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How to Apply for a Credit Card

By Melissa Green | Citizens Bank Staff

The process of applying for a credit card can be pretty quick and easy — if you know what to expect. In many cases you’ll know if you’ve been approved or declined instantly. If you’re interested in applying for your first credit card, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Before you apply

The process of applying for a credit card should start well before you click “submit” on your application. Taking the time to understand your credit profile will leave you with a better understanding of the offers you’re eligible for, and/or what you need to do to improve.

  • Know your credit score. Your credit score is determined by five factors:

    You can have multiple credit scores since lenders use different credit scoring systems like FICO or Vantage. Free VantageScores are available from apps like Credit Karma or Nerd Wallet.

  • Review your credit history. You get to review a free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus — ExperianEquifax, and Transunion. Go through these reports and make sure everything is accurate. Identity theft happens. Dispute anything that looks incorrect directly with each bureau in order to safeguard your credit.
  • Record your income and employment history. Credit card issuers want to be sure you can make the payments; so they may ask how much you make and how long you’ve been employed. Gather this information and keep it on hand.

Step 2: Find the card that’s right for you

Now that you have a solid picture of your credit situation, you’ll need to decide which card is right for you. Consider your credit habits before choosing which credit card you should get. Do you carry a balance from month to month? Consider a card with low interest. Do you consistently make full payments? Look at rewards cards that can help you optimize your cash flow.

Remember to read through the terms and conditions so you can compare your options. Fees and interest rates are important deciding factors when choosing a credit card. Having no annual fees might not be worth it if the card has a high interest rate. Think through your financial situation, and determine your priorities.

Step 3: Complete the application

Filling out the actual credit card application is likely the easiest part of the process. You typically have the option of applying over the phone, in person, or online. Online is going to be the quickest and easiest method, since a lending decision is often made instantly.

To apply, you will need the following information:

  • Your full name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth (must be at least 18)
  • Current address
  • Annual income
  • Current employer/length of employment

Pro tip: Keep your information safe! Never fill out an application on public Wi-Fi or through an unsecure connection.

Step 4: Lending decision

Once your application is submitted, one of three things will happen. It will be approved, submitted for further review, or denied.

If your application is approved, congratulations — you should expect to receive your new card in the mail within a couple of weeks. Use it wisely.

If further review is requested, then the credit card company wants to take a little more time deciding. At that point they should provide you with a time frame in which you can expect to hear a decision.

If your application is denied, then you should expect to receive an “adverse action notice” explaining the reason. Although you might be frustrated with this news, always read through the notice to understand what you need to improve or if there was a mistake on your application. Typos happen.

Even if you were denied, all is not lost. You can improve your credit by applying for a secured card, which requires a security deposit. You can also ask a parent or spouse about becoming an authorized user and “piggybacking” on their credit to help build-up your own.

Pro tip: Every credit card application creates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can negatively affect your score. Therefore, if you were declined this time, a good rule of thumb is to wait at least six months before applying again.

What to remember

When it comes to understanding and applying for credit, knowledge really is power. Before you apply for a credit card, do your homework first to avoid a potential rejection. Everyone’s financial situation is different; therefore, the cards your parents or friends use may not be the best match for you.

In fact, the best credit card for you is the one that is right for your unique financial situation.

More information

To learn more about our Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus® World Mastercard® or other products, please call 1-888-333-5145, or Ask a Citizen at your nearest Citizens Bank branch.

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