Applying for credit cards isn’t something you should take lightly because it absolutely can hurt your credit score. One credit card application can ding your score by just a few points, but multiple applications could raise red flags for lenders and drag down your credit score accordingly.
Still, while applying for a credit card can hurt your credit, there are a number of potential pluses to credit cards, from allowing you to build your credit history to earning rewards. Here’s how to navigate the effects of applying for credit on your credit score, as well as some alternatives to consider if you don’t think your score can currently weather it.
Hard vs Soft Credit Inquiries
To understand how applying for a credit card can hurt your score, it’s first important to know the difference between hard and soft credit inquiries.
A hard inquiry, also known as a hard pull or hard credit check, generally occurs when a lender is determining whether to loan you the funds you’ve applied for. This might happen if you’ve applied for a mortgage or a new credit card, for example.
On the other hand, a soft inquiry, or soft credit pull, tends to happen when someone runs a credit check to gather information without the express purpose of lending you money. For instance, a credit card issuer may do a soft pull in order to make a preapproval offer, or a potential employer might perform a soft inquiry as part of the application process. A soft credit inquiry also may happen when you check your credit report.
Perhaps the most important difference between a hard pull vs. a soft pull is how it impacts your credit scores. While hard credit inquiries show up on your credit report and affect your score, soft inquiries do not. Further, while soft pulls can be done without your consent, creditors need your approval to do a hard inquiry.
How Applying for Credit Cards Can Hurt Your Score
While your credit score won’t take a huge hit when you apply for a credit card, it will get dinged. Why? When you apply for a credit card, the card issuer will perform a hard inquiry to determine whether you’re a good candidate to lend money to.
Hard inquiries can lower your credit score because a new application can represent more risk for the card issuer. According to FICO, a hard credit inquiry will generally affect your score by less than five points. Those with few accounts or a thin credit history can experience a greater impact on their score. Additionally, multiple inquiries within a short period of time can exacerbate effects on your credit score.
Hard pulls stay on your credit report for two years, though their impact on your credit scores typically vanishes after a year. It’s important to note that your score will see an impact whether or not you’re approved, as the hard inquiry is conducted either way.
Should You Apply for Multiple Credit Cards at Once?
Simply put, no. This is a bad idea for your credit score. While it might make sense to apply for more than one job at a time, that’s not the way to go with credit cards. Instead, you should approach applying for credit cards strategically.
By applying for several cards over a short period, you might send the signal that you’re desperately seeking funds and headed for — or already in — trouble. You’ll appear risky to lenders and that will likely be reflected by a dip in your credit score.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple credit cards. You’ll just want to take your time and space out your acquisitions. If you get rejected for a card, pause to figure out why, and then take steps to address the suspected weak spots. Once you’ve had time to build your credit, consider trying again.
How Often Can I Apply for a Credit Card Without Hurting My Credit?
Per Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, it’s wise to wait at least six months in between credit card applications. If you apply for a number of credit cards within a few months, you could see more than the usual ding to your score that new credit inquiries typically cause. While the effects may be brief, Experian states that you could see a “potentially significant drop” in your score.
While six months is the minimum waiting period suggested, how often it’s appropriate to apply for new credit cards also depends on your financial specifics. For instance, if your application was denied due to your credit score and you still haven’t improved it, then it may not make sense to apply again, even if six months have passed. Similarly, you might not choose to apply for a new card if you know you have another big lending application coming up, such as for a mortgage.
On the other hand, if you have a strong credit profile, your score may not take as much of a hit if you decide to apply for another card sooner to try to cash in on generous rewards or a hefty welcome bonus offer. Those who don’t yet have a credit history and are beginning to build a credit profile may also find it’s worthwhile to wait less time between applications.
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Can Applying for Credit Cards Help Your Score?
There are two sides to a coin and so it goes with applying for credit cards — there can be some upside when you apply for a new card.
This is partly because opening a new account effectively increases your credit limit. In turn, this can lower your credit utilization ratio, which is your outstanding balances compared to your overall credit limit. Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score and is second in importance only to your payment history.
Another potential plus to opening a new card is that if you make on-time payments on your new card, your positive payment history can build your score over time. However, if you’re a credit card newbie and still working on establishing credit, you may not see the uptick in your score as quickly. This is because FICO requires you to have at least one account that’s been open for six months and one account that’s been reported to the credit bureau within the last six months to qualify for a credit score.
If you don’t already have a handful of credit card accounts, a new card also can positively impact your score because it’s adding another revolving account to your lineup. While your mix of account types only comprises 10% of your credit score, credit scoring models do look at this.
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Does Applying for a Credit Card and Not Getting Approved Hurt Your Credit?
Your credit will be affected whether or not you’re approved for a credit card. That’s because when you submit a credit card application, a hard credit inquiry is conducted to determine if you’re eligible. The effects of that hard pull will apply regardless of the results.
However, your credit won’t face any consequences for the fact you were denied a credit card. That information won’t be reflected in your credit score, nor will it show up on your credit report.
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Things to Consider Before Applying for a Credit Card
Before you rush to apply for credit, make sure you’re ready. Here’s what to consider doing prior to applying.
• Check your credit report: The first step is to get a copy of your credit report. To get your free report each year, go to AnnualCreditReport.com . As you review your credit report, look for any errors. If there are any, take steps to fix them before you approach a credit card issuer. Also check to see if you’ve had any other recent hard inquiries.
• Consider any other upcoming credit applications: Be mindful about what’s on your horizon before moving forward with applying for a new credit card. For example, if you think that you will be applying for a mortgage or car loan soon, you may not want to apply for a card and rack up multiple inquiries at once. It may make sense to get your mortgage or car loan first and wait for a little while to go after the credit card.
• Don’t plan to ditch your old cards: Just because you hope to get a new card, don’t start canceling the other cards in your wallet. Remember, length of credit history makes up 15% of your credit score. By canceling old cards, you’d also reduce your total available credit, which could drive up your credit utilization ratio if you have hefty balances on other cards.
• Think about why you want to apply for a credit card: Lastly, have a little talk with yourself. A credit card rule of thumb is just because you can get a credit card doesn’t mean you need one. If you already have a credit card, what’s driving you to apply? How are you managing your existing credit card? If you’re not 100% sure you’ll be able to pay off the balance in full each month, think twice about getting it. When balances linger from month to month, it becomes costly due to interest racking up.
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Alternatives to Credit Cards
If you’re worried about the effects that applying for a credit card may have on your credit score, know that you have other options. Instead of getting a credit card, you may also consider the following alternatives for financing:
• Debit card: If you’re simply looking for another way to easily make purchases and avoid carrying around a wallet full of cash, consider a debit card. While a debit card does not allow you to build your credit score, applying for one does not require a hard pull and is often as easy as opening a bank account. Do note that debit cards tend to have less robust security protections compared to credit cards though.
• Loan from a family member or friend: If you’re wary of weathering a hard credit inquiry right now, consider approaching a close family member or friend about borrowing the funds you need. Make sure to clearly agree to the terms of the loan agreement, including when you’ll pay back the money. Also realize the potential implications for your personal relationship if you don’t make good on paying this person back.
• Salary advance: Another option may be to ask your employer if you can borrow funds from a future paycheck. This can allow you to borrow money in a pinch without needing to go through the formal credit application process. Employers typically won’t charge fees or interest, though you may have to pay an administration fee or interest if your employer relies on a third party for the service.
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Applying for a credit card may be a simple process in terms of filling out the forms, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to take lightly. It can have very real effects on your credit score due to the fact that a formal application requires a hard credit inquiry. Thus, applying for a credit card is always something you should consider carefully and do responsibly.
Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.
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