Credit card approval: What factors matter?

Young woman holding a credit card while trying to figure out how to get approved for a new card.Image: Young woman holding a credit card while trying to figure out how to get approved for a new card.

In a Nutshell

If you’re wondering why your application for a new credit card wasn’t approved, you should know that credit card approval is based on several factors on your credit reports, beyond just your credit scores.
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Your three-digit credit scores are not the only thing that card issuers evaluate when deciding whether to approve your application for a new credit card.

It’s just one of several parts of your overall credit profile that credit card companies consider. Here are six factors that can matter when it comes to credit card approval.

  1. Credit scores
  2. Number of delinquencies
  3. Hard inquiries
  4. Credit card utilization rate
  5. Income
  6. Credit history

1. Credit scores

Your credit scores can be used by credit card companies to evaluate your overall creditworthiness. They’re not the only factors considered when it comes to credit card approval, but they are important. Credit scores can serve as a risk indicator to lenders, letting them know how likely it is that you’ll repay your debt.

People with excellent credit scores have a better chance of being approved, but it’s not always so cut-and-dry. Having a certain score doesn’t guarantee that your application for a certain card will be approved.

2. Number of delinquencies

Credit card companies may consider the number of delinquent accounts in your credit reports when deciding whether to grant you a card.

In the credit card industry, any account past due is a delinquent account; however, many creditors won’t report an account as delinquent to the credit bureaus until at least 30 days after the missed due date. People with lots of late payments are generally less attractive to credit issuers.

A late payment can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years from when it occurred. On top of that, your payment history is generally a major contributing factor when it comes to your credit scores. This means that if you miss a payment or become delinquent, your scores could take a hit too.

3. Hard inquiries

A hard inquiry can occur when a credit card issuer checks your credit before deciding whether to approve your application. This type of inquiry can stay on your credit reports for about two years.

A number of hard inquiries on your reports could be a red flag for credit card companies. Too many hard inquiries could be a sign of a high-risk borrower who is opening a lot of accounts because they are low on cash and potentially about to get into a lot of hard-to-repay debt. Credit issuers generally shy away from giving credit to consumers who they think won’t be able to pay back the debt.

4. Credit card utilization rate

Payment history isn’t the only important factor. You could make all of your payments on time but still be considered a risk. How? Your credit card utilization might have something to do with it.

Your credit utilization reflects how much of your overall available credit you are using. It’s generally recommended that you use less than 30% of your total credit limit at any one time. If you consistently use more than 30% of your total available credit, it could be a warning sign to a credit card company that you may have trouble repaying the money you borrow.

5. Income

When you apply for a credit card, you may be asked to disclose your income as part of the application. The card issuer will likely look at your overall income relative to your debt — also known as your debt-to-income ratio — to make sure the company doesn’t offer you more credit than they think you can reasonably pay back.

6. Credit history

If you have a limited credit history, it could affect your credit card approval odds. Credit card issuers generally like to see that a person is an experienced borrower who can repay debts. If your credit history is short, you may not have proved to be creditworthy quite yet.

Not having information that could vouch for your creditworthiness can make it tough to get approved. If you don’t have much credit history, consider starting with a secured credit card, such as the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. A secured card can help you build credit as long as you use it responsibly and the card issuer reports to at least one of the three major consumer credit bureaus.

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Bottom line

If you’re applying for a credit card and have great credit scores, you might think you’ll get instantly approved, but that won’t always be the case. Credit card companies generally look at the big picture, not just your credit scores. Keep these factors in mind when applying for your next credit card.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.