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What to Know About Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Written by Equifax Experts on April 27, 2015 in Credit  |   37 comments

If you’re in the market for a new credit card, a pre-approved offer can be a tempting way to accelerate the process. But with all of the different options, it can be hard to determine if you’re truly pre-approved. Pre-approved offers, also known as pre-screened…

What to Know About Pre Approved Credit Card OffersIf you’re in the market for a new credit card, a pre-approved offer can be a tempting way to accelerate the process. But with all of the different options, it can be hard to determine if you’re truly pre-approved.

Pre-approved offers, also known as pre-screened offers, are issued based on information in your credit report indicating that you meet basic credit criteria.

Before you apply for a pre-approved credit card, there are a few things you should understand about a pre-approved credit card offer:

1. A pre-approval is an offer.
While an initial screening process does occur for pre-approved offers, this does not mean that the credit card issuer must provide you with a credit card. You will still need to apply in order to get final approval. In this way, a pre-approved credit card offer is more of an invitation than an acceptance letter. It means that the lender has identified you as a potential candidate, is aware of your general credit standing, and wants to make you aware of the credit products offered for people in your credit range.

Offers may also be based on membership in certain groups or relationships with certain companies. For example, frequent travelers may receive solicitations for pre-approved airline credit cards.

After you apply, the lender will determine whether your credit history meets the lending criteria. There’s no guarantee you’ll receive the terms of the original offer, and you could be rejected entirely.

2. A pre-approved credit card offer will not impact your credit score.
The initial screening that lenders use to select pre-approved individuals does not impact your credit score. In fact, your credit score will not be impacted until you decide to apply for the card.

After you submit your application to the lender, the lender will request your credit score. The credit score request is called a “hard inquiry,” and it will remain on your credit report for 24 months. Even if your credit request is denied, the inquiry will still impact your credit score.

While being sent a pre-approved credit offer doesn’t hurt your credit score, every time you apply for a credit card a lender will pull your credit report, which will result in a hard inquiry that will impact your credit score. For that reason, you may want to avoid applying for several credit cards at the same time.

You may want to pull your free credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com or purchase your credit score from one of the three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) beforehand so that you know your general standing and can apply for the type of credit card that fits your credit range. You should be aware that the credit score you purchase may be an educational credit score and may not be the credit score used by your potential lender.  That said, the credit score you purchase may help you figure out what type of interest rate you can reasonably expect the lender to offer you.

3. After you apply, you may be approved for terms that are different from the offer.
If you are approved after you apply for the credit card, you may end up with different terms and conditions than what was included in the original offer.

Your credit card APR dictates the interest rate you will pay if you carry a balance from month to month. The higher the APR, the more the credit card will cost you if you carry a balance. Many credit card offers advertise an attractive APR, but the rate you get will depend on your credit history and credit score.

Read over the terms and conditions and, if you are approved, be sure you understand your APR and other financial obligations related to the account. If you do not carry a balance from month to month, then you will not have to pay interest on the credit card, but you may still be obligated to pay other costs, such as an annual fee.

4. You can opt out of pre-approved credit card offers.
If you already have several credit cards or aren’t interested in borrowing, you can opt out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com.

You may also contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which manages an opt-out list for consumers who generally prefer not to receive mail or phone offers. You can sign up for this service on the DMA’s website or download a form to submit by mail. You can also call the DMA at 212-768-7277 to have the form mailed to you.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),  has no effect on your ability to apply for or obtain credit, but you may not receive the terms from pre-approved offers that may be more favorable than those offered to the general public.

5. Shred any unused credit card offers.
Credit card offers may contain sensitive personal information, such as your full name and address. You should shred these documents to protect yourself from identity thieves and scammers, who are known to scavenge dumpsters in order to find documents with personal information. Be sure to lock your financial documents and records in a safe place and destroy them when they are no longer needed.

6. If you are sent a physical card with a pre-approved offer, don’t try to use it.
A bank or lender cannot legally send you an actual credit card in the mail, so if there is a card in the offer envelope, don’t try to use it. This precaution, which was instituted by the Unsolicited Credit Card Act of 1970, is for your protection—to guard you against fraud, payment liability, or credit damage.

Before you respond and apply to a pre-approved credit card offer, be sure you read all the terms and conditions. Also be wary of incurring hard inquiries that could impact your credit score.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Michelle@fitnpoor says:

    These are so true. The offer isn’t always what you end up with.

  2. Catherine says:

    Good advice. Especially for college kids who get these offers in the mail all of the time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Definately Read the Fine Print Carefully.

  4. Tina says:

    Your bank may run a inquiry to see if you are preapproved as well. Make an informed decision before committing to apply.

  5. Doug says:

    The one thing that I would have added to part three of the article is that the “pre-approved” cards usually come at a much much higher rate than other cards. You state that it can be a “different” rate, but from what I have seen, it is always a much higher rate. Some of them looked interesting at first, until I looked at the APR and then it went straight into the shredder.

  6. Sonia says:

    Thx for the info.it was very useful.

  7. Dan says:

    I have often been tempted to apply and do not because if I receive a card who’s terms I can not accept, there is no way to cancel the card without it having a negative effect on my score. Not having any real credit knowledge I am not certain if that is true but sure would like to find the answer to this question.

  8. Charles says:

    this is happened to me on a couple of occasions and nothing is more upsetting than the promise of one thing and receiving another. it makes it difficult for the borrower to meet their objective

  9. mr. T. mc says:

    Good info

  10. Calista says:

    Thanks for the advice, just got two approved credit card offer. I filled out the application and got approved for both had no idea that would affect my credit score.
    Thanks for letting me know. Good advice

  11. JCvP says:

    The incentive for applying is the rewards and the decrease in the ratio of potential credit to credit actually used. The disincentive is damage to your credit standing from the hard inquiry, and the consumer can’t weigh the damage in advance. This is a stupid contradiction, and if it were resolved it would benefit both lenders (who would get more valid applications) and consumers (who could apply without damaging themselves in the process). The remedy: don’t consider an inquiry in response to a pre-approved offer to be a hard inquiry, unless there is (say) more than one inquiry per month. The ultimate solution would be to forbid pre-approved offers (a dishonest and deliberately misleading term) unless the consumer is actually pre-approved pending her signature on the form to accept the terms and conditions.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This would of been nice to know as I fell for one that has a monthly fee and an annual fee. We just bought a house so I am going to wait for six months and then get one that doesn’t have a annual or monthly fee and close the other one.

  13. Sam says:

    Maybe they should get rid of the pre-approved language and just say, “credit card offer.” The pre-approved makes it sound like you already got the credit card and is deceiving.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the info. Very helpful

  15. Anonymous says:

    Does it make a difference how many credit cards you have, or does it only matter the limit you keep on it?

  16. Victor W. says:

    Thanks for the info

  17. Rich says:

    One of the most important items mentioned is to destroy those credit cards and not just throw them in the trash. That also holds true for those that you already have and are renewed every couple of years. Those scavengers exist and are really out there doing their best to steal your identity.

  18. Katie says:

    Good information. Will closing a secured credit card hurt my credit if I already have two unsecured credit cards with a higher credit limit?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great info!

  20. Red B. says:

    I have two credit cards and wish to drop one of them . Will this have an effect on my credit score? My credit rating is excellent .

  21. Arthur G. says:

    I totally get not applying for multiple credit cards at the same time. But, how long should you wait until you apply for another credit card so your credit score doesn’t significantly drop?

  22. Red the Orphan says:

    Recently, I’ve been getting credit card “pre-approval” promos from various banks for someone else with my address on the letter and I am receiving this mail at my address. Does this indicate that person had tried to open a credit card in my name or steal my identity? I’ve never received mail for this person before and have never lived with this person.

  23. ATM says:

    Perhaps you could explain the difference between : Preselected, Precreened and Preapproval. I get easily about ten of these offeres a month from the various major brands and I typically read them over and shred them. The APR’s are all over the board too!

  24. Anonymous says:

    well not only all that is true but in 2007 I was approved for a credit card with a 1000.00 limit and a 7 percent fixed rate! well several months later I was 1 day late with my payment and my rate was raised to 29.99 percent! the terms of my agreement stated that after 6 on time payments in a row my rate would go back down and after 24 0n time payments they still would not lower my rate until I really pressed the issue. I still have an open account with this co with a limit of 7800.00 and a rate of 24.59!!!!

  25. Tammie T says:

    I have several inquires on my credit report that should be off by now. How do I get rid of these please?

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