Instant Approval Credit Cards: What You Need To Know

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Aug 02, 2018 | Updated Aug 08, 2018

Do you need access to a new card and credit line as soon as possible? No time to wait for an application process that could take a week or more?

Luckily, there are instant approval credit cards that might be just what you’re looking for. However, instant approval cards are a mixed bag.

“Instant approval” is actually more like “instant decision” in reality. The card issuer may decide to reject you instantly, if you don’t meet the requirements for that card. And then there are “guaranteed approval” credit cards, which are a bit different altogether.

Instant approval does not mean you’ll necessarily have immediate access to your card. You’ll typically still need to wait until it arrives in the mail. However, some credit card companies may provide you with instant credit card numbers as soon as you’re approved, which you can use to make online purchases.

What Are Instant Approval Credit Cards?

There are two basic types of instant approval cards:

  • Regular credit cards: Almost every credit card offers an instant approval option — depending on your creditworthiness.
  • “Guaranteed approval” credit cards: Some subprime credit cards, designed for people with bad or no credit, offer “guaranteed approvals” without a credit check.

When it comes to just about every credit card, if you meet the credit and income requirements you have a good chance of being approved right when you apply.

Sometimes a credit card application will require more review. Maybe there’s a questionable item on your credit reports, or your address couldn’t be completely verified. If that happens it could take a few days to a couple weeks before you get a decision.

The truth is there’s only a possibility of instant approval or instant decision.

If you have excellent or even just good credit scores, you’ll find that most cards will end up being “instant approval” for you. The better your credit, the more likely you are to be approved fast.

It’s not all about credit scores, though. Higher-end cards, like premium travel credit cards, usually require higher incomes for approval. And each card issuer has its own specific requirements as well.

A great way to check your approval odds is to look for pre-approved credit card offers. If you get a pre-approved offer, also called a pre-qualified offer, it indicates that the card issuer thinks you have a very high likelihood of approval. It doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be approved, however. You can use pre-approved offers to get an idea of the types of credit cards you’ll qualify for.

Trying to get a credit card as soon as possible? Take a look at The Easiest Credit Cards to Get For Every Credit Score, and see if you’re pre-qualified for any of them.

Check out how Amex and Capital One explain their instant approval features. These examples are pretty typical of how most card issuers handle it. You can sometimes find these details in card applications.

American Express FAQ on instant approval.

American Express’ FAQ on instant approval.


Capital One's FAQ on instant approval.

Capital One’s FAQ on instant approval.

Instant Approval Credit Cards

If you don’t have good credit you won’t qualify for the better cash back and travel cards. But everything about instant approvals above still applies to credit cards for fair credit and bad credit.

Here are some of our picks for the best instant approval cards for fair or average credit, followed by cards for bad or no credit.

Looking for a wider selection? Check out our picks for the Best Credit Cards in a variety of different categories.

Fair or Average Credit

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back

Key Terms & Features

  • Anyone can apply, student or not
  • 1% cash back for every purchase
    • 1.25% cash back when you pay on time
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Journey Student Credit Card


Best for Cash Back Bonus Categories

Key Terms & Features

  • 3% cash back on travel and entertainment
  • 2% cash back at restaurants
  • No annual fee
  • Deserve will check more factors when you apply, like education, earning potential, and future employability
  • Deserve must connect to your bank account to verify the balance

Read more in our Review of the Deserve Pro Mastercard


Best for Transferring a Balance

Key Terms & Features

  • 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
  • No balance transfer fee for the first 60 days; 5% transfer fee after that
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Chase Slate Credit Card


Best for Students

Key Terms & Features

  • 5% cash back in bonus reward categories that change every 3 months
  • Double all cash back earned in the first year
  • 0% intro purchase APR for 6 months
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Discover it for Students


Best for Small Business Owners

Key Terms & Features

  • 1% cash back for every purchase
  • No annual fee
  • Reports card activity to Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, Small Business Financial Exchange, and the consumer credit bureaus

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Spark Classic for Business


Bad or No Credit

Best for Earning Rewards, No Annual Fee

Key Terms & Features

  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter
  • Double cash back in your first year
  • Security deposit of $200 to $2,500
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Discover it Secured Credit Card


Best for Low Security Deposit

Key Terms & Features

  • Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time
  • Security deposit of $49 to $1,000
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Secured Mastercard


Best for High Credit Limit

Key Terms & Features

  • Security deposit of $300 to $10,000
  • Must have a Wells Fargo checking or savings account
  • $25 annual fee


Best for No Bank Account Required

Key Terms & Features

  • Security deposit of $200 to $2,500
  • No annual fee
  • Can apply without a bank account by visiting a Citibank in person

Read more in our Review of the Citi Secured Mastercard


Best for Military Members and Families

Key Terms & Features

  • 1% cash back for every purchase
  • $35 annual fee

Read more in our Review of the USAA Secured Card American Express


Best for No Credit History

Key Terms & Features

  • $39 annual fee
  • Deserve will check more factors when you apply, like education, earning potential, and future employability
  • Deserve must connect to your bank account to verify the balance

Read more in our Review of the Deserve Classic Mastercard

If you’re trying to improve your credit check out credit builder loans through Self Lender. They’re a bit like a loan in reverse, and they give you an easy way to add a positive account to your credit profile.

Instant Approval Retail Store Cards

The checkout process is not the best time to make major financial decisions. But still, many retailers will try to sell you on their store credit cards when you make a purchase.

They may offer a 20% discount on an item, for example, or a $25 gift card for spending at least $25. Store cards are usually pretty easy to get compared to other cards as well, available to people with average or poor credit.

It can be pretty tempting — apply for free, and get an immediate discount on your purchase? That doesn’t sound so bad. You usually just need to provide your ID and Social Security number.

If you take this approach and you’re approved, you’ll be able to charge that transaction to the card. It will reduce your available credit. But you may not be able to use the card again until you get it in the mail.

However, it’s not a good idea to apply for credit cards simply to get a small discount at a store.

Maybe you’re thinking: Hey, 20% off a $200 purchase is $40! That’s quite the savings!

But actually, when it comes to credit card signup offers, this is very small. Compare that to the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card (Review), which provides $200 cash back for spending $500 in the first 90 days.

So you can get a much better value with signup offers on general-use reward credit cards. Store cards tend to have very small bonuses, relatively speaking. And if you’re going to get a hard inquiry on your credit reports from the application, you’d probably be better off taking that small hit for a more rewarding card.

My first ever credit card was the Macy's American Express® Card (Review). I applied for it in-store while I was checking out, to get a discount on some clothes I would never wear. I then closed it soon after because I didn’t know what I was doing. This was not a good strategy!

– Brendan Harkness, Editor and Columnist

We don’t usually recommend using store credit cards. There are quite a few downsides. Store cards often have:

  • Lower credit limits
  • Higher interest rates
  • Poor customer service

We get many complaints about store cards. Sometimes people say their credit limits are reduced for no apparent reason. Others run into slow payment processing systems, or have trouble with poorly-trained customer support reps.

Some store cards are offered by the major credit card issuers, and you may find that they have better customer support than your average store card. We usually advise trying to stay away from cards issued by Synchrony and Comenity.

There’s only reason why it might make sense to get a store card, in our opinion.

If you shop at that store very frequently, and can’t get a better value with a different rewards card, it might be a good idea to use that store’s co-branded card.

The My Best Buy™ Visa (Review), for example, offers 5% cash back at Best Buy. That’s probably a better direct cash back deal than you can find with any general-use reward card.

It also has some special financing offers, but watch out: some of these are deferred financing deals. That means if you fail to pay back the entire amount by the due date, you’ll be charged interest on the original balance going all the way back to the purchase date.

Deferred financing offers aren’t as favorable as the basic 0% intro APR periods you can get with many cards. This is why it’s very important to read the card terms carefully. Store cards don’t usually offer intro APR periods, which is another reason to avoid them.

What Are “Guaranteed Approval” Credit Cards?

“Guaranteed approval” credit cards are subprime offers designed for people with bad or no credit.

They can “guarantee” approval because they don’t check your credit history when making their decision. So bad or limited credit isn’t an obstacle to getting these cards.

We keep putting “guaranteed approval” in quotes because your approval is not actually guaranteed, despite the phrase being thrown around quite a bit. Your application could be denied for a few different reasons:

  • You’re not old enough
  • Your identity or address can’t be verified
  • You don’t have an eligible bank account
  • You don’t provide the security deposit (for secured credit cards)
  • The card issuer has some other particular requirement you don’t meet

We generally recommend staying away from “guaranteed approval” credit cards.

Although these issuers may give you want you want — a quick new credit card — it’s probably not the best long-term solution. These cards are very easy to get for three main reasons:

  1. Cost: They tend to cost more than other cards, and some have extra fees
  2. Value: They don’t offer good rewards or benefits
  3. Support: The quality of customer support is low, even for credit cards

On top of all that, the websites and payment processing systems often seem to be years behind the other card issuers. We get a lot of complaints about subprime credit card issuers, with people reporting problems making payments, checking their account details online, and dealing with customer support.

So, although these “guaranteed approval” card offers may seem attractive, and they do report to the three major credit bureaus, we advise staying away. It could save you a few headaches.

Here are a few examples of subprime cards:

  • Green Dot primor® Secured Visa® Gold Card (Review): No minimum credit score required; $49 annual fee and extra fees; security deposit of $200 to $5,000
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card: No credit check to apply; $35 annual fee and extra fees; security deposit of $200 to $3,000
  • Total Visa® Card: No credit check to apply; $89 processing fee, $75 fee the first year, $6.25 monthly fee after the first year, and extra fees; unsecured card

Instead of applying for those cards, take a look at our recommendations above for which credit cards to get if you have fair or bad credit.

Or see more of our Best Credit Card Picks:

Wrapping Up

Instant approval doesn’t always mean instant approval.

Depending on your creditworthiness you may get an instant decision with most cards, approved or denied. In some cases the application will take longer to process, and it could take up to a week or two before you get a decision.

Some retail stores will offer you credit cards when you reach the checkout counter, trying to lure you in with a discount. But these cards are rarely worth using, and the signup bonuses are relatively small compared to other reward cards.

“Guaranteed approval” is a different type of card offer. These cards don’t take your credit into account when you apply, so they’re very easy to get. But there’s still a chance of being denied.

We don’t usually recommend using “guaranteed approval” cards. If your credit is in awful shape, take a look at our top picks for credit cards for bad credit and secured cards. With responsible card use you’ll strengthen your credit profile, and eventually be able to qualify for the best rewards cards.

There are also credit builder loans, an additional tactic you can use to improve your credit scores. These are installment loans, rather than rotating credit accounts like credit cards. It’s good to have variety like this on your credit reports, especially when you’re adding records of timely payments.

Looking for the perfect new credit card? Check out our picks for the Best Credit Cards available today.
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