Video Sunday Reader Question: What is the Minimum Credit Score Needed To Get Approved for the Best Credit Cards?

by on April 22, 2012 · 23 comments

in American Express, Chase, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Credit Cards, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Ben asks:

“What is the minimum credit score needed to get approved for all these reward cards? What is the lowest credit score you have heard of getting approval for a premium product like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card?”

There is no one magic score that will automatically get you approved for any credit card. Credit card companies will take into account a lot of different factors in addition to your 3-digit score when determining an approval:
1) The ratio of your amount of debt to available credit
2) Your relationship with that bank (do you already have a bunch of open credit with them)?
3) Any past judgments/collections/bankruptcies

Granted, these things are all factors that go into your score, but since the credit crisis especially, credit card companies aren’t just trusting a number to predict someone’s full creditworthiness. So even if you have an 800 FICO score (850 is the highest), you still may get denied for having too many recent credit cards. At the same time, someone with a 690 may apply and get approved if they don’t have many cards and their low score is a result of lack of history. It all really depends.

However, my honest unofficial thought based on tons of reader emails I’ve received over the years is: you really don’t need a super-high credit score to get rewards cards – even the “premium” cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Amex Platinum. I have had readers with past credit blemishes and upper 600 credit scores get approved for premium cards – often after convincing a reconsideration line representative that they are indeed creditworthy and just made a couple bad mistakes in the past. In general 700 is probably sufficient for most cards, though 730+ should put you in the “very likely to get approved” category.

That being said, if you are in debt and can’t manage your finances appropriately I do not recommend applying for any new credit cards -  even if the rewards seem worth it. Focus on paying down your credit because the APR you pay on any balances can easily negate the value of any points/miles you receive. Credit scores are used for a lot more than just credit card approvals – they will be a major factor in determining how much interest you pay on a mortgage and even be considered in your insurance premiums. Not only that, but many employers run credit checks so achieving and maintaining a strong credit score should be your ultimate goal and luckily you can do that and get rewards cards at the same time if you pay all of your bills and carry a low amount of revolving credit.

If you have a lack of credit history, getting new cards and paying them off on time and in full will actually help increase your credit score. If you don’t feel that your score is high enough for a premium card, start with a basic card like the Chase Freedom which doesn’t have an annual fee and you’ll be creating a good relationship with one of the biggest card issuers. Once you build your credit score and relationship with the credit card company and you can get approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Amex Premier Rewards Gold cards, the points in the “lite” points programs can be transferred into the more valuable Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points – which can then be transferred to airline and hotel partners.

To sum it up, the only source that will tell you if your score is good enough to get a credit card are the credit card companies themselves. With the economy improving they have definitely loosened up a little bit and are getting very aggressive at recruiting new customers who will be lifelong profitable customers.

Feel free to share your experience getting cards- especially if you have a lower credit score or one with past blemishes. Clearly everyone’s situation is unique, but sharing experiences can help those on the sidelines determine whether it makes sense to apply or not.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Adam

    Thanks TPG for the video – very informative. I have a question that hopefully someone could help me with. My credit score is in 720-740 range. I spend a lot of money every month on my credit cards for work purposes and pay off the balance IN FULL every month. How much does it affect my score that I charge 30-50K a month even though I pay it off in full. Is this causing my score to go down? I know my score is pretty good but I would like to improve it and get it well above 750. I pay off all bills on time, I have an auto loan, but my debt/credit ratio could be hurting me during the month? Any suggestions or advice?

  • John Moore

    @Adam If your reimbursement checks for work travel come in throughout your credit card billing cycle, make a payment as soon as you receive the check…don’t wait for your account to cycle. CC companies report in your statement balance to the credit bureaus, so this trick will allow you to manage down the balance that is reported. You will still receive all of your points/perks for all charges made as this is calculated separately than your statement balance. This should help out your debt/credit ratio very quickly.

  • Roger Albertson

    Thanks TPG, I’m new to you blog and I’m loving it. A couple comments and a question: I have a long history of paying off credit cards each month and receiving the rewards (perhaps two late payments the last 10 years due to forgetfullness). I had about 4 open cerdit cards. Last year, I tried a new strategy: I got 3 new 0% cards (chase slate, discover, bank of america points rewards). Overall they were 0% for 12-18 months. Rather than payoff the card each month, I invested the money with my broker (interactive brokers). I leveraged up 3.5:1 on margin and invested in very low risk assets. Overall, the I made 18% (14% after taxes). I then paid off all the credit credit cards in February 2012. I was looking to do the same thing this year – then I noticed the instant rewards – Chase Freedom and Citi Dividends $200 for $500 spend – an instant tax-free ZERO-risk 40% return. I previously busted my tail and took on risk for a 14% return, so this deal looked VERY attractive. I immediately got both the Freedom an Dividend cards. Then, I couldn’t stop: I got the Capital One Cash Rewards, a 2nd Citi Dividend (how did that happen?), Amex skymiles (canceled old one, was approved for new one), Discover More, Chase mileage explorer, and two Priceline cards (got reward for 1st, canceled, approved for second). About half-way through the process, I started getting some rejections, but the approvals kept me going. The overall tally over the last month is: 9 accepted new credit cards and about 9 rejections. (I got three rejections in a row and stopped). I checked my estimated FICO scores on sesame and karma and they were in the 740-760 range. My question is: how long will these inquiries prevent me from getting accepted? Also, is it best to cancel the young cards after getting rewards (especially if they have a future annual fee and are not 0%). At this point, I have about 20k of 0% credit for the next 12-15 months, so I’m thinking of going using the deferred payment/investment strategy again for the next 6 months before going through another round of apps. Yet, I know something juicy will come along in the next 3-6 months. Is it OK to apply for just 1 or 2 cards?

  • Vince

    I have a related question. It seems that not just FICO score but gross income matters for credit applications (I was rejected for one credit card for ‘insufficient gross income’). Are you aware if there is a minimum gross income for the premium cards like the Sapphire Preferred or AmEx Platinum and what that minimum income level might be?

  • Kristy

    I am also curious about this: “is it best to cancel the young cards after getting rewards (especially if they have a future annual fee and are not 0%)”

  • Sherman

    Just found out the points guy is a cute guy too !

  • arcticbull

    Standard practice is to wait a minimum of 6 months because banks pay attention to this. They don’t like to see you working the system, but otoh not all cards work for all people. Keeping them longer increases your value in the banks eyes to keep the approvals rolling in.

    Tl;dr 6-11 months from approval.

  • arcticbull

    In Canada at least they post that right on the application page, and most premium cards THERE (not sure about here) require 35k and the super-premium require 60k.

    I think it’s different in the US though. They may be referring to your gross income to debt ratio, and not the income number itself.

  • MamaG

    A predator who molested many victims.

  • RyanC

    Love handles and double chin ain’t my kind of cute. But to each his own.

  • BearCub

    You are real mean Ryan! So what if TPG is chubby??? Fat guys have rights too!

  • arcticbull

    Good lord you people are judgey :P Nothing better to do?

  • Mcole

    TPG…. when you say ….”So even if you have an 800 FICO score (850 is the highest), you still may get denied for having too many recent credit cards”. how many credits is “too many”? how many credit cards do you generally keep open at once?

  • Mcole

    sorry… how many credit cards is what i meant to ask

  • thepointsguy

    You want to pay your balance off before your statement closes. Even if you pay it off a day later, the credit card company will likely still report your full credit line used / available credit which can cause a temporary drop in your credit score.

  • thepointsguy

    I have over 15 cards.. I keep a 4 core cards open that I pay the annual fee because I get more value than the fee. I also keep a couple of my oldest cards (which I switched to no annual fee cards to help with age of accounts) . On the others, I close them and open new cards that usually have the annual fee waived for the first year.

  • thepointsguy

    I’m not aware of any baseline annual income requirement for Amex/Chase cards.

  • thepointsguy

    If you aren’t going to use and not get any value from keeping a card closed, then you should close it. Check out my post on that topic here

  • PJ

    try to pay off before the due date this helps show lower usage to reporting agencies. these days interest rate is close to zero anyway so not too much you lose by paying off balances before the due dates

  • PJ

    chase looks at Experian score as we see on is it FICO?

  • Roger Albertson

    I have no bad comments. Yet me AAoOCL is only 3yrs. In an effort to simplify my life and be “responsible”, I closed all but one credit card. Then, I saw the value of these bonus – so I opened up more credit lines and closed them when I was done with it. So, my AAoOCL is low (3yrs), which I think may be pulling down my score some. So, I was thinking of closing the new cards after getting the rewards (to boost up my AAoOCL). Yet, I see there is a balance – if I close some after 2-3 months it could look bad to the issuer. So, perhaps I’ll close after 6 months.

  • أندرو

    For what it’s worth, back in the day when I had a few blemishes on my credit report, the collection agency actually told me that when I paid off the debt, dispute it with the credit reporting agency. They said that since “we” the collection company already received full payment, we won’t respond to the dispute thereby the account deleting itself off my credit report. Worked on the 2 collection accounts I had and they fell off around 5 years sooner than if I were to just pay and do nothing.

  • Adam

    Thanks guys for the advice. So as long as I pay it off before it closes I should benefit? As soon as the account closes and I have a balance due is when they report it to credit agencies?

    I’ll try and start doing this

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