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

Updated Sep 09, 2021 | Published Jun 25, 20185 min read

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At a glance

Pre-approved credit card offers mean you’ve met certain issuer requirements, and that you’re likely, but not guaranteed, to be approved for a given card. They often include better introductory bonuses or other incentives.

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Insider tip

Want to stop getting credit card offers in the mail? Read This.

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 the main consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) 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-screened or pre-qualified credit card 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.

What’s the Difference Between Pre-Approved, Pre-Qualified, and Pre-Screened?

In the world of credit cards, “pre-approved,” “pre-qualified,” and “pre-screened” are typically used interchangeably, fitting the definition we described above.

However, some credit card issuers and credit-related websites may differ in how they apply these terms, and this may lead to some confusion. They might also use these terms differently when it comes to mortgages and other lending products than they do with credit cards. Contact the issuer or website in question or check for an FAQ section if you’re uncertain.

On this page, we’re sticking with the first option, and using the terms as if they mean the same thing.

Where Can You 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’ credit card pre-approval forms below.

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

Insider tip

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.

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 (check the links above).

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.

A while ago, I 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 then-usual offer of $150 cash back. An extra $100 in cash rewards for just a few minutes of work!

What Are the Benefits of Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers?

There’s a decent chance you have a pile of pre-approved credit card offers in your mailbox right this minute — but is there any reason you shouldn’t throw them out?

Yes! Here are two benefits to consider:

  • You can reduce the impact of the card selection process by applying for just one card with high approval odds, rather than shopping around and applying for several.
  • You might get better terms, like an enhanced signup bonus or a lower introductory interest rate.

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

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.

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).

Can You Get Denied When Applying for a Pre-Approved Card Offer?

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 profile. 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.

Insider tip

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.

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

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Written by

Brendan Harkness

Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high-quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.

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