When you see “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” on a credit card offer you get in the mail, it typically means your credit score and other financial information matched at least some of the initial eligibility criteria needed to become a cardholder.
Understanding the distinction between the two terms can get tricky because companies can use them differently.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have questions about pre-qualified and pre-approved credit card offers.
What Are Pre-Qualified and Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers?
Both pre-qualified and pre-approved credit card offers usually result from a credit card company working with a credit bureau to look at your basic credit information.
So when you get one of these offers, it likely means the information pulled by the credit card company showed that you’d be a good potential customer.
What’s the Difference Between Pre-Qualified and Pre-Approved?
While pre-qualified and pre-approved are sometimes used interchangeably, they could have slightly different meanings. That’s because issuers can apply their own meaning to these terms.
Some pre-qualified card offers could be reserved for those who meet a general credit score range. Other pre-approved offers may target those who meet more specific criteria, like the percentage of on-time credit card payments in your credit history.
How Do I Get a Pre-Qualified or Pre-Approved Credit Card Offer?
Some pre-qualified or pre-approved offers might come to you in the mail or by phone or email. If you’re interested in a new card, you can respond to these offers and apply to become a cardholder.
Keep in mind: You haven’t actually applied for the credit card when you receive one of these offers. But if you’re interested in a new credit card, you can use pre-qualified or pre-approved offers as an opportunity to compare options before applying.
If you’re actively seeking a new credit card, you can also research cards and their terms online.
Can Pre-Qualified or Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers Hurt My Credit Score?
Simple reviews of your credit are called “soft” inquiries and don’t affect your credit score. These include credit checks from the prescreening or preselection process that lead to pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers.
A second type of credit check, called a “hard” inquiry, is made only after you respond to a card offer by applying for the card. Once you apply for a credit card, an issuer will do a full check—a hard inquiry—of your credit report, which can affect your credit score. MyFICO.com explains that a hard inquiry typically has only a minor effect on your FICO score if most other factors (like timely bill payment) are in order.
This full credit check will help in determining whether you could be approved to get the card. If you’re approved, the issuer must offer you the same terms that appeared in the original pre-qualified or pre-approved offer.
If there are changes to your credit information in the time between the prescreening or preselection process and when you apply for a card, your eligibility might change too. For example, this might happen if there were any major changes to your employment, salary or debt.
Do Pre-Qualification and Pre-Approval Mean I’m Guaranteed a Credit Card?
“Pre” is the key part of both of these terms. When a credit card offer mentions that you’re pre-qualified or pre-approved, it typically means you meet the initial criteria required to become a cardholder. But you still need to apply and get approved.
Think of these offers as invitations to start the actual application process. Since you’ve already been pre-qualified or pre-approved, these offers can give you more confidence when you start the application process.
Responding to a Pre-Qualified or Pre-Approved Credit Card Offer
When you apply for a card, that’s when you’ll share more of your financial information, including your income level. That’s also when card issuers will conduct a full credit check.
If you decide you want to apply, that’s a good time to take a close look at things like interest rates and the other card terms to determine which card is right for you. Many cards offer additional benefits like earning cash back or travel rewards, $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases, travel insurance, premier access to events, and more.
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