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Applying for a new credit card can bring out many emotions. For some, it can induce anxiety. For others, it can prompt anticipation and excitement. But if you apply for a credit card at the right time, it might not be such an emotional roller coaster. Timing your credit card application right can reduce some of the anxiety surrounding the process and help increase your chances of being approved.
Though credit card issuers may push more promotions and bonuses during certain times of the year, this should not be the driving factor for your decision. The best time to apply for a new credit card is based primarily on your personal financial circumstances and needs rather than anything else.
The first thing you should do is take a look at your financial situation (including your credit score) and your current spending habits. Take note of some immediate and long-term financial goals and needs you have. Could a credit card help? If so, you’ll look at cards with features that might support or complement those goals.
Below, we’ll go over some credit card tips that could improve your likelihood of being approved for a card, reduce the impact on your credit score, and, in some cases, help you take advantage of beneficial, time-sensitive credit card promotions and perks.
When you should apply for a new credit card
You have a balance on a high-interest credit card
If you’re carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card, now is the perfect time to apply for a new credit card that offers a 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months or more. Ideally, you’ll pay down your balance before the intro APR expires to avoid paying interest charges. To help you do this, it’s a good idea to use a balance transfer calculator to make a plan for paying down your balance during your intro APR period. If done properly, this move could help you save a lot of money on interest charges.
You’re planning a big purchase
If you’re planning a big purchase soon, a new credit card can be useful for two reasons: You can get a promotional APR to avoid paying interest on your purchase for a limited time, and it’ll be easier to earn a credit card sign-up bonus.
Many card issuers offer welcome bonuses for new cardholders if they meet certain spending requirements on the card within a specified time period. These bonuses often come in the form of cash back, a statement credit or a certain number of rewards points. If you know you have a large purchase coming up, you can time your application so a purchase you were going to make anyway can help you meet the spending requirement for a sign-up bonus.
If you don’t anticipate any single large purchase, you can plan your new credit card application around a time when you’ll be shopping the most. For many people, the holiday season is a time for lots of spending.
You’ve got good (or excellent) credit
If your credit score is in the good to excellent range (670 to 850), your chances of being approved for a new credit card are much better than if you are in the poor or fair credit score range (300 to 669.) If you are confident about your credit score, it could be a good time to apply for a new credit card.
However, if you don’t have a pressing need for a credit card right away, it could be beneficial to spend a few months building up your credit score. Depending on your starting point, boosting your credit score could take you from fair to good credit or from good to excellent credit, making you eligible for cards you might otherwise have been ineligible for. A better credit score can also help you to get a better interest rate.
You’d like to build your credit profile
If you want to build your credit, applying for a new credit card could help you to establish a credit history and a history of on-time payments. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your FICO score, while your length of credit history accounts for 15 percent. Both categories play an important role not only in calculating your credit score but also in how lenders perceive you in terms of credit risk.
People with little to no credit history can start their credit-building journey with a secured credit card or a starter credit card. These entry-level cards, when used properly, could help you to establish a positive credit history, which could help you to qualify for better credit card offers down the road.
You’ve been preapproved
You may receive a preapproved credit card offer in the mail if you’ve met a card issuer’s initial criteria for a certain credit card, inviting you to apply for the card. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll be approved for the card in question, but it’s a way to gauge your odds of approval. If you apply for the preapproved offer, your chance of getting approved is much better since you’ve already been screened for the offer.
You’ve been referred
Some card issuers provide existing card users with a referral link they can give to friends and family. These referral links may not necessarily improve your chances of being approved for a new card, but if you are approved, you (and your referrer) could be eligible for a referral bonus in the form of cash, rewards points or both. Of course, be sure to check out a card’s benefits and requirements before applying to make sure the card is a good fit for you (and your credit score).
When you shouldn’t apply for a new credit card
You’re about to get a mortgage or other loan
If you’re shopping around for a mortgage, personal loan or car loan, it’s best to avoid applying for a new credit card. Whether you are approved or not, the increased number of hard inquiries on your credit report could drop your credit score. A lower credit score, coupled with multiple recent hard inquiries, signals to lenders you are in need of credit, potentially making you more of a credit risk. In this case, your application for a mortgage or personal loan could be denied. If it is approved, you may not get the best terms if your credit score has dropped.
You’ve got recent hard inquiries
Each credit card application involves a hard credit inquiry, which will lower your credit score. Too many recent inquiries can cause you to be denied a new credit card — especially if an inquiry did not result in approval. Instead of continuing to add more hard inquiries to your credit, it might be a good time to press the pause button on your credit card applications. We recommend waiting three to six months between new card applications.
A good practice is to check your credit report for the number of hard inquiries before applying for new credit cards. Ideally, you’ll only apply for a new credit card once excessive hard inquiries have dropped off. If you already have multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, the good news is they’ll generally only stay on your report for two years — but they’ll typically stop affecting your credit score after 12 months.
Your finances aren’t in good shape
A credit card should add to your financial standing, not compromise it. If you already have a lot of debt, are struggling to pay your existing creditors on time or have a low credit score, a new line of credit may not be a good idea right now. It may make sense to step back, assess how you’re managing your money and work to improve your finances as a whole. Once you get in a better place financially, a wise use of a new credit card can enhance and support your financial goals, instead of hindering them. Plus, you’re more likely to be approved for a new credit card if you have a better credit score.
The bottom line
The best time to apply for a new credit card is when you’re financially ready to take on a new card. No matter your financial aspirations and personal goals, some of the best credit cards offered today can help you achieve them. Assessing your specific needs will be the key to finding a card at the right time that works perfectly for you.