If you’re in the market for a new credit card, it can be tempting to apply when you get a letter, email, or notification that says you’ve been pre-approved or pre-qualified. These offers make it sound like getting approved is almost a certainty.
And if it’s a card or issuer you’re familiar with, it can be extra enticing.
The two terms sound similar, but when you take a closer look, being pre-approved can be much different than being pre-qualified. Could that one word on the offer give you an additional reason to apply? Or should it make you stop and reconsider? Let’s take a look at both.
The Difference Between Pre-Approved & Pre-Qualified
It usually comes down to your relationship with the credit card issuer.
“A pre-qualified offer is one where an issuer is sending out bulk offers,” says Jason Steele, a writer, credit card expert, and founder of CardCon, an annual conference about credit cards and credit card media. “It doesn’t mean you’ll be accepted and is an invitation to apply. A pre-approval is more narrow. It targets people who have something specific in their profile, usually from a card issuer you already have a relationship with. That’s based more on your history with that card issuer as opposed to bulk, generic information received from a credit bureau.”
When you’re pre-approved for an offer, it means you have high approval odds. You’ll typically receive pre-approval offers from card issuers you already know, or from their affiliated partners.
These issuers feel confident about sending you pre-approved offers because they already have a business relationship with you, know your credit and payment history, and have the information they need to extend additional credit. Additionally, they consider you to be a valuable customer and want more of your business — so getting a pre-approval means they’ve already run the numbers and will likely grant you more credit.
Being pre-qualified for an offer is when a card issuer — usually one you don’t already have a relationship with — makes its best guess about your approval odds. It has reviewed your financial details such as credit score range and payment history and decided you fit their ideal profile, but still need you to formally apply. So while your chances of approval are high with pre-qualified offers, you stand an even better chance if you’re pre-approved.
How to Get Pre-Approval
If you want to receive pre-approval offers, be sure to opt in to your bank’s marketing communications. This typically happens automatically, but if you want to be sure, you can check your settings in online banking, or by calling the bank directly.
And don’t forget the bank’s websites and mobile apps. Some banks have a section for special offers and will sometimes include pre-approval offers in that section. For example, Chase has a section called “Just for you” that includes pre-approved credit card offers, and Bank of America sometimes shows targeted offers to existing customers online. More recently, banks have started showing pre-approval offers in their apps, so that’s another place worth checking.
How to Get Pre-Qualified
To get pre-qualified offers, the best sources are the banks themselves. Many issuers have a dedicated page of their website that allows you to enter your information and pull up any pre-qualified offers, for example:
If you want to receive offers in the mail, be sure you haven’t opted out of receiving marketing materials. If you’ve requested removal of your name from marketing lists, you won’t receive pre-qualified offers.
Your credit history plays a big role too, because mailing lists target customers who have demonstrated responsible credit habits. “Credit card companies look for consumers within a credit score range who don’t have any defaults and have a low credit utilization,” says Nirit Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of Dovly, an automated platform that helps consumers unlock financial opportunities while improving their credit. “These are the three main contributors to your overall credit score,” she explains.
Risks of Pre-Approved Offers of Credit
Remember, a pre-approval isn’t a guarantee of credit. Although banks think you’re a good candidate for a certain credit product, you must still formally apply.
Pre-approval is based on the available information at the time the pre-approval is generated. If anything has changed on your credit file in the meantime, such as a change in your debt-to-credit ratio or new applications seeking other credit, your application could be denied.
Pre-approved credit offers are slightly more firm than pre-qualified offers. To receive them, be sure to opt-in to receiving marketing materials from card issuers.
Additionally, once the bank reviews your full credit report, it might find something that raises a red flag it missed when pulling your file for pre-approval.
Your credit report isn’t the only thing banks use to consider your application. They’ll usually ask for additional information, like if you have a checking or savings account, your annual income, the amount of your housing payment, and other questions, to get a more complete picture of your overall finances. If they decide you don’t show enough income or have enough liquidity on hand, they could deny the offer of credit.
But that’s not all. “Don’t just jump at every pre-approval you get,” cautions Rubenstein. “Research what you’re getting and make sure the interest rate and annual fee are acceptable, and that you know all of the different factors of your overall credit. You don’t want to get into a situation where you’ve got a bunch of cards and start spending beyond what you should and get further into debt, which is the riskiest thing of all.”
While there are occasionally excellent pre-approved offers that might land in your mail pile, there are also many that border on predatory — or simply not worthwhile.
If you have less-than-perfect or limited credit, keep a watchful eye with pre-approved offers and review the terms carefully before making a decision.
Opting Out of Credit Card Offers
If you don’t want to receive credit card offers in the mail, you can opt out at optoutprescreen.com, which is the official consumer credit reporting industry website that processes requests to opt out of credit offers from the three main credit bureaus. That means your information won’t be passed along as part of pre-screening.
You can opt out for five years, or permanently, through this website. You can also call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to make your request.
Unless you opt out of receiving credit offers, card issuers will continue to target you if you meet certain criteria. It’s a good idea to opt out only if you’re sure you don’t want to receive marketing related to credit offers, which can sometimes include special promotions that you might not have been aware of. That said, when you opt out, you’ll cut down on clutter and won’t be tempted to apply for additional credit, which is helpful if you have trouble with spending on credit cards.