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Apply for a Credit Card: Step-By-Step Guide

By Alyssa Schwartz · April 01, 2022 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Apply for a Credit Card: Step-By-Step Guide

A credit card can be a useful tool for managing your money. But before tapping into the benefits, the first thing to know is how to get a credit card. There are some requirements, and some tips that can help when it comes to getting approved.

Here’s the lowdown on the key things to know to apply for a credit card — and most importantly, to get approved for a credit card.

What to Consider When Applying for a Credit Card

Before you worry about how to get a credit card, it’s helpful to first understand what a credit card is. As the first word in its name suggests, a credit card is a line of credit, which is a type of flexible loan that enables you to borrow money up to a fixed limit.

When an individual charges a transaction at a business that accepts credit card payments, the credit card company pays the merchant. The cardholder must then pay back the credit card company by a designated date. Otherwise, they’ll incur interest charges.

This basic premise of how credit cards work means the card company is taking a risk when extending credit to any individual. They assess that risk via an application that determines not only whether the individual gets approved for a credit card, but also factors like their credit card limit and annual percentage rate (APR) on a credit card.

Before applying, there are some important considerations that can help improve your chances of getting approved for a credit card.

Learn About the Terms Associated with Your Credit Card

Evaluating different credit cards can feel overwhelming for a newbie, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with some basic credit card terms that are common across all credit cards. Here are some common terms you might run into in a credit card application and as you begin to use your new card:

•   Balance: Your balance is the amount of money you owe on your credit card. This can include purchases (even paying taxes with credit card) as well as any fees, balance transfers, and cash advances.

•   Balance transfer: A balance transfer is when you move money from one credit card to another credit card, ideally one with a lower APR. This can allow you to pay off your debt more easily, though you’ll often pay a balance transfer fee to move over the balance.

•   Billing cycle: A credit card billing cycle is the period of time between the regular statements you receive from your credit card company. Usually, billing cycles occur on a monthly basis.

•   CVV: The card verification value, or CVV number on a credit card, is a three- to four-digit number that appears on a physical credit card. It serves as an additional layer of security in transactions that occur over the phone or online.

•   Expiration date: A credit card expiration date represents when a credit card is valid until. Usually shown as a month and a year, you can use your credit card up until the last date of that month in that year.

•   Late fee: The late fee is a charge you’ll incur if you miss making at least your minimum payment by your payment due date. To avoid this fee, it’s important to alway pay on time, even if you’re in the midst of disputing a credit card charge, for instance.

•   Minimum payment: The credit card minimum payment is the least amount you must pay each month on your outstanding balance. This can be a flat amount or a percentage of your outstanding balance.

•   Purchase APR: The APR for purchases represents the total annual cost of borrowing money through purchases made with your credit card. This APR applies only on remaining balances after the statement due date.

Decide on the Type of Credit Card You Need

There are a number of different types of credit cards out there that can serve different needs. For instance, there are:

•   Travel rewards credit cards

•   Cashback credit cards

•   Credit-building credit cards

•   Balance transfer credit cards

While most of the above types of cards are unsecured credit cards, meaning no deposit is required, there are also secured credit cards. These do require a deposit, though they may also be more accessible to those with limited or low credit.

Different types of cards offer different benefits, and they may also vary when it comes to things like annual fees or average credit card limits.

There may also be differences in the requirements for getting approved. It’s not so much a question of how old you have to be to get a credit card — rather, different cards may have varying requirements for minimum income or credit score needed to qualify.

Before applying, it’s a good idea to do some comparison shopping to find a card that not only fits your needs but also that you’re eligible for.

Cash in on up to $300–and 3% cash back for 365 days.¹

Apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card. Then open a bank account with qualifying direct deposits. Some things are just better together.

Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score is a number that indicates the likelihood that you’ll repay a debt. It’s based on your credit history, and banks use it as a tool for evaluating credit card applications and deciding whether to approve them.

Here are some common factors that can affect your credit score:

•   Payment history, including on-time payments, missed payments, and having an account sent to collections

•   Credit utilization, or how much one owes relative to their total available revolving credit

•   Length of credit history

•   Types of credit accounts

•   Recent activity, such as applying for or opening new accounts

Generally, the higher an individual’s credit score, the more creditworthy they’re considered. If using the FICO scoring model, here’s a general breakdown of what various scores mean:

•   Less than 580: Poor

•   580-669: Fair

•   670-739: Good

•   740-799: Very good

•   800+: Exceptional

It’s a good idea for an individual to know their score and their chances of getting approved before applying for a credit card. The credit score required will vary depending on the type of credit card. For example, rewards credit cards, which come with big perks, tend to require a good credit score. But some types of credit cards, such as secured credit cards, may be more accessible to those with lower credit scores because they pose a lesser risk to lenders.

It’s worth noting that pulling one’s own credit information is considered a “soft inquiry” and does not reduce their credit score. When you apply for a new credit card, however, it will generate a “hard inquiry,” which can lower your credit score temporarily.

Where to Apply for a Credit Card

Credit cards are offered through banks, credit unions, retailers, airlines, colleges and universities, and a host of other institutions. This means that there are a variety of places where one can apply for a credit card — and often a number of ways to apply.

You can apply for a credit card in person, such as at a bank branch or retail location. Or, you may apply over the phone. Most credit card issuers also offer online applications, which add convenience to the process.

How to Apply for a Credit Card: What Information Is Required

While application requirements will depend on the credit card issuer, what you need to apply for a credit card generally includes:

•   Annual income

•   Address and length of time at that address

•   Date of birth

•   Phone number

•   Social Security number

•   Employment status and sources of income

•   Financial accounts and/or assets

•   Financial liabilities

•   Country of citizenship and residence

There is also some information that credit card issuers are not allowed to consider in evaluating a credit card application due to laws protecting applicants from discrimination. This includes:

•   Age

•   Sex

•   Marital status

•   Race

•   Religion

What Happens If Your Application Is Turned Down?

Getting turned down for a credit card is indeed disappointing. When a credit card application is declined, you have the right to know why. You can request details about your application in the form of an adverse action letter, which includes the reason for the denial, details about your credit score, and notice of the right to dispute the accuracy of information provided by the credit reporting agency.

This can serve as helpful context for understanding why an application was declined. It can also help in determining what the appropriate next steps are for improving one’s chances of approval, if and when you apply for another credit card. For instance, you may consider applying for a credit card that has less stringent credit requirements, or you may take steps to improve your credit score and try again at a later date.

Looking for a new credit card?

Applying for a credit card doesn’t have to be complicated or feel intimidating. While it can feel like there’s a lot to learn, by getting a handle on common credit card terms and knowing your own credit score, you’ll be better positioned to find a credit card that’s right for your needs. From there, you can start comparing your options and know what to expect when it comes to how to get a credit card.

For a limited time, new credit card holders† who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/23.

Take advantage of this offer by applying for a SoFi credit card today.


How do I choose a credit card?

Choosing a credit card is a personal decision that depends on your needs, preferences, financial habits, and eligibility. Before applying for a credit card that appears to fit your needs, it’s a good idea to check your credit score and any other requirements, such as minimum income, to improve your chances of getting approved.

How long does it take to get a credit card?

The length of time it takes to get a credit card can depend on a number of factors, including the eligibility requirements and how an application is submitted. Some online credit card applications offer fast or even instant approval, although it can take some additional time for the credit card to arrive in the mail.

What questions do they ask when you apply for a credit card?

The exact questions in a credit card application will depend on the credit card company, but may include personal details such as your address, phone number, Social Security number, employment history, other financial accounts, annual income, and current financial liabilities.

Does your credit get pulled when applying for a credit card?

Generally, a credit card company will do a hard credit inquiry before extending final approval. However, there may be some scenarios where a credit card issuer may only do a soft inquiry, such as if an individual has been preapproved for a credit card or already has a banking relationship with the credit card issuer.

†SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS PROSPECTIVELY BASED ON MARKET CONDITIONS AND BORROWER ELIGIBILITY. Your eligibility for a SoFi Credit Card Account or a subsequently offered product or service is subject to the final determination by The Bank of Missouri (“TBOM”) (“Issuer”), as issuer, pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. Please allow up to 30 days from the date of submission to process your application. The card offer referenced in this communication is only available to individuals who are at least 18 years of age (or of legal age in your state of residence), and who reside in the United States.

*You will need to maintain a qualifying Direct Deposit every month with SoFi Checking and Savings in order to continue to receive this promotional cash back rate. Qualifying Direct Deposits are defined as deposits from enrolled member’s employer, payroll, or benefits provider via ACH deposit. Deposits that are not from an employer (such as check deposits; P2P transfers such as from PayPal or Venmo, etc.; merchant transactions such as from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.; and bank ACH transfers not from employers) do not qualify for this promotion. A maximum of 36,000 rewards points can be earned from this limited-time offer. After the promotional period ends or once you have earned the maximum points offered by this promotion, your cash back earning rate will revert back to 2%. 36,000 rewards points are worth $360 when redeemed into SoFi Checking and Savings, SoFi Money, SoFi Invest, Crypto, SoFi Personal Loan, SoFi Private Student Loan or Student Loan Refinance and are worth $180 when redeemed as a SoFi Credit Card statement credit.

Promotion Period: The Program will be available from 10/1/22 12:01 AM ET to 12/31/23 11:59PM ET

Eligible Participants: All new members who apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card, open a SoFi Checking and Savings account, and set up Direct Deposit transactions (“Direct Deposit”) into their SoFi Checking and Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi Credit Card members who set up Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account during the promotion period are eligible. All existing SoFi members who have already enrolled in Direct Deposit into a SoFi Checking & Savings account prior to the promotion period, and who apply and get approved for a SoFi Credit Card during the promotion period are eligible. Existing SoFi members who already have the SoFi Credit Card and previously set up Direct Deposit through SoFi Money or SoFi Checking & Savings are not eligible for this promotion.

1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/Dome Studio

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