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How long does it take to apply for a credit card?

The application for a credit card is usually done online and can be completed in less than five minutes, but the approval process is likely to take a lot longer.

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However, the time it takes to approve a credit card can often depend on the provider's own online system, and your credit score, as you can sometimes get an instant response or within the hour. In most cases the credit card provider needs time to manually assess your application, and this can take a week, or even two weeks.

Improve your chances of being accepted for credit cards

Uswitch's credit card eligibility checker won't affect your credit score and is quick, easy and free to use.

How to apply for a credit card

From the moment you receive your credit card in the mail, you should be able to start using it right away. In some cases you may need to first call up the provider or register online to activate the card and set up a PIN.

However, how long the credit card takes to come to your home could be a week or two from the moment you've received notification that you've been approved.

The process for a credit card application typically looks like this:

  • Apply online for a credit card (approximately 5 minutes)

  • Await response to see if your application has been approved or rejected (could be as quick as one minute or as long as two weeks)

  • If you've been approved, wait for your credit card to arrive in the post (usually takes 5-10 business days)

  • You may need to register the card online or call up the provider to activate before you can use it (a couple of minutes)

Credit card applications

The application for a credit card is a necessary part of the process and helps the provider assess whether you should be approved or rejected for their credit card.

Most applications are fairly simple, and will ask you for your name, address and contact information. They will also ask a few financial questions, such as your income, your occupation, and how long you have lived at your current address.

Some providers may ask additional questions depending on what their service is providing, for example if you would like to take out a cash advance, or if you are planning to transfer a balance over immediately.

What do I need to do?

Credit cards are usually some of the easiest financial applications you can make, in terms of the information you will need to provide.

The questions you should expect to find on a credit card application usually include the following:

  • Your name

  • Contact information

  • Date of birth

  • Address and how long you have lived there

  • Residential status (tenant, owner, living with parents, etc)

  • Your annual income

You should make sure your information is correct when applying, but the questions can usually be answered by most people fairly comfortably.

On a balance transfer or money transfer credit card application, you will need to have the details of the other accounts you are transferring to your new credit card.

However, there are potentially other areas you will need to take care of before you even apply for a credit card to reduce your chances of being rejected.

Case Study - Hayley Coyle

Hayley Coyle is an Travel Writer with The Points Guy UK. She is a keen traveller herself and recently applied for an Avios earning credit card to help her reduce her travel expenses.

While this would be a straightforward process for most people, Hayley has an unusual address. She lives on a moored houseboat in London. Without a street, there's no street address.

Hayley shares her advice for anyone with an unusual address:

"I was keen to apply for a premium American Express credit card in order to earn rewards points and use some of the travel benefits that came with the card (pre-covid!). American Express have reasonable requirements for approval which I believed I met.

My first application was denied. When I contacted Amex they explained they could not verify my address. I usually have no problems receiving mail by post, though it is addressed care of the Marina Dock Office where my houseboat is moored off the River Thames. This means I don't actually have a personal street address.

To help my chances, I checked the electroal role and ensured that it matched the exact address I was using to receive items by post.

I then applied for the card again (allowing some time to lapse between applications) making sure the address was correct as per the electoral role and was approved.

Make sure your address is correct when you are applying for a financial product!"

What will affect a credit card application?

All credit cards will state in their eligibility criteria that every applicant must be:

  • A permanent UK resident

  • 18 years or older

In some cases, the age requirement is 21 years.

Being registered on the electoral roll will increase your chances of being approved for a credit card. This means you are registered to vote at the address you live in.

If you are not, you could be rejected for a credit card as it can significantly increase your fraud threat in the eyes of the provider. This is because the electoral register provides assurance that you are who you say you are and you do live at the address you have listed.

Some other useful requirements include having a UK bank account or current account with a UK building society. Having County Court Judgements (CCJs) or being declared bankrupt can negatively impact your chances of being accepted for credit.

Your credit score, income, occupation and residential status will generally impact your credit card application. The amount of income you have can decide whether or not you are approved, and if you are, it can decide what your credit limit will be.

Credit card providers usually prefer applicants with full-time permanent employment and a high income, and those with a good credit score.

Using an eligibility checker tool can help you understand how likely it is to be accepted before applying for a credit card, without affecting your credit rating.

When your application is submitted, the credit card provider will check your credit report. They will look at your credit score and recent financial records, such as debts you have paid off and other credit applications you have made.

And in some cases, this credit check is made instantly using a computer, which can determine based on the score to approve or reject you, or to flag it for a manual check before a decision is made.

What does instant approval for a credit card mean?

Some credit card providers offer instant approval, which means a computer can very quickly check your credit score and the information you have provided once you've submitted an application.

Based on that information together, they might be able to give you an instant decision. Of course this might seem unfair, but they usually only make an instant decision where it is black and white.

For example, if you have a high income, a high credit score and you tick all the boxes for what the provider is looking for in applicants, then you will likely receive an approval instantly.

By contrast, if you have a very bad credit score and you clearly do not meet the criteria, you will receive an instant rejection.

However, if you are somewhere in between, or there are some question marks over certain aspects of your application, you will likely not receive any decision instantly. In these cases your application will be manually looked over as normal.

What if my application for a credit card is declined?

If your application for a credit card is declined, then you should avoid attempting to apply for another anytime soon, as each application made appears on your credit report.

You may also benefit from checking your credit report and seeing if there are any clues as to why your application has been declined.

Improve your chances of being accepted for credit cards

Uswitch's credit card eligibility checker won't affect your credit score and is quick, easy and free to use.