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Instant-Use Credit Cards, Explained

By Kelly Boyer Sagert · October 10, 2022 · 7 minute read

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Instant-Use Credit Cards, Explained

After you’re approved for a new credit card, you usually have to wait for it to arrive in the mail before you can start using it. But with an instant-use credit card, as the name implies, you can start swiping immediately.

While not all credit card issuers offer this feature, some issuers share account information with cardholders as soon as they’re approved. Getting a credit card you can use instantly can come in handy if you’re eager to start racking up rewards or spending to secure a sign-up bonus.

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What Is an Instant-Use Credit Card?

Instant-use is a feature that some credit cards offer, allowing account holders to use the credit card before they receive a physical card. This is a perk given how long it takes to get a credit card otherwise — usually, cardholders can expect to wait anywhere from five business days to two weeks for their card to arrive in the mail.

Each credit card issuer can have unique policies and requirements about using an instant-access credit card. For example, you may not have access to your full credit limit until your physical credit card arrives.

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How Instant-Use Credit Cards Work

There are a few different ways that credit cards offering instant use may work. You may receive a credit card account number before you get the actual card, which allows you to use the account online. Or, the credit card issuer may provide a temporary instant credit card number or barcode that you can use to make purchases before the official card and number arrives. Note that this differs from virtual credit cards, where the credit card numbers you receive are always temporary and disposable.

In other cases, it’s possible to add the instant-use credit card you’re approved for to a digital wallet, such as PayPal, Google Pay, or Apple Pay. You could then use the card as you’d use other cards in your digital wallet.

Benefits of Instant-Use Credit Cards

The exact benefits of an instant-use credit card depend upon the specific policies of the issuer. Besides providing access to the credit card account more quickly, these cards can offer the following perks.

Faster Rewards Accrual

A key benefit of instant-use credit cards is how quickly you can use them. If a credit card for immediate use features a rewards program, you could start accrue these rewards more quickly, thanks to prompt access to your credit card account. Similarly, if your card offers a lucrative sign-up bonus, you can start spending to earn it that much sooner.

Discounts

Many brands offer discounts to those who get their instant-use credit card. For instance, some retailers may provide a 25% discount on the first purchase you make with the instant-use card. You could use that discount strategically on the largest purchase you’d planned to make in order to maximize this benefit.

Financing Offers

An instant credit card number may offer special financing offers, such as a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for a designated amount of time. Taking advantage of such an offer can save you a significant amount of money if you pay off your full balance before the promotion ends. Otherwise, the regular interest rate will kick in.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Drawbacks of Instant-Use Credit Cards

When choosing a credit card, it can understandably seem tempting to get a credit card you can use today. Watch out, though, for the following drawbacks of instant-use credit cards.

Limited Availability

There aren’t that many instant-use credit cards available to choose from. Only a select number of issuers offer them, with some only offering instant access on certain cards. Further, even if you do apply for one of the instant-use credit cards offered, there’s the chance you won’t get immediate access if the issuer encounters any challenges confirming your information.

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Initial Usage Restrictions

With some instant-use credit cards, you don’t get immediate access to your full credit limit until you activate your physical card. Instead, when you receive your instant credit card number, you’ll only be able to use a limited portion of your approved credit limit. Especially if you were planning to make a large purchase immediately, this could cap your spending power.

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Potential for Overspending

This can be a downside of any credit card. But with a credit card for immediate use, it can be tempting to run up the balance as soon as you have the account number in hand.

Tips for Getting an Instant-Use Credit Card

If you’re hoping to secure a credit card you can use immediately, here are some tips to keep in mind throughout the process.

Check Your Credit Score Before Applying

Before you move forward with applying — and incurring a dip in your credit score due to a hard inquiry — take a look at your credit score. See if it falls within an issuer’s credit card requirements. If it doesn’t, you might be better off applying for another card you’re more likely to get approved for. Or, you could take steps to improve your credit score before you submit an application, assuming you have the time to do so.

Don’t Skip Researching

If you’re in a rush to find a credit card for immediate use, you might feel tempted to jump on the first instant-use credit card you spot. But don’t let a sense of urgency cause you to skip out on doing due diligence. It’s still important to take the time to compare your options, and to review a credit card’s terms and conditions before you’d move forward with applying.

Remember to Read the Fine Print

When you’re in a rush to get a credit card you can use today, it can seem harmless enough to skip over reading the fine print. However, especially in the case of instant-use credit cards, this can contain some important information when it comes to understanding credit cards.

For instance, there may be restrictions on usage of your instant credit card number, such as limited access to your credit limit. If you’d planned to make a massive purchase immediately, you’ll want to know that sooner rather than later.

Tips for Using an Instant-Use Credit Card

If you get approved for a credit card for immediate use, it’s likely you’ll want to start using it as soon as possible. Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you start spending.

Know Your Options for Access

Issuers will provide approved applicants with usage instructions for their instant-access credit cards. The issuer may give you a credit card number that you can then use to make purchases online or using your mobile wallet. If the credit card is attached to a retailer, they may set it up so you can use their app right away with the credit card number they provide. For instance, the Capital One Walmart Rewards Card allows you to instantly start using the card through the Walmart app and Walmart Pay.

Don’t Forget to Active Your Physical Card When It Arrives

Even if you’re already off to the races when it comes to spending with your new credit card, don’t neglect your physical card when it does arrive in the mail. Unless you have your card in your digital wallet, an instant use credit card number limits you to online or over-the-phone purchases. Plus, some issues only offer partial access to your credit limit until your physical card is activated.

Remember That Basic Credit Card Rules Still Apply

Same-day credit cards come with the same set of credit card rules as any other card. Before you get carried away with making purchases, make sure you’re not spending more than you can afford to pay off. You’ll also want to set up a reminder — or even better, auto-pay — to ensure you make timely payments on your new credit card.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

What to Do If Your Card Doesn’t Offer Instant Access

If you thought you’d applied for an instant-access credit card only to discover it actually isn’t a credit card you can use instantly, you do have options.

For one, you can call your credit card issuer and request rush delivery. Though this likely won’t be as speedy as instant access, it can expedite the mailing process. Just keep in mind that you may owe a fee to cover the cost of faster shipping.

You might also explore a personal loan. Many online lenders offer same-day funding, and the interest rates for personal loans tend to be lower than those of credit cards. Just keep in mind that applying for multiple loans in a short amount of time can affect your credit score. That’s because each application results in a hard inquiry, which will temporarily lower your score.

Lastly, this could be a good time to dip into your emergency fund — especially if you really need fast access to cash. If you do, just make sure to replenish your savings so you’re covered the next time an unexpected expense comes up.

The Takeaway

Applying for instant-use credit cards can come with benefits, including immediate buying power. There are some downsides to consider, though, before making the right credit card choice for your unique needs. For one, you’ll have a more limited selection of cards to choose from, as not all credit card issuers offer instant-use credit cards.

However, if you can find a card that’s the right fit and that offers immediate access, you’ll be able to start enjoying the card’s perks without a wait. The SoFi credit card, for instance, immediately offers approved applicants a digital card. Plus, cardholders can cash-back rewards on eligible purchases, among a number of other benefits. Learn more and consider applying for a credit card with SoFi today.

Find out today if you qualify for a SoFi credit card.

FAQ

Can you use a credit card the same day you get it?

With instant-use credit cards, you can use the card upon approval, which could happen almost instantly. For credit cards that don’t offer instant use, you can typically use the card as soon it arrives in the mail.

How long does it take for a credit card to arrive in the mail?

There are two factors that can impact how long it takes for a credit card to arrive. The first is how long approval takes, which can happen nearly instantly or take up to a week or so. You’ll then have to wait on mailing time, which can take anywhere from five business days up to two calendar weeks.

Can I use my credit card before it arrives?

There are credit cards that you can use instantly, although not all credit cards offer this capability. Some cards require you to wait for the physical card to arrive before you using it. If you have an instant-use credit card, you’ll receive instructions from the issuer on how to start using the account right away.


Photo credit: iStock/Cunaplus_M.Faba

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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.
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