Updated Jul 16, 2021 | Published Aug 02, 2018 • 13 min read
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Whether you’re approved or rejected, nearly every credit card issuer can provide an instant decision once you apply. Some issuers offer instant credit card numbers that can be used as soon as you’re approved.
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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.
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.
It’s not all about credit scores, though. Higher-end cards, like premium travel credit cards that offer points or miles, 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, also called pre-qualified offers. If you pre-qualify for an 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.
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.
If you’re trying to improve your credit check out credit builder loans through Self (formerly known as Self Lender). They’re a bit like loans 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 (and lots of people regret doing so, per our 2020 store card survey). 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!
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.
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 rewards program 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:
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:
Cost: They tend to cost more than other cards, and some have extra fees
Value: They don’t offer good rewards or benefits
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. All of these adverse factors combine to make certain subprime cards some of the worst credit cards out there.
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.
Maybe you have a big expense coming up with no way to pay for it, and you’re looking for a 0% APR card to give you some time to pay it off. Or perhaps you’re going on a trip next week, and you waited a bit too long to apply for that travel card.
Whatever the reason, you’re looking to get and use a credit card as quickly as possible.
Luckily for you, while you won’t be able to get your physical credit card the same day you apply, there are a few ways to access your credit card number immediately after you’re approved.
Along with those three, here are the other issuers that will provide you with your card details as soon as you’re approved (at least for some of their cards):
American Express: You can get an instant-use credit card number after being approved if Amex can instantly verify your identity. The account number will be the same as the physical card you get, but the other details may differ.
Bank of America: Three BofA airline credit cards will provide instant numbers if you apply while booking travel on their respective airline websites.
Chase: You may be able to load your new Chase card into a mobile wallet as soon as you’re approved; co-branded cards may be able to be used with their respective brands.
Citi: Some of Citi’s co-branded cards are rumored to provide instant-use credit card numbers: the American Airlines, Costco, and AT&T cards.
USAA: Instant card numbers are provided for all cards, but credit lines are limited to $1,000 (the actual physical card will have your normal line of credit).
Retail Store Credit Cards: Many store cards can be used immediately after approval — they’re often advertised at checkout counters, so you can use them for the purchase you’re making.
Take note that you can get an instant card number from these issuers only after you’re approved. If your approval decision is immediate, you can get your instant card details then and there. But if your approval decision takes some time you’ll have to wait to get your instant card details, so this might spoil any plans to use your new card on the same day you apply.
Not all issuers offer instant numbers for all of their cards, but you may be able to get expedited shipping if you want to start using your physical card as soon as possible. Call your issuer immediately after being approved to see if they’ll use expedited shipping — they may even overnight the card to you.
Virtual account numbers are different than your regular, physical card account number, and are typically used for extra security when shopping online. You won’t be exposing your real card details, and if a virtual number is compromised you can simply cancel it and get a new one, without going through the trouble of getting a new physical card and account number.
Instant card numbers, in contrast, will be the same as your physical card number. So you’ll be using your real card details for any transactions you make with them.
You can get an instant card number after approval with all American Express cards, as long as your identity can be verified instantly from the information in your application.
If Amex can verify your identity instantly you’ll see an image of your new card. The instant account number you see will be the same as your physical card, but the four-digit CID (card identification number) will be different, and the expiration date may be different as well. Your credit limit for the instant card may be smaller than the actual credit limit for your account.
You should copy down this instant card information immediately, because you won’t be able to see it again after this step in the application process.
Since the CID and possibly expiration date will differ from your actual card, it won’t be a good idea to use your instant card details for any subscription services or recurring payments. Use the information on your physical card for those types of purchases.
Some people have reported receiving statement credits when Amex has been unable to provide instant numbers, although this doesn’t always happen. A reddit user shared this image of a $315 statement credit after not getting an instant number for a Hilton card:
Getting a statement credit instead of an instant card number from American Express. Image credit: Imgur via reddit
Here are some of the top American Express cards, which you can apply for and begin using as soon as you’re approved if your identity can be instantly verified:
Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
$200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
$240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
New! American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
$200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
$200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
$300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships. Enrollment required.
$179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
5X Membership Rewards points per dollar (on up to $500,000 spent per calendar year, then 1X) on:
Flights booked directly through airlines or through American Express Travel
Prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on other eligible travel expenses booked through American Express Travel
1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
100,000 bonus points for spending $6,000 in the first 6 months; 10X points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months
Rose Gold is back. You can now choose between Gold or Rose Gold.
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
$120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
$120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
Get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
NEW - 40,000 Bonus Mile + Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ Offer.
Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Save with a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
Get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ every year! EACH YEAR on your account anniversary get a companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22). Valid on all Alaska flights booked on alaskaair.com.
Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Get exclusive access to discounted redemption levels when you redeem miles for hotel stays at over 400,000 properties using Alaska Airlines Hotels.
Earn unlimited miles and travel with no blackout dates and no foreign transaction fees.
You may be able to load new Chase credit cards into a mobile wallet as soon as you’re approved. Mobile wallets, like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay, allow you to use your card for purchases, but you may not be able to see all of your card information until it arrives in the mail. Cards in Chase Pay can also be used with PayPal.
Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
$300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
According to Citi’s customer support, Citi is not able to give out account numbers when applying through Citi’s website or over the phone. But we were told if you apply for a co-branded American Airlines card through American Airlines’ website while booking travel, you may be able to use the card instantly after being approved.
There are also quite a few reports online that the Costco credit cards can be used immediately after being approved, as long as you apply in a Costco store. This would fit with the general trend of store credit cards being instantly available when applying in-store. And there are a few reports of the AT&T card being available immediately after approval as well, although your mileage may vary here.
Learn more about some of these credit card offers from Citi:
Merchants are always trying to get you to sign up for their store credit cards, often while you’re in the process of checking out. Although this is a bad time to make serious credit decisions, many people end up signing up for these cards to get mediocre savings on their current purchase.
Don’t be tempted by a $20 discount — only apply for a store’s credit card if you shop there frequently, and can’t get a better deal from a general-use reward card.
When applying in-store, you’ll typically be able to use your card immediately for the purchase you’re looking to make. You may be given a temporary card number to use until your actual card arrives in the mail. Some retailers don’t require you to have your card when making in-store purchases, they can just look up your card based on your personal information.
When applying online you may or may not be able to use the card immediately, depending on the retailer, but in most cases you probably cannot use it immediately. Some store cards have offers like “Save 20% on purchases on the day you’re approved,” but when applying online cardholders sometimes have trouble actually finding their card details to take advantage of the deal. If you want to use a discount like this, the safest bet will often be to apply for the card and make your purchases in-store, although this is less convenient.
Here are a few popular store cards you can use immediately after applying in-store and being approved:
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.
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.
If you need to use a credit card as soon as possible, some issuers offer instant card numbers you can use right after being approved. American Express, Capital One, and USAA are best for this because all of their cards are eligible for instant numbers, but there are some options from the other issuers mentioned above too.
Looking for the perfect new credit card? Check out our picks for the Best Credit Cards available today.
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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