You know those incessant credit card flyers that clutter your physical and virtual mailboxes? They fling around jargon like “preapproved” and “prequalified,” making it sound like the bank has already embossed your name across the front of the card–all you have to do is go through the formality of applying.
In reality, this is far from the case. Whether you’re pre-qualified or preapproved, you’re not guaranteed approval. The banks can’t know if you’re a good fit without a few more details only you can provide.
Preapprovals can be a great tool when searching for the perfect credit card. For example, you can find targeted welcome bonuses that are more generous than those publicly advertised. You can view specific credit card terms before applying. And you can get a general sense of whether the odds of approval lean in your favor.
What are pre-approval credit cards?
While “preapproved” and “prequalified” are often interchangeable in common parlance, they are not the same.
The credit card issuers generally initiate preapproval. They may request a list of credit profiles that meet specific parameters from the credit bureaus–and use that list to send targeted offers to those physical and virtual addresses.
Prequalification, on the other hand, is something you can generate yourself. Enter a few innocuous details into a prequalification form on many bank websites, and you can see if you’re targeted for specific card offers.
So why is preapproval a big deal? In short, it gives you an idea of whether you’re a good candidate for a card without needing to submit an application. This can save your credit report from enduring a “hard inquiry,” which occurs when an issuer examines your credit to determine if you’re a good candidate for their card. A hard credit pull will temporarily lower your credit score, so if you’re going to receive one, you don’t want to squander it on a denied application.
Does preapproval guarantee that I’ll get the card?
Again, whether you’re preapproved or prequalified, approval is not a sure thing. There’s some information that the bank needs that they can’t find from examining your credit. “Banks are not allowed to tell you they have a preapproval if, based on all the information they have, they wouldn’t approve you,” says Matthew Goldman, founder of consulting firm Totavi, LLC. He points out that banks are required by law to calculate your debt-to-income ratio to ensure you’ve got the means to repay a new card over time–and income is not included in your credit report. “It could be that you report an income that’s too low, either because you’re already over the threshold they’ve set in terms of that ratio. Or maybe it’s a high-end card that isn’t issued with a small credit limit. That’s a reason there’s a drop-off between preapproval and approval.”
Walt Levengood, VP of Sales and Business Development at NAV, offers a tip that may further increase your approval odds: “If you’re already banking with [a regional bank], they may be able to give you a firm approval because they’re seeing your banking going on in their institution.” If a bank has intimate details concerning your financial activity, they can make a more sound decision.
How does credit card preapproval work if there’s no hard pull?
So how can a bank determine if you’re a good fit for their credit card if they don’t perform a hard inquiry on your credit?
Simple. There’s another type of credit pull called a “soft inquiry.” This gives the issuer virtually the same information, but it won’t affect your credit score. Soft inquiries are used to view your credit score for reasons other than applying for credit. For example, they can occur when:
- You check your own credit score
- Your potential employer is trying to learn about whether you’re a fit for the job
- You’ve applied to an apartment complex and they’re evaluating your financial health
Because you haven’t officially requested a line of credit, preapprovals and prequalifications only require a soft credit pull. It’s not until you formally submit a credit card application that an issuer performs a hard pull, signaling to credit bureaus that you’re applying for credit.
Card issuers with preapproval options
Below are some major card issuers that currently allow you to check for prequalified offers.
Last 4 digits of SSN
Total annual income
|Bank of America
Date of birth
Last 4 digits of SSN
Date of birth
Last 4 digits of SSN
Date of birth
Whether you rent or own your home
Are you a student?
Total gross annual income
Type of card you want
A glaring exception from the above list is Citi, which will not allow you to search for personalized offers. Still, you may be targeted for offers through email or snail mail.
It’s also worth noting that American Express has a genuinely excellent feature for current customers called “Apply With Confidence.” This allows you to fill out an application for a variety of Amex cards and receive a final decision before you officially submit it. If approved, you’ll see your offer and can choose to accept or decline. If denied, Amex won’t perform a hard inquiry on your credit. That’s incredibly customer-friendly.
Credit cards offering preapproval without a hard pull
|Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
|Choose your own bonus category
|Capital One SavorOne Rewards Credit Card
|High earning rate
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
|0% intro APR
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card
|Low approval standards
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
|$695 (see rates)
|Airport lounge access
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
- Top feature: Choose the bonus category that suits your spending each month.
The Bank of America Customized Cash for Students comes with a $200 cash bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening. This credit card offers particularly useful perks for students–such as the ability to select your own bonus category each month. You can earn 3% cash back on gas, dining, drugstores, online shopping, home improvement and furnishings, or travel.
Capital One SavorOne Rewards Credit Card
- Top feature: Receive an excellent return for everyday purchases.
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a confusingly high earning rate for a credit card with no annual fee. You’ll get 10% back with Uber/Uber Eats (ends Nov. 14, 2024), 8% back for Capital One Entertainment purchases, 5% back for hotels and car rentals reserved through Capital One Travel, 3% back on dining, eligible streaming, entertainment, and at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target), and 1% back on everything else. You’ll even receive a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months after opening your account.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Top feature: Mitigate interest fees for large upcoming purchases with a generous 0% intro APR offer.
The no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® card offers 15-month 0% intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers (then 20.49%–29.24% variable APR). If you’ve got an upcoming emergency expense or other large purchase that you don’t think you’ll be able to pay off in a few months, opening this card could save you a lot in fees. The card also offers a respectable minimum return of 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, so it’s a good option for big expenses.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Top feature: Get top-tier travel insurance automatically when paying with the card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is an excellent credit card for those just beginning in the world of travel rewards. It earns rewards that are simple to redeem; its bonus spending categories are for everyday expenses; it charges a reasonable $95 annual fee. But its best (and easiest-to-use) feature is its travel insurance, which can save you thousands when your flight is canceled, your rental car gets dinged, your bags are delayed, and more.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
- Top feature: If you’ve got limited (or bad) credit, you can use this card as a credit-building tool.
Because the Discover it Secured Card is–you guessed it–a secured credit card, it’s far more willing to approve those with limited credit history looking to bolster their credit profile. You must put down a refundable security deposit (between $200 and $2,500) before using the card. You’ll then receive a credit line in the amount of your security deposit.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Top feature: Receive the best airport lounge access of any card on the market.
The Amex Platinum Card comes with thousands of dollars in annual value thanks to various statement credits and memberships. Admittedly, some of them are quite niche–but frequent travelers should have no trouble recouping the card’s $695 annual fee (see rates) many times over. A crown jewel of the card is its ability to get you into more than 1,400 airport lounges worldwide, where you can enjoy perks like free hot meals and alcoholic drinks.
Credit card preapprovals are as close as you can get to a firm approval without actually applying. It means a financial institution has looked at your credit and, based on all available data, would approve you for a card.
Remember that the information you enter during an application may change the bank’s mind. If you’re not approved, the bank will tell you why–and you can use that information to increase your chances of approval for next time.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.