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When Is the Best (And Worst) Time to Apply For Credit Cards?

Applying for a credit card online using a smartphone

Rebecca Lake • March 8, 2024

Credit cards offer a convenient way to spend, and when used responsibly, they can also help you build a positive credit history. The best time to apply for credit cards is usually when you have a specific financial need or goal that a new card could help you meet.

For example, you might consider getting a new credit card to consolidate balances on existing cards. Or you might want to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR offer to fund a major purchase.

It’s all about understanding your financial situation and needs. We’ll walk you through when to apply for a credit card – and when to hold off.

When to apply for a new credit card

How often should you apply for a credit card? Technically, you can do so any time you like. But each new inquiry can decrease your credit score by a few points, so it’s better to try to get a credit card when it’s a genuine need.

With that in mind, here are six examples of the best time to apply for credit cards.

1. You have good credit

A good credit score, meaning 670 or better on the FICO® scoring scale, can put you in a prime position to apply for a new credit card. Why? Because a higher credit score can help you unlock better card options.¹

Premium credit cards can offer benefits like:

  • Higher reward rates on purchases
  • Generous introductory bonuses
  • Exclusive benefits or features, like account anniversary reward bonuses or travel perks

Of course, it’s only worth applying for a new credit card if you plan to use those benefits. Note that better rewards or benefits can mean a higher annual fee.

2. Building or rebuilding credit

If you’re in credit-building mode, a new credit card could help. Getting a new credit card can help you recover your credit score if you’re:

You may need to start with a secured card first to rebuild credit. Secured cards typically require a cash deposit to open. But once you make a certain number of on-time payments, the card issuer may convert you to an unsecured card.²

If you’re a student, you may look into student card options or even store credit cards. These may offer an easier entry point to building credit if you’re starting from scratch and don’t have much of a credit history yet.

3. When welcome bonuses are high

Credit card companies can offer introductory bonuses to encourage people to apply for their cards. A sizable bonus offer could factor into your decision-making if you’re wondering when to get a new credit card.

Here are a few details to remember when comparing credit card bonuses:

  • There’s usually a spending requirement you’re expected to meet to qualify for the bonus.
  • You may be ineligible for a new account bonus if you already have a credit card with the same issuer.
  • Applying for more than one card to take advantage of different bonus offers can result in multiple hard inquiries on your credit reports.

The minimum spending requirement may be in the $1,000 to $3,000 range and you might have 90 days to meet it. Review the specifics to make sure it’s realistic based on how you usually spend.

4. You have a balance with a high APR

Getting a new credit card could be a smart option to consolidate high-interest balances. Balance transfer cards let you combine multiple debts at a low or 0% APR for a set period.

You’ll pay no interest if you pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. Depending on the card, the promotional rate may extend for six to 21 months.³

Balance transfer offers can save you money if you’re disciplined about paying the balance off before the regular APR kicks in. If you’re looking for a balance transfer card, remember to check any fees you might pay to move balances around.

5. You are about to make a big purchase

Paying for wedding expenses, buying furniture, planning a major home renovation – these can all cost quite a bit of money. Using a credit card to cover large purchases in those kinds of situations may be preferable if you:

  1. Don’t have the cash to pay or don’t want to drain your cash reserves.
  2. Would like to earn some rewards for what you spend.
  3. Are taking advantage of a card that offers a 0% APR on purchases for a set time.

If you’re planning to get a new credit card with a 0% APR offer, review your budget to make sure you can pay the balance off before the promotional period ends.

6. To repair damaged credit

Credit scores can drop for a variety of reasons and getting a new credit card could help you repair some of the damage. Again, the best ways to repair credit include making on-time payments and maintaining low balances on your cards.

Here are some examples of when you might apply for a new credit card to repair your credit.

  • You’ve recently gotten divorced and you’re trying to reestablish a positive credit history in your name only.
  • You filed for bankruptcy to get rid of medical bills you couldn’t pay after a major illness and your score took a major hit because of it.
  • You defaulted on a student loan but have gotten back on track with payments and want to work on improving your credit responsibly.

Certain credit cards are specifically geared toward people who want to repair score damage. Checking your credit scores can help you narrow down which cards you’re most likely to qualify for.

Start building credit with the secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card – no credit check required.*

Are pre-approved credit card offers worth it?

Credit card companies routinely send out pre-approved offers, and chances are you’ve gotten at least one in your mailbox at some point. Pre-approval offers are usually based on initial prescreening, meaning the credit card company has done a soft pull of your credit and determined that you might be a good fit.⁴

Final approval isn’t guaranteed with pre-approved cards. So even though you’ve got an offer, you might apply and still be denied. And even if you’re approved, the card may not fit you best.

Does that mean you should toss pre-approved card offers when you get them? Not necessarily. Even if a specific card isn’t right for you, pre-approval offers can shed some light on what kinds of cards you’ll most likely get.

Worst times to get a new credit card

In certain cases, getting a new credit card may do more harm than good financially. Here are some of the worst times to think about applying for new credit.

1. Recent hard inquiries

A hard inquiry means someone, usually a lender, has requested a copy of your credit report. Each inquiry can trim a few points off your credit score, though they lose their impact after two years.⁵

If you’ve recently applied for credit and have multiple inquiries on your credit reports, adding one more to the mix could cause your score to drop further. You may want to wait to apply for a new credit card if it isn’t necessary.

2. You are struggling financially

A credit card could be a financial lifeline if you’re in a tough spot with money and need a way to cover expenses. The danger in applying for a new credit card is that you could use it to create more debt than you can afford to repay.

Making the minimum payments can keep you from going into default, but that could still create issues if you’re paying a lot of interest. So, while a credit card can be a temporary fix for financial hardship, it can cause more problems in the long run.

3. You just got another loan or mortgage

If you recently took out a car loan, personal loan, student loan, or mortgage, that may not be the best time to apply for a credit card. You’ve already got new debt obligations to manage, and adding one more into the mix with a credit card could add unnecessary strain to your budget.

The best time to apply for a credit card is different for everyone

A credit card can be a helpful financial tool to have, but consider the timing when deciding when to open one. Before you start shopping around for card options, think about your reasons for applying and what kind of features or benefits your ideal card might offer. That can help steer you in the right direction when deciding which cards to apply for.

If you’re new to using credit, you’ll want to learn how credit cards work.

FAQs

How many days should I wait before applying for a credit card?

According to FICO, it’s best to apply for new credit cards only when you need to; there’s no specific waiting time you need to observe between applications. Applying for several cards within a short time frame could send the signal to lenders that you’re financially desperate and at the very least, it can hurt your credit score.⁵

What time of year is best to apply for a credit card?

The best time of year to apply for a credit card is when card issuers offer low introductory rates, generous introductory bonuses, or a combination of both. The fourth quarter could be when you’ll find credit card companies stepping up to offer more enticing bonuses to encourage people to spend ahead of the holiday season.

What is the best day of the week to apply for a credit card?

There’s no single day that’s better than others to apply for a credit card. If you think you’ll need to follow up with customer service for any reason, you may want to apply on a day that you know support will be available by phone or instant message.

How many times should you apply for a credit card per year?

If you’re following FICO’s advice, you’d only apply for credit as needed. For example, you might apply for a new credit card in the spring to finance home repairs or ahead of the summer months to pay for a vacation you’re planning. Getting a new credit card in the fall could also make sense if you want to take advantage of introductory bonus offers ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Chime® is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC. The Chime Visa® Debit Card and the Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card are issued by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit and credit cards are accepted. Please see the back of your Card for its issuing bank.

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‡ SpotMe® for Credit Builder is an optional, no interest/no fee overdraft line of credit tied to the Secured Deposit Account. SpotMe on Debit is an optional, no fee service attached to your Chime Checking Account (individually or collectively, “SpotMe”). Eligibility for SpotMe requires $200 or more in qualifying direct deposits to your Chime Checking Account each month.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank, N.A. and Stride Bank, N.A. (“Banks”). Banks are not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

¹ Information from myFICO's What is a Credit Score? as of February 27, 2024: https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-scores

² Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Building credit from Scratch as of February 27, 2024: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201612_cfpb_credit_invisible_checklist.PDF

³ Information from the CFPB's How long can I keep a low rate on a balance transfer or other introductory rate? as of February 27, 2024: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/how-long-can-i-keep-a-low-rate-on-a-balance-transfer-or-other-introductory-rate-en-15/

⁴ Information from the FTC's What To Know About Prescreened Offers for Credit and Insurance as of February 27, 2024: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/prescreened-credit-insurance-offers

⁵ Information from myFICO's Credit Checks: What are credit inquiries and how do they affect your FICO® Score? as of February 27, 2024: https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-reports/credit-checks-and-inquiries

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