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Pre-approved vs pre-qualified credit card offers

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You may have gotten an offer online or in your mailbox saying that you’re “pre-approved” or “pre-qualified” for a certain credit card. These offers can be surprisingly valuable when you’re in the market for a new credit card. But is there a difference between the pre-approvals and pre-qualifications you may be receiving?


Pre-approved vs pre-qualified: What’s the difference?

Unfortunately, “pre-approved” and “pre-qualified” don’t have consistent definitions across credit card issuers.

For some credit card issuers, a pre-approval will mean that prospective applicants already passed a higher screening bar, based on information such as on-time credit card payments, while pre-qualifications are simply indicators that your credit score is within a good range to apply.

However, that’s not universal, and each card issuer has their own internal definition for these terms. The good news is that both pre-qualifications and pre-approvals are very positive indicators if you’re looking to apply for your next credit card.


Why are pre-qualified credit card offers good?

Pre-qualified credit card offers are a great tool to shop for cards without impacting your credit score.

Applying for a credit card means that the card issuer will do a “hard pull” of your credit report, communicating to credit bureaus that you’re seeking new credit. This can cause a minor dip in your credit score — around 5 points — as seeking new lines of credit is intrinsically associated with a small amount of risk. However, apply for multiple credit cards at once and that number can add up quickly, as credit bureaus may view this as you taking out many lines of credit at once, rather than shopping around.

Pre-qualification helps you get around this. Card companies only do a “soft pull” of your credit score to see if you would be pre-qualified for a card, letting you see which cards you should consider before you commit.


How can I get pre-qualified for a credit card?

Whether or not you can seek out pre-qualifications depends on the card issuer. Some card companies will have a site where you can directly request pre-qualifications or pre-approvals for the cards that interest you by filling in a small amount of personal information such as your name, address and social security number. The page should also confirm that the pre-approval process will not impact your credit score.

For credit card companies that don’t offer applications for pre-approvals or pre-qualifications, looking for these offers as they come in the mail or online will be the only way to see if you’re pre-approved.

If you’re still not sold on the value of pre-approvals, you can also opt-out of receiving them altogether by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.

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