Why You Shouldn’t Throw Away Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Jun 25, 2018 | Updated Jul 03, 2018

Want to stop getting credit card offers in the mail?
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It seems like all you ever get in the mail are bills, advertisements, occasionally a catalog…and oh, credit card offers. Can’t forget about those!

While the plethora of envelopes splashed with “limited time” and “apply now” might be annoying, there are a few reasons you might not want to toss them out.

What Are Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers?

Credit card companies regularly ask credit bureaus for the names of people who meet a certain set of credit criteria.

If you’re on the list, a credit card company might assume you’re a good borrower and send you a pre-approved credit card offer (also known as a pre-qualified or pre-screened offer) to encourage you to apply.

In other words, receiving one of these mail offers may indicate you’ve passed certain requirements set by the card issuer (which is possible even if you have “bad credit”). A pre-approved offer does not guarantee you will be approved if you apply.

Q&A Video: What Does It Mean To Be Prequalified For A Credit Card?

Do Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers Hurt My Credit?

No need to worry: pre-approved credit card offers don’t hurt your credit.

Credit card companies make these offers after performing soft inquiries on your credit reports — which, unlike hard inquiries, have no effect on your credit scores.

That being said, taking the next step and applying for a credit card — whether you’re pre-qualified or not — will trigger a hard inquiry.

Though this will have a slight negative effect on your credit scores, it will be temporary (and not a cause for great concern, unless you have more than about five on your credit reports).

Two Benefits of Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Now you know what all those pre-approved credit card offers are doing in your mailbox — but is there any reason you shouldn’t throw them out?

Yes! Here are two benefits to consider:

You Could Reduce the Impact on Your Credit

Every time you apply for a credit card, the issuer runs a hard inquiry on your credit reports.

So, rather than applying for several different cards — and getting several hard inquiries — you can simply apply to one card: the one you’re pre-qualified for. Though there’s no guarantee you’ll get approved, your odds are much better than with a randomly selected card.

And you don’t need to wait for an offer to come in the mail, either: you can actually request pre-approval offers on the card issuer’s website (more on that below).

You Could Land Better Terms

Another advantage of pre-approved credit card offers is they can, in many cases, include better terms than those available to the general public.

The credit card company gives these to you — a seemingly creditworthy customer — to entice you to apply.

Such enhanced terms might include:

  • Better rewards program or signup bonus (more points or cash back for spending a certain amount)
  • Reduced intro APR on purchases or balance transfers for a limited time
  • Reduced annual fee

Credit card issuers have both public offers and private offers. Public offers are available to the general public, and are usually the offers advertised on issuer websites. Private offers are customized for and only available to specific people based on their credit histories and other criteria. One person’s private offer will not necessarily be available to someone else.

American Express PRG Public Offer

This is an example of a public offer on the American Express website.

American Express PRG Private Offer

Here’s an example of a private offer, with an introductory bonus that’s twice as big.

Can You Get Denied When Applying?

Even after you get a pre-approval letter, you’ll still need to complete the regular credit card application process. Unfortunately, pre-approval doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the card.

One reason is that offers aren’t always based on your specific credit history. To determine if an offer is tailored to you, look in the fine print: is there a “PRESCREEN AND OPT-OUT NOTICE”?

If you don’t see that phrase, then the offer is generic and not based on your credit history.

If you see it, that means the credit card issuer has already checked your credit history — and can’t change the terms of the offer (unless your credit situation has changed dramatically since it was sent).

So, if you’re searching for a new credit card or think that one of your old ones could use an upgrade, take a few minutes to see what pre-qualified offers are available for you.

Be aware that if your credit changes after you receive a pre-qualification offer, you may no longer be eligible for the card. Other, non-prescreened factors — like your income — may affect the decision, too. Long story short: if you apply for a card for which you received a pre-qualified offer, you could still be denied.

How to Request Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

What many people don’t know is you can actually request pre-qualification offers — you don’t need to wait for them to come to you.

It’s an easy process that only requires submitting some personal information on the credit card issuer’s website (we’ve included links below).

When you make a request, the issuer will do a soft credit check. Then, if you’re eligible, you’ll be able to view the credit cards for which you’re pre-qualified. Sometimes they’ll be the same offers available to the general public, but in many cases, you’ll find a better deal.

I recently requested pre-qualification offers from American Express, and took one for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express® (Review). I got a deal giving me $250 cash back for spending $1,000 in the first three months: a nice step up from the usual offer of $150 cash back. That’s an extra $100 for just a few minutes of work.

Where to Find Your Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Ready to see which pre-approved credit card offers are available to you?

Often all you need to do is fill out a form with your name, street address, zip code, and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

We’ve included the links to many of the major financial institutions’ pre-approval forms below.

American Express
Barclays
Bank of America
Capital One
Chase
Citibank
Discover
US Bank
Wells Fargo (current account holders may have access
to pre-qualified offers upon request)

Once you’ve seen which cards you qualify for, it’s time for the fun part: deciding which one you want to try and snag. For suggestions, check out our list of the best credit cards.

If you really want to dig into the details of how issuers decide to approve or deny applications, take a look at the Credit Card Approval/Denial Reporting Mega Thread over at Reddit.
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The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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