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Q: I always get offers in the mail saying I’m pre-approved for a card, but then I have to apply anyway! Why don’t they just send me the card? What does this mean?
A: That’s because “pre-approved” simply means that based on your current credit history, the credit card company making the offer considers you a good candidate to “move on to the next level”. To be honest, saying you are pre-approved is a bit misleading. They should be saying, instead, that you are pre-qualified.
By calling it pre-qualified, credit card issuers would come closer to saying what they mean: We want you to take the next step and fill out an application. At that point, you will considered for approval.
If you do choose to fill out the application, once it is received by the credit card company making the offer, they will check your credit history again. If any changes have occurred between the time you received the offer and the time they receive the application and request the credit history, this can affect whether or not you’ll be approved.
If you do decide to fill out the application, you should be aware of two things.
First, frequent credit checks are often enough to lower your credit score. Although you really have no way of knowing how much time has passed between the offer being mailed and you sending the application back, it may be close enough that it MIGHT affect your credit score.
Second, if you do fill out the application and are approved, this new credit card is going to show as an “open account” on your credit history. Too many of those can affect your credit score.
If you don’t want to take the risk that may be involved with filling out the application, you can go to OptOut Prescreen. You may be able to find out more information here. Or you can actually call the credit card company itself and see if they’ll give you the information on the phone.