credit history.
Once you’ve decided to apply for a credit card, how long will it take to get one? This article will walk you through the process and timeline involved.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- Basic requirements for getting a credit card
- Additional requirements
- Steps in getting a credit card
- Oportun: Affordable lending options designed with you in mind
- To get a credit card, you must be approved by a lender. Every lender has different eligibility requirements.
- Asking for prequalification is a way to find out if you meet a lender’s basic requirements.
- If you apply for a credit card online, in person, or over the phone, you may find out right away whether you’ve been approved. If you apply by mail, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to get an answer.
- After you’re approved, it usually takes seven to 10 business days for your credit card to arrive in the mail. But you can likely start using your account even before you receive the card.
Basic requirements for getting a credit card
Credit cards aren’t given out to just anyone who asks—you must get approved for one first.
And there are many different types of credit cards on the market. Before you begin applying, you’ll want to decide what kind of card is best for you—personal, business, secured, or something else.
The basic requirements are the same with nearly all lenders. To qualify for a credit card, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have proof of income
- Have a physical address
- Have a Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification number (ITIN)
Many lenders also have requirements related to your credit score and debt-to-income ratio.
Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that gives businesses an idea of how likely you are to make payments on time. The higher your credit score, the better.
Some lenders will only issue credit cards to people with credit scores of 670 or higher. Other lenders may be more flexible in their requirements.
Want to know your credit score before you begin applying? Ask any of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—or your bank if they will let you view your credit score. You may have to pay a fee for this service.
Debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, is another factor that lenders consider when deciding whether to issue you a credit card. This number tells them how much debt you have compared to how much you earn each month. Many lenders will only approve you for a credit card if your DTI is 43 percent or less.
Steps in getting a credit card
Here’s the basic process you go through when getting a credit card.
- Prequalification (optional)
Before you submit a formal application for a credit card, you may want to see if you prequalify with a lender. This can help you narrow down your choices without harming your credit score.
Why? A formal credit application calls for a hard inquiry into your credit, which temporarily lowers your credit score. But prequalification is considered a soft inquiry, which does not affect your credit score.
Prequalifying for a credit card doesn’t guarantee you’ll be approved for one. But it does mean that you meet the lender’s most basic requirements. This can speed up the process when you do make an application to that lender.
Applying for a credit card generally takes only a few minutes. You will probably have to answer questions about your job, your income, your age, and where you live.
You can apply for a credit card online, over the phone, in person, or by mail. Applying by mail is the slowest method, taking anywhere from a few business days to a few weeks. Applying online often gets you an immediate response—you could find out if you’re approved within seconds of submitting your application.
Once a lender has received your application, they will check your credit. Some lenders have stricter eligibility requirements than others. If your credit score is low or your DTI is high, the lender may want to review your application in detail before deciding whether to issue you a credit card. This can make the approval process take a little longer.
By law, a lender must let you know if you’re approved or declined for a credit card within 30 days of receiving your application. If you’ve been declined, you can always apply again with another lender.
Did you get approved for the credit card you want? Congratulations! Now you can expect it to take from seven to 10 business days for your new card to arrive in the mail.
Look for a plain envelope: Lenders want to prevent theft, so they don’t indicate on the outside of the envelope that it contains a credit card. If a personal identification number (PIN) has been chosen for you, it will usually arrive in a separate envelope, also to prevent theft.
In a hurry to get your new card? You could request expedited shipping. Or you may be able to pick up a temporary credit card at your lender’s local branch.
Often you can begin using your account even before you receive the physical credit card. Log on to your lender’s website and look for your virtual credit card. This information allows you to make purchases after you’ve been approved, even if you don’t have the card in your hand yet.
There’s just one last thing you need to do after receiving your new credit card: Call the activation number listed in the letter that comes with your card and follow the instructions. Some lenders also allow you to activate your card online.
Now you’re all set.
Oportun: Affordable lending options designed with you in mind
Now that you understand how long it takes to get a credit card, you can learn about how Oportun may be able to help you if you’re looking for affordable credit options. Visit our homepage to learn about:
- Personal loans
- Credit cards
- Secured personal loans
- And more!
Experian. What is a good credit score?
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What is a debt-to-income ratio? Why is the 43% debt-to-income ratio important?
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What’s a credit inquiry?
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Comment for 1002.9 – Notifications
The information in this site, including any third-party content and opinions, is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal, tax, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Oportun product or service to your unique circumstances. Contact your independent financial advisor for advice on your personal situation.
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