Which Details Determine Whether You Get Approved for a Credit Card?Updated: August 13, 2019

With all the information you’re asked to supply on credit applications, it’s not clear exactly which factors actually affect your chances of being approved for a credit card. Financial institutions list surprisingly few requirements for cards, so it’s hard to know for sure if your credit health is up to snuff for a particular offer. While credit card issuers don’t disclose exactly how their approval processes work, we at least know enough about them to be able to determine which details they’re looking for and roughly how they come together to influence your approval odds. Read on to learn five major factors that help decide whether your credit card applications get accepted or denied. If you’ve recently been turned down for a credit card or see applying for a card in your future, you’ll want to know how to best increase your chances.

Five factors that determine your credit card approval:

  • Credit score
  • Delinquent accounts
  • Income
  • Outstanding debts
  • Credit history

Credit scores

Probably the most obvious factor credit card issuers use to evaluate applications is the credit score, a number that sums up how risky it is to lend money to you. Credit scores can be generated using a number of methods, though most of the time credit issuers use the FICO scoring model, which takes into account your payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, the variety of credit account types you have and the number of new credit accounts you’ve opened. When you apply, card issuers will typically pull a credit score from one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), which use the information on your credit reports to generate your scores.

Credit scores are unique in that they’re often the only requirement that credit providers will publish about their cards. They generally do this by listing what kind of credit you’ll need using vague terms like “average,” “good” or “excellent,” which all correspond to different ranges of credit scores. For instance, “average” usually signifies a credit score of 670 or better, while “excellent” often means a score above 750. When you’re shopping for a new credit card, it’s vital to know your card options relative to your credit score.

Delinquent accounts

Prior to giving approval, credit card providers will likely look into the number of delinquent accounts in your credit report. Any account that is past due is considered to be delinquent, but most credit issuers won’t report an account until 30 days past its due date.

Staying on top of your payments is key when seeking approval for a credit card — too many mishaps can leave a lasting impact. Not only will you be hurting your credit score, but your payment history is also heavily weighed in the approval process and late payments can linger on your credit report for up to seven years.

Income

Although credit card providers don’t typically list specific requirements for income, it’s still something that affects whether you’ll be approved for a credit card, as well as what kind of credit limit you’ll receive if you are approved. Before a financial institution will extend a line of credit to you, it has to be confident that you’ll be able to pay back the money you borrow, and income is a good way to determine that. When you apply for a credit card, the credit issuer will most often use the income you report on your application, so it’s important to understand what you’re allowed to claim as income. According to the 2013 amendment for the 2009 CARD Act, your income can consist of all money that you can reasonably expect you will have access to, including wages, investment income, retirement disbursements, government benefits, student loans and your partner or spouse’s income. Taking advantage of this rule can heighten the chances you’ll be approved for a credit card and a high credit limit.

Debt

In addition to the amount of money you make, the amount of money you currently owe also matters. Even someone who makes a high six-figure salary can still be a credit liability if they’re up to their ears in debt, so credit card issuers you apply with will scour your credit reports to see what kinds of debt obligations you’re dealing with. Besides the raw amount of debt you have, card issuers will also look at your credit utilization ratio, which is how much debt you have in relation to the total amount of credit you have access to. As an example, if all you have is a single credit card with a $1,000 limit and you are carrying a $500 balance, your credit utilization ratio would be 50%. Lower credit utilization ratios are considered better, and standard advice is to make sure your ratio doesn’t go above 30%. Credit utilization ratio only takes revolving credit accounts into consideration, but for any installment loans you have (e.g., a mortgage, personal loan or car loan), card providers will similarly compare the amount of money you still owe on your loans to the original loan amounts.

Credit history

Your credit history is a comprehensive record of every financial account you’ve opened and every major credit event you’ve experienced within the last seven to 10 years. It contains all of your bank accounts, loans, credit cards, mortgages and more, and includes information about these accounts, such as the date you opened them, your account balance and your payment history. If you have accounts that are in collections, have been charged off or on which you’ve defaulted, those also show up in your credit history. The same goes for financial information that’s part of the public record, such as bankruptcies and court-ordered payments like alimony. One part of your credit history that you should pay special attention to if you’re applying for credit cards is the number of hard credit inquiries you have, which occur when a business checks your credit reports. A large number of hard inquiries in a short period of time is a red flag to credit card issuers, as it looks like you’re desperately seeking as much credit as possible, though hard inquiries typically disappear from your history after two years.

By knowing what credit card issuers look for, you can hopefully work to make your application more attractive and qualify for the credit card offers you want the most.

Four ways to boost your odds

Thanks to the many factors taken into account with card approvals, improving your status from a credit card issuer’s eyes might feel stressful. Here are some final extra tips to improve your chances:

  • Reduce your credit card utilization rate. Maybe you need a limit increase, but it’s best practice to keep your spending habits to 30 percent (or lower) of your card limit to earn the trust of credit issuers.
  • Don’t apply for too many cards at the same time. It’s tough to know exactly how long you should wait before applying for another card, but you don’t want to be seen as a high-risk potential cardholder. Additionally, when you apply for more than one card at a time, you run the risk of multiple hard inquiries on top of one another.
  • For novice cardholders, you may want to build your credit using a student, secured or any other starter card. These cards typically offer added leniency with the approval process, so with proper budgeting, you’ll have the opportunity to start strong with your credit history.
  • Pay off your outstanding debts. Yes, some debts are unrealistic to get rid of in the near future, but any debt you can comfortably pay off will improve your standing with card issuers.