Step-by-Step Guide: Before Applying for a New Card

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Get set up

If you are going to be signing up for a handful (or more) of cards, it is worth investing a little bit of time upfront to help manage the process. Most people should start with the following two steps:

  • Sign up for Credit Karma and possibly some other credit-monitoring tools. As you start signing up for new credit cards, you will want to keep an eye on your credit score.
  • While there are several different methods to check your score, we recommend signing up for Credit Karma. Its free, provides relatively detailed information, and is updated at least weekly. For some other options, see Monitor Your Credit Score to Make Sure Everything is On Track.

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  • Register for Award Wallet (if you haven't already). Award Wallet is a free tool that keeps track of all your loyalty accounts and information. We are big fans of signing up for every hotel and car rental loyalty program (and a handful of frequent flyer programs), and AwardWallet is an indispensable tool to help us deal with all our different accounts. Use AwardWallet to Easily Manage Your Loyalty Program Information.
  • If you sign up for a hotel or airline credit card, you'll need to enter your corresponding loyalty account information and the easiest way to retrieve it is with AwardWallet. If you start collecting signup bonuses, you'll eventually wind up signing up for a card that is associated with a program that you haven't joined yet. The credit card company will set up a new account for you, and you can store that information in it as well.

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If you are thinking about collecting signup bonuses, you may also want to:

  • Start a spreadsheet to keep track of your credit cards. At a minimum, make a column for the bank, the card, the date you signed up for it, and the date you got rid of it. If you are going to manage credit card applications for multiple people, add a column for the cardholder.
  • Consider opening a Bank of America and/or a U.S. Bank savings account. If you don't have a bank account, Bank of America usually won't approve a new credit card application once you've gotten at least 3 cards, from any bank, in the last 12 months. Once you start signing up for even a small number of cards, you'll no longer be able to get any Bank of America cards that you may want. And if you are collecting signup bonuses, you won't be able to take advantage of any of Bank of America's lucrative offers. If you have a bank account, the limit increases to 7 cards in the last 12 months. This provides a lot more flexibility.
  • If you don't have a bank account, it is hard to get approved for U.S. Bank's valuable Altitude Reserve Card.

    You can avoid fees on these savings accounts by maintaining a balance of $500 at Bank of America or $300 at U.S. Bank.

Avoid Getting Blocked from Cards You Might Want Later

Once you've signed up for several cards, it becomes harder to get approved for new cards from most credit card companies.

If you think you might try collecting signup bonuses, or you simply want to get more than a few new cards for your core credit card collection, it helps to plan ahead. That way, you can make sure you won't be blocked from getting the cards that are most important to you.

You can reduce the potential for problems by following a few simple rules:

  • If you are willing and able to get small business cards, always get the small business version (when it is available). It usually provides essentially the same benefits as the personal card and will have less impact on your chances of getting approved for other cards later. For example, if you want the Amex Delta Gold Card for its free checked bag benefit, get the small business version rather than the personal version.
  • If you have any kind of small business, you are eligible to get small business cards. Your business doesn't need to be incorporated. Even a side business—like selling stuff online, doing odd jobs, or working on a book or website—is enough. In most cases, you don't even need to have made any money yet. You just need to apply with your social security number and provide a little information about your business. Unlock Extra Reward Points with Business Credit Cards.

  • If you are planning to follow our recommendation to start signing up for cards just for their signup bonuses, it is really worthwhile to plan out your applications. Otherwise, you are likely to get blocked from many of the best offers. We provide a detailed plan of how to time your applications. Credit Card Signup Bonuses: The Easiest Path to Free Airplane Tickets and Hotel Nights.
  • Prioritize getting any Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One or Barclays cards you want. Once you've gotten new 5 cards from any bank in the previous 24 months, Chase won't approve you for any new cards. Bank of America has a similar rule, except that it is 3 cards in the previous 12 months (for non banking customers). Most business credit cards don't count against those limits, which is part of the reason you should try to get them if you can.
  • With the other banks, there aren't fixed limits, but it just gets harder to get approved the more applications you have.

    Because these banks, especially Chase and Bank of America, issue a lot of interesting cards, you need to get these first, before you get blocked for a year or two (or more if you are collecting signup bonuses). It is easier to get any Amex or Citibank cards you want later.

    Cards you are mostly likely to want that are issued by these banks are up to two Southwest Airlines Cards, the Amtrak Credit Card, the Alaska Airlines Credit Card, the United Explorer Credit Card or United Quest Card, one of the Chase Sapphire Cards and the Freedom Unlimited Card or the BOA Premium Rewards Card, the Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card, and at least one of the Chase Ink cards.

  • You may also want to prioritize getting the Altitude Reserve . If you plan to optimize the points you earn from your spending, the Altitude Reserve Card can be very helpful. It provides a valuable 4.5% reward rate on purchases made with mobile wallets (such as Apple Pay), along with some other nice benefits. By taking advantage of contactless credit card terminals (and many Samsung phones), you can use a mobile wallet for many of your payments. But because it is difficult to get the Altitude Reserve, once you start collecting other cards, you need to try to get it as one of your first few cards. You'll also need to open a bank account at U.S. Bank before you can get it.

(optional) Find the best signup offer

If you go directly to the card’s signup webpage, you might miss a better promotional offer. Sometimes, a more valuable signup offer is available through another application page or by using a special link.

  • Our credit card guides provide information about the best currently available offer. However, it is always possible that we've missed something.
  • If you want to be sure, take the time to check some other sites. Not every promotional offer winds up on every website, so your best bet is to check a couple of websites, and maybe do a general web search. The whole process should only take a few minutes and you'll sometimes uncover a better offer that lets you earn tens of thousands of extra points for the same new credit card.
    • The best single resource we’ve found is the US Credit Card Guide site. They provide information on the current best signup offers for each card. They even include a handy chart that shows a recent history of the card’s signup bonuses and initial spending requirements. We've linked to the US Credit Card Guide graph from every one of our individual credit card guides.
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    • Another good resource is the signup offer page on Frequent Miler. Checking both sites can uncover an offer that one site knows about, but the other site does not.
  • (optional) Take advantage of a referral link (if you can). Some cards will give you extra points for referring another customer (assuming they get approved). If you have a friend who already has the card you want, you can apply through their referral link, you'll get the normal signup bonus, and they'll get some valuable extra bonus. If you and your spouse or partner are both planning to get a card, you can earn extra points by having one person get it first and then referring the other. Taking Advantage of Referral Bonuses.
  • But be careful. Sometimes, the referral offer isn't as good as the best signup offer out there. In that case, you may be better off applying with a promotional link, getting the best possible offer, and forgoing the referral points.

  • Always try a referral link to apply for American Express cards. American Express has the most flexible referral process. Anyone with an American Express card can generate a link that can be used to apply for any of their other cards. You can even apply for a business card using a referral link from a personal card and vice versa.
  • When you sign up for an Amex card with a referral link, you will almost always receive the best possible signup offer and your friend will receive a large number of extra points as well. In a perfect world, you have a family member that can refer you, or you and a friend can make a deal to refer each other.

    In rare cases, Amex may alert you during the signup process that while you can apply for the card, you won't receive the signup bonus (even though you've never had the card before). If you see this alert, you can try applying without the referral link. In some instances, you will then be entitled to the signup bonus (but you'll unfortunately miss out on the referral).

  • (optional) If you are applying for airline or hotel card, try making a "fake reservation". Usually, when you are partway through the reservation process, the airline or hotel will pop up an offer to sign up for their card. These offers often include an extra $50 or $100 statement credit that you wouldn't get by applying for the card the regular way. Once you are done applying, you can cancel out of the reservation process—you don't need to book a room or flight. If you don't see an offer, or the offer isn't as good as the best promotional offer, you can switch over to applying elsewhere.
  • For example, to see if a better offer is available for the Alaska Airlines card, you would go to the Alaska Airlines website and start buying an airline ticket. You aren't going to complete the purchase, so any airline ticket will do. Partway through the process, the website will ask you if you want to sign up for a new Alaska Airlines credit card. Click to apply for the card. When you return to the check-out page, you can cancel the original purchase while enjoying the benefits of the enhanced signup offer.

  • (optional) To see better Amex signup offers, you often need to browse in "Private" mode. When you visit the Amex website, the signup offers are individually targeted to you. If Amex hasn't targeted you for a better offer, you won't see it. But better offers are often available to anonymous users. To see these offers, you need to open a private browser window, which ignores all your cookies and other identifying information. Each web browser uses a different name for this feature. You may also need to refresh the page a few times. In some extreme cases, you'll need to use a Virtual Private Network to make it look like you are visiting Amex from a foreign country. Of course, when you actually sign up, you would still be using your real information on the application form.

Application tips

  • If you've recently signed up for a few cards, check your credit rating to make sure everything is still okay. If your credit rating is starting to drop, you might want to take a break for a while. The VantageScore you get from Credit Karma should be a good enough indicator of what is going on with your credit score, but you will want to occasionally check your actual FICO score using one of your credit card accounts (or the Discover website, if necessary).  Monitor Your Credit Score to Make Sure Everything is On Track.
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  • (Until you're an expert) only apply for one card at a time. Even if you are primarily getting the card for other reasons, you still want to make sure you earn each new card's signup bonus. If you stick to one card at a time, it is more straightforward to make sure that you meet the initial spending requirement.  When you are ready, there are some advanced techniques that can make it worthwhile to apply for multiple cards at the same time. But we strongly recommend starting off with a simpler approach.
  • Include all your sources of income. When you are asked for your income, you can include all your household income, not just the income from your job. That includes the income from a spouse or domestic partner.
  • Don't add an authorized user as part of the initial signup process unless they are offering you a bonus. Some cards will provide an extra bonus when you add an authorized card holder to an account. If they don't offer you one at signup and you add an authorized cardholder then, you won't be able to take advantage of any bonus offer that is available at some later time. Also, if the potential authorized cardholder isn't already blocked by getting too many cards, adding them to your card will potentially limit their ability to get cards they may want later.
  • Don’t worry if you aren’t immediately approved.  If the credit card website indicates that your application is “pending” and doesn’t give you an immediate decision, don’t worry too much. Most of the time, you’ll be approved a few days later. With most credit card companies, it is possible to check your application status online. For more information see this article at Doctor of Credit.
  • If you do eventually get denied, call and talk to the "reconsideration" department. If you get a rejection notice, it usually includes a number to call. When you call in, they can frequently reverse the initial decision and get approved for the card. Sometimes, you’ll need to make an adjustment first, such as decreasing your credit limit on (or closing) another card from that bank. Many people are reluctant to call in. But you’ve already taken the hit from the credit report inquiry and you undoubtedly still want to get the card you were aiming for. At the very least, you’ll learn a bit more information about why you were denied and can adjust your signup strategy moving forward. Reconsideration Line Advice.
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