Credit card applications can be denied for a variety of reasons, but getting rejected once doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to open a new account.
The good news is, some factors may actually be in your control. By taking the steps outlined below, you’ll be more likely to improve your chances of success the next time you apply for a new credit card. And even if you’ve never submitted an application for a credit card before, some of these tips can help set you up for success as well.
Find out why your credit card application was denied
You should receive an “adverse action notice” from the card issuer, often within 7 to 10 days after your application is denied. The notice will state why your application was rejected.
Factors that typically result in a credit card application rejection can include the following:
- Your credit score—a gauge of creditworthiness—is too low.
- You have a record of delinquent payments.
- You have too much debt relative to your income.
- You’ve recently submitted multiple applications for credit.
- You have a “thin” credit history (that’s common among young consumers who haven’t yet developed a credit track record).
- There’s an error on your credit report that’s having a negative impact.
“It’s often not just one thing. Sometimes there are different things that work in tandem,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com, a personal finance website.
When you know why your credit card application was declined, then you can take the next step.
Try asking the card issuer to reconsider
Some credit card issuers have reconsideration departments that you can ask to review your application again. Unlike your initial application, which was likely declined based on a computer algorithm, a reconsideration usually is handled by a human being who can have leeway to overturn the original rejection.
This option may be a long shot, but it’s worth a try. Politely make your case on why the issuer should grant you credit. You could point out a mistake you made, such as incorrectly noting your income, or not realizing you could include your spouse’s income or your retirement benefits, Rossman says.
“Sometimes you can plead your case on a more human level: ‘I know that I had a delinquency two years ago and I messed up, but it hasn’t happened again, and I’ve been a good customer,’” he says.
If that doesn’t work, use the conversation to ask more questions about what the credit card issuer is looking for and what you might need to work on to improve your chances of success the next time you apply, he says.
Review your credit report for errors
Your “adverse action notice” will include the credit score and which credit report—from TransUnion, Equifax or Experian—was used to evaluate your credit card application. When you’re denied for credit based on information in your report, you’re entitled to a free copy of it. (You are also eligible for a free report weekly from the three major credit reporting companies until April 20, 2022, at AnnualCreditReport.com. Thereafter, a free report will be available from each company every 12 months.)
Once you get your copy, look for any errors that could be dragging down your credit score, which is derived from information in the report. Consumer Reports recently found that 34% of volunteers who checked their credit reports found mistakes, some serious enough to lower scores. If you find an error, follow the reporting company’s instructions on how to correct it.
If other negative information is the cause of the application denial, it will take time for it to drop from your report or for its impact to lessen. For example, delinquent payments—those overdue by 30 days or more—will stay on your report for seven years.
“The impact will fade over time. It’s usually the most severe in the first two years,” Rossman says, “and it’s especially bad in the first six months.”
Find more tips on keeping tabs on your records in our article “Your Credit Reports Need Monitoring—By You.”
Take steps to improve your credit score
Weak credit scores are a big factor in credit card denials, Rossman says.
Being denied a credit card doesn’t hurt your credit score. Although having the card issuer pull your credit report—called a “hard inquiry”—to evaluate your application will reduce your score.
Before you reapply for a card, you’ll likely need to boost your score.
There are lots of free scores available. But to get a truer picture of where you stand, Rossman recommends getting your FICO Score because most lenders use a version of it when making credit decisions.
You can get your free FICO Score through Experian.com, and some banks offer FICO Scores to customers for free.
The FICO Score ranges from 300 to 850, and the higher the number, the better. Payment history makes up 35% of your score—the largest component—and is seen as the strongest predictor that you will repay your debts, according to FICO. The amount of your debt, length of credit history, credit mix and applications for new credit are other key factors.
You can increase your score by taking the following actions:
- Getting current on delinquent bills
- Making on-time payments on credit cards, mortgages and other debt
- Using no more than 30% of your available credit (that’s considered a good “credit utilization” ratio)
- Applying for new credit sparingly
- Keeping old credit accounts open
Credit scoring usually evaluates how well you manage the credit you receive from banks. Some free programs—such as Experian Boost and Perch Credit—can also help lift your score for paying regular bills, such as utilities or streaming services, Rossman says. You provide the programs read-only access to your bank accounts, and they will report your on-time payments to your credit file. (Experian Boost works only with Experian’s credit report.)
“It’s really good for people with no traditional credit, but it’s also good for people who are rebuilding,” Rossman says. “So, even if you do have a blemish on your report, if you can overshadow it with a lot of good stuff, that really helps.”
Find out more about FICO Scores in our article “6 Common Credit Score Myths Debunked.”
Consider getting a secured card to start building credit
Most credit cards are unsecured, meaning consumers receive a line of credit without putting up a security deposit.
But if you need to establish a credit history or rebuild one after, say, delinquent payments, a “secured” credit card can help. You basically make a deposit of, say, $200 or $500, that generally serves as your spending limit. The deposit also protects the issuer in case you default, which makes it easier to qualify for the card. Many major, reputable issuers offer secured cards.
You can use your secured card like any unsecured card. And by paying your bill on time each month, you build up a favorable track record that’s typically reported to the three major credit reporting companies. (Secured cards tend to have higher interest rates, so one commonly recommended strategy is to use the card only for small purchases that you can afford to pay off in full each month while you establish a payment history.)
Some issuers will automatically review your card activity after six or eight months and, if you’ve used the plastic responsibly, will upgrade you to a traditional unsecured card, Rossman says. Once you’re upgraded or close the secured account, your deposit will be refunded.
Become an authorized user on someone else’s account
You can also improve a thin or poor credit record by becoming an authorized user of a credit card owned by someone—for example, a parent or a spouse—with a strong credit history. The account will be added to your own credit report, allowing you to piggyback off the positive credit behavior of the primary cardholder. This can help you when applying for credit later under your own name.
Just be aware that it can work in reverse: Any negative credit behavior by the primary account owner will hurt your credit record, too.
Apply for a credit card again when you’re ready
Establishing or rebuilding a credit history or score takes patience. “You’re not going to go from a bad score to a great score overnight, but you can make noticeable progress in six months and even more progress in a year or two,” Rossman says.
If your score has improved markedly after six months or more, you could be ready to reapply for credit. For example, you can shop card offerings at sites such as CreditCards.com, NerdWallet or WalletHub, which include the recommended credit scores needed to obtain specific cards as well as tools that can help you find credit cards you may be likely to qualify for. Using some preliminary information you provide, the tools will do a “soft inquiry” into your credit report that doesn’t affect your credit score.
Build credit successes to give yourself more options
Once you’re approved for a credit card, use it judiciously, keep balances low, and make on-time payments. Your credit record and score will continue to improve, and your future applications for credit or loans will be more likely to be approved, and with favorable terms.
Find more expert tips in our article “9 Smart Ways to Use Your Credit Card.” Plus, we debunk some common misperceptions in “5 Myths About Credit Cards” that can help you be a smart credit card consumer.