You’re interested in getting a credit card, but wondering how long the process actually takes? Let’s go over the process from A to Z, and look at how long it might take for most applicants.
Overview: You can get a credit card in about 10 business days. That said, differences in approval process can make this either faster or slower.
Getting Ready to Apply
Before you apply for a credit card, it helps to spend some time getting prepared.
The most important thing is to prepare your credit score. Your score is used by lenders to decide whether to grant a credit card, and if so, for how much.
Here are a few things you can do to prepare your credit score for a new card application:
- If it’s your first time getting a credit card, consider getting a secured card first. Getting a secured card first will let you build up your credit history, before going after a real card. We’d recommend getting a secured card 6+ months before applying for an unsecured card.
- Pay down existing cards. Paying down existing cards will decrease your credit utilization, which will quickly improve your credit score. This is a good way to increase your chances of getting approved.
- Compare cards. Even among similar credit cards, there can be important differences. For example, if you intend to fly on Southwest Airlines, then cards issued by Chase tend to be better than American Express.
The Application Process
The application itself usually takes about 30 minutes. The online application will ask you a few questions, such as:
- Basic personal information, like name, address, and phone number
- Your social security number
- Income information
The application may also require you to go through an identity verification challenge. To verify your identity, the credit card issuer will ask you a few questions that only you know the answer to. For example, they may ask about some of your previous addresses, or where you grew up.
Generally credit card issuers do not ask for income verification. This is different from loan applications, where you’ll usually be required to submit pay stubs.
Manual vs Automated Approvals
Once you click the “Submit” button on your application, you’ll see one of three possible results:
- You’re approved! Congratulations, your credit card will start making it’s way to you in the next week or two.
- You’re declined. Unfortunately, the lender wasn’t able to approve you. Fortunately, the impact of a credit check on your credit report isn’t large. You’ll be able to apply again in a few months, for the same card or a different one.
- Your application is being sent for a manual review.
Generally, automated approvals or rejections are used for cases where it’s a clear black-and-white. People with extremely high credit or low credit fall into these buckets.
For many consumers though, they fall somewhere in the middle. When the algorithmic system is unable to make a decision, they’ll often refer the case to human.
How Long Does it Take a Human to Decide?
If your application gets referred to a human, the process can take anywhere for 1 day to 1 week to process. The reviewer will review your income information, your repayment history, your debt-to-income ratio, and other factors, and decide whether or not to issue a card.
If the card is not approved, the credit card issuer is required by law to send a letter detailing why you weren’t approved. You’ll usually recieve this in the mail 2-3 weeks after applying. Occasionally these rejection letters are delivered by email.
If your card is approved, you won’t be told why. Instead, the issuer will simply send you an email letting you know that you were approved, and that your card is on the way.
Speeding Up the Review Process
It’s actually possible, and quite easy, to speed up the credit card review process. All you need to do is call. Make sure you have your reference number or credit application number ready when you call.
For example, let’s say you applied for a Citi Prestige credit card. After submitting your application, the website informs you that your application is under human review. If you just wait, you’ll hear back in 1 to 7 days.
But, what if you don’t want to wait? Fortunately, you don’t have to. Just pick up the phone during business hours, and call them.
When you call in, you’ll be put in touch a person on the credit card review team. They’ll usually ask you a few clarifying questions. Then, they may put you on hold for a couple minutes while they review the rest of your application.
They’ll then generally be able to make a decision right on the spot. Picking up the phone for 10 minutes can save you 7 days of waiting
Receiving & Activating Your Card
Once the card application is approved, it takes 5 to 10 business days for them to actually ship it to you. Some companies can do this faster, some can take up to 3 weeks.
If you have an urgent need for the card, you may be able to call and have this accelerated. For example, if you’re going on an international trip in a week, you may be able to have the card FedEx’ed to you sooner. There may be an extra fee to have the card accelerated.
Some credit cards may also send a separate letter with a PIN number. This PIN number is used to withdraw cash from ATMs, using your credit card. This letter may arrive later than the credit card itself. Keep in mind that cash advances generally come with higher fees than credit card transactions.
Once you receive the card and activate it, you’re all set and ready to go!
When Do Sign-Up Bonuses Start Counting Time?
When you first signed up for the credit card, you may have gotten a signup bonus, such as 60,000 airline miles. In order to earn these bonuses, you may need to spend a certain amount of money within a time window, such as $3,000 in 3 months.
When does this countdown timer start?
The answer: it starts the moment your card is approved, even if you haven’t received it yet. So it usually makes sense to activate the card and start using it right away.
The Bottom Line
For most people, if you already have a decent credit history, you’ll be able to get a new credit card in about 10 business days. If you have a relatively new credit history, it may take a few months to build up the credit score necessary to apply for an unsecured card.
If you get a manual review, this can add up to one week of additional time to the application process. Fortunately, you can speed this process up by calling and speaking to a human being.