While submitting a single credit card application won’t hurt your credit score beyond a handful of points, applying for too much credit at once will result in multiple hard inquiries on your credit report. This can make your score drop quite a bit, so it’s important to space out credit card applications to avoid damaging your credit.
Does applying for a credit card hurt your credit?
Submitting a credit card application can cause your credit score to take a small, temporary hit. However, if you apply for several cards in a short period of time, you’re likely to see a considerable dip in your score.
This is because credit card companies pull your credit file every time you submit an application — something called a hard inquiry. Before approving you for a new credit card, they want to know if you have a history of using credit responsibly, as this will indicate whether you’re likely to be responsible going forward.
Generally, one or even two hard inquiries on your credit report won’t do much damage, and any drop in your score will correct itself within a few months. However, having too many hard inquiries on your credit report can cause your score to drop more significantly and stay that way for a longer period of time.
How does applying for a credit card hurt your credit?
To understand why applying for a credit card hurts your credit, it’s important to know the difference between a hard and soft inquiry on your credit report.
- A soft inquiry happens when a potential lender or creditor reviews your credit for purposes of preapproving you for a credit offer, when an employer checks your credit before offering you a job, or when you look at your own credit file to check for mistakes or inaccuracies. Soft inquiries don’t hurt your credit score.
- A hard inquiry involves potential creditors or lenders reviewing your credit because you have applied for a loan or credit card. Hard inquiries affect your score.
When you apply for a credit card, you are asking the lender to evaluate your credit file and determine what kind of risk you pose as a borrower. If you do this too often and rack up too many hard inquiries, future lenders may view it as a sign that you’re strapped for cash or otherwise unable to handle your current financial obligations.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid applying for credit cards altogether. However, it’s important to be strategic about how often you submit new applications.
In addition, there are circumstances where it’s okay to apply for new credit with several different lenders. For example, if you’re buying a home, applying for student loans, or shopping around for a car loan, the majority of credit scoring models lump all those hard inquiries together so they count as one inquiry on your credit report.
The public policy reason for this practice is that it gives consumers the freedom to shop around for the best rates without worrying about littering their credit reports with hard inquiries that tank their scores.
Don’t do these 6 things before applying for a credit card
To avoid damaging your credit score, there are several things you should avoid doing before you apply for a credit card. Here are six credit card application pitfalls to steer clear of.
1. Don’t apply for too many cards at once
There are no hard and fast rules for how long you should wait between credit card applications, but a good rule of thumb is to space your applications at least six months apart.
Applying for too much new credit at once can make hard inquiries accumulate on your credit report, and this can hurt your score. By spacing your applications apart, you give old hard inquiries a chance to drop off your report before you add any new ones.
2. Don’t skip checking your credit report
Before you take on new credit, it makes sense to check your current credit status. You can be certain credit card companies will look at your credit file, so it’s important to know what kind of shape you’re in before you apply.
You can check your credit report for free by ordering your report from the three major credit bureaus. Federal law entitles you to one free report from all three bureaus every 12 months.
You can get your reports online by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only site authorized by the federal government to offer free credit reports under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Once you have your credit reports, review them carefully. If you spot any errors or inaccuracies, file a dispute with the credit bureaus.
3. Don’t take on a bunch of debt
Avoid taking on new credit before you apply for a new credit card. For example, if you plan on getting a new card, don’t do it right after you take out a mortgage or get a car loan.
Taking on too much debt can hurt your credit utilization rate, which is the ratio of how much credit you have versus how much you’re using. Generally, you should keep your credit utilization rate below 30 percent.
Your credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your credit score, so it’s a big factor in determining your score. If you combine a bunch of new debt with hard inquiries on your credit report because you’ve applied for new credit cards, you could do serious damage to your credit score.
4. Don’t pay your bills late
Your payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score, making it the most important factor for calculating your score. Paying your bills late will lower your score, reducing your chances of getting approved for a credit card.
People often underestimate just how much damage late payments can do. Even a single 90-day late item on your credit report can drop your score between 50 and 100 points, so it’s critical to make sure you pay your bills on time every month.
5. Don’t close old credit cards
It may seem smart to close out any old or unused credit cards before you open a new one, but this can actually hurt your credit score. This is because credit scoring models factor in your credit history, which is how long you’ve used credit.
When you close an old credit card, you shorten your credit history, making it seem like you haven’t been using credit as long as you really have. Your credit history makes up 15 percent of your score, so keep old accounts open as long as you’re not getting charged an annual fee.
6. Don’t cosign for someone
If you plan on applying for a credit card soon, it’s best to avoid acting as a co-signer. Even if you’re just trying to boost someone else’s chances of approval and have no intention of making payments on the debt, becoming a cosigner can hurt your credit utilization and make you less attractive to potential creditors.
Credit card companies evaluate applicants based on how much risk they pose. If they see that you’re responsible for another person’s auto loan or student loan, they might be less likely to greenlight your application, as they can’t be certain you won’t end up on the hook for another individual’s debt.
When is the best time to apply for a credit card?
Just as there are times when it’s a bad idea to apply for a credit card — when you’ve just taken out a mortgage, for example — there are also times when it’s ideal to apply.
1. When your credit score is low
It might sound counterintuitive to apply for a credit card when your score is bad, but opening a credit card and then using it responsibly is one of the most effective ways to rehabilitate your credit.
The key, however, is to open your new card with the intention of using it to rebuild your credit — not make purchases you can’t afford.
If your credit score is truly poor, you might find it tough to get approved for an unsecured credit card. Fortunately, there are plenty of secured cards out there designed for people who want to repair their credit.
For example, the Discover it Secured credit card is one of a handful of secured cards that offers a rewards program. By making small purchases and paying them off on time every month, you can build a positive payment history that boosts your credit score.
2. When you turn 18
Many financial advisors say it’s important to start using credit as soon as possible so you can start establishing a credit history right away. Many credit card companies offer cards designed for students that give them points and rewards for using their cards responsibly.
3. When you want to reduce your debt
If you’re stuck with high-interest credit cards, you might be able to consolidate your payments and reduce your debt by opening a balance transfer credit card. If you go this route, it’s best to look for a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory rate so you can pay down your debt without incurring any interest.
However, there are pros and cons to balance transfer cards. For example, you’ll have to pay interest once the introductory period ends, so it’s important to make sure you can pay off your balance before that happens.
4. When you need to finance a big purchase
In some cases, it makes good financial sense to finance a large ticket item with a credit card. For instance, if you can find a credit card with a low-interest or no-interest introductory rate or a card that offers a good deal on points or cashback rewards, you can reap the benefits while paying off your purchase in installments rather than coming up with the money all at once.
This can be a great strategy for things like weddings, vacations, and home improvement projects. However, you should do your research and make sure you can commit to paying off the debt before your introductory period ends.
5. When you get a pre-qualification offer
A pre-qualification offer doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get approved for a credit card, but it gives you a better idea of your chances. If a credit card lender lets you know you’re pre-qualified, that means the lender has done a soft inquiry of your credit file.
The lender will do a hard inquiry once you submit your application, but this won’t do much damage to your score if you space out your applications far enough apart. With a pre-qualification offer in hand, you can apply with a little more confidence — and an approval means you won’t have to worry about racking up any additional hard inquiries.
Why you may be denied a credit card
Most people don’t like rejection, and hearing “no” from a credit card company can feel like a personal setback. There are several reasons why you may be denied a credit card, and knowing them can help you work on fixing them so you don’t get turned down in the future.
- Lack of credit history – If you’re young or you have never used credit, you may get turned down for a lack of credit history. Lenders and credit card companies want to see how you’ve used credit in the past, and a lack of history makes it hard for them to gauge what kind of risk you pose.
- Bad credit – A low credit score can make it hard to qualify for a credit card. If you have a bad score, you might have to start with a secured credit card and rebuild it before you can upgrade to an unsecured credit card.
- Low income – Many credit card lenders also look at how much money you make as part of their application process. If your income is low or you’re unemployed, they might turn you down.
- Too many hard inquiries – If you have applied for several credit cards in a short period of time, a credit card issuer may see the hard inquiries on your credit report and decline your application.
- High amount of debt – Credit card lenders may also look at how much credit you’re using already, as well as how much available credit you have. If your credit utilization rate is too high, they might turn you down for a new card.
The good news is there are strategies you can use to repair your credit and improve your chances of getting approved for a credit card. With some effort, you can start seeing improvements in your credit score within just a few months.
Using a credit card can help you build and maintain a healthy credit profile, but it’s important to avoid applying for too many new cards at once. To avoid damaging your credit score, you should try to space your applications apart by six months or more.