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If you’re relatively new to the points and miles world, you might be a bit gun-shy when it comes to applying for new credit cards. Most of my friends and family members find it hard to believe that I currently have 17 active travel rewards credit cards in my wallet and pay over $1,000 per year in annual fees. Just about every week I hear something along the lines of, “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll wreck your credit score?” While it’s true that card applications will temporarily lower your score as a result of the new hard inquiries on your profile, there are many other things that go into calculating your credit score.
Still, you want to make sure that your applications have a high probability of being approved. After all, if an application is denied, you’re taking a hard inquiry on your credit report (and the resulting temporary drop in your score) without any upside. Also, many top issuers have added additional restrictions over the last few years that make it harder to get approved for a new card and/or earn a welcome bonus, so it’s important to know which bank has what rules before you apply.
With all that in mind, today I’ll take you through these restrictions for all of the major issuers on the market today: American Express, Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One and Wells Fargo. For this analysis, I’ll look at three main factors to consider for each individual issuer as you plan your application strategy:
- Number of cards
- Number and timing of applications
- Welcome bonuses
One disclaimer before diving into this analysis: the majority of these restrictions aren’t considered hard-and-fast rules applicable to every single scenario. I’ve heard stories of exceptions to just about every one of them. This works in both directions — you could completely ignore a restriction and still get approved/earn a welcome bonus, or you could follow every recommendation perfectly, yet still get denied for a card. As the saying goes, YMMV (“your mileage may vary”).
Number of Cards
There’s a general rule of thumb with American Express when it comes to how many credit cards you can have in your name. The vast majority of reports in the last year indicate that you’re allowed to have a total of five Amex credit cards open at any one time. This includes both personal cards and business cards but generally doesn’t apply to charge cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express.
Now, I use the term “general rule of thumb” because I’ve read isolated reports of readers having more than five American Express credit cards at any one time, especially after the Hilton conversion from Citi to Amex. However, that appears to be much more the exception than the norm, so I’m sticking with the number above. If you currently have five Amex credit cards, I wouldn’t encourage you to apply for another.
In case you’re wondering about the difference between credit and charge cards, it’s relatively simple: Charge cards don’t have a fixed spending limit but must be paid in full every month, while credit cards do have a fixed credit limit but also allow you to carry a balance from month to month. That being said, I strongly discourage you from ever carrying a balance — it actually tops my ten commandments for travel rewards credit cards. Carrying a balance and accruing interest will more than negate any points or miles you earn on the card, and will also have a negative impact on your credit score.
Number and Timing of Applications
When it comes to American Express’ rules for how many applications you can have and how frequently you can submit them, again, there aren’t any published, hard-and-fast requirements. However, I did find a number of data points that may help you decide how to apply:
- You can apply for two cards in a single day — one credit and one charge card, or two charge cards. However, many reports indicate that at least one application will likely be put on hold as a fraud prevention mechanism, especially if you’re applying for two charge cards (though some have been instantly approved for a credit and charge card on the same day). In addition, there’s no guarantee that those applications will be combined into a single hard inquiry on your credit report, though it does happen.
- You may be able to get approved for more than two cards in a 90-day period. However, most of these reports were a combination of credit and charge cards, so the general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t apply for three or more Amex credit cards within three months.
In the past, American Express would allow you to earn welcome bonuses on the exact same card multiple times. However, this hasn’t been the case since 2014, when the issuer began restricting customers to one bonus per card per lifetime, no matter how long it’s been since you applied.
For example, here’s the specific language from the offer terms page for the Premier Rewards Gold Card (no longer available):
“Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”
The sentence is crystal clear; if you currently have (or have had) this particular card, you are not eligible to earn the welcome bonus (currently 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership). There’s similar language on the application pages across Amex’s entire portfolio of cards, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. It even extends to previous versions of cards in certain instances, like the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card:
“Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card.”
Even though the Hilton Surpass card is no longer available, you’ll likely be ineligible for the welcome bonus on the Ascend card if you held the Surpass in the past.
When these restrictions were initially launched, they didn’t apply to small business cards like The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express, but you’ll now find the exact same verbiage on those application pages as well. However, note that the personal and business versions of the same card are treated as separate, so you should be eligible to earn the welcome bonus on both once during your life.
For example, let’s say that you’re a current holder of the Amex Platinum (the personal version). You’ve received some great value out of it but now want to get The Business Platinum® Card from American Express for your small business. Even though these are both Platinum cards, you’re eligible to earn the welcome bonus on each of them once in your lifetime.
But what if you can’t remember whether or not you’ve had a specific card before? Fortunately, American Express just launched a new tool that allows you to double-check your eligibility for a welcome bonus. This check actually takes place during the application process but before you officially submit your application, and allows you to withdraw the application if you’re not eligible for the bonus before Amex performs a hard inquiry on your credit report. While most readers probably can recall their Amex card history, it’s nice to have an insurance policy to make sure you’re eligible before incurring a hard inquiry.
Given this restriction, you want to time your applications very well to make sure you’re getting the highest possible welcome bonus. And don’t forget to check the CardMatch tool to identify a possible 100,000-point targeted offer on the personal version of the Amex Platinum.
One final note: American Express also recently added some new (and vague) language regarding welcome bonuses to the offer terms section:
“We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
Clearly American Express may begin cracking down even further on applicants who have open or closed many cards in their lifetimes, much like Chase has done (see below). Only time will tell just how broadly this is enforced, but it’s certainly something to be aware of as you plan your application strategy with Amex.
Number of Cards
From my personal experience and research online, it appears that Chase doesn’t formally limit the number of credit cards you have. I currently have seven Chase-issued cards:
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- United Explorer Card
- The Hyatt Credit Card
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card (no longer available thanks to the launch of the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card)
Other TPG staffers have even more — for example, my fellow Editor-at-Large Zach Honig has had as many as eleven. As a result, it’s relatively safe to assume that Chase doesn’t put a hard ceiling on the number of cards you can have.
However, the issuer will often restrict how much total credit is extended to you across all your Chase cards. For example, let’s say you have four Chase credit cards with $25,000 credit lines on each, and Chase has determined that you should only have a total spending limit of $100,000. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be immediately approved for another credit card. This isn’t due to the fact that it’s your fifth card — it’s simply a function of Chase deciding that you should only have a combined credit line of $100,000 across all of your accounts.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost if this happens. You can call Chase’s reconsideration line (1-888-245-0625) within a few days of your application and ask to shift around credit lines to get approval. You’ll then have five credit cards with the same $100,000 of total credit. I had to do this a few times when I was first building my credit history with Chase, though I haven’t had to on my last two applications.
Number and Timing of Applications
Like the number of cards, there isn’t a formal, consistent policy that limits the number or timing of your applications with Chase. I’ve read that the general rule of thumb is one personal and one business card within 90 days, but I’ve also read reports of applicants being approved for two personal cards in a single month. If you manage to get approved for two personal cards on the same day, it’s likely that you will only have one hard inquiry on your account (business cards typically pull from a different department). Again, though, the big limitation is how much overall credit Chase will extend to you based on your credit history and profile.
However, there is one major exception to this, and it’s commonly known as the 5/24 rule. It initially popped up in 2015 but spread across most of the issuer’s portfolio of cards in 2016. The rule is relatively simple on the surface: if you’ve opened five or more credit cards with any issuer over the previous 24 months, you will almost certainly be denied for most Chase-issued credit cards with little to no chance at reconsideration.
A few notes about this policy:
- Chase will look at all accounts across all issuers. A common misconception about this rule is that Chase only looks at new cards that it issued. This is not true. If you’ve opened two Chase cards, two American Express cards, a Capital One card and a Bank of America card in the last two years, you’re at 6/24 and will likely get an immediate denial notice on most Chase cards.
- You may be able to get approved if you’re just an authorized user. While success isn’t guaranteed, you may be able to get around the 5/24 rule if you’re just an authorized user on any of your “new” accounts from the previous two years. After immediately getting denied for my United Explorer Card, I was able to successfully get a phone agent to reconsider my application because the fifth new account on my credit report was actually my wife’s. However, I’ve generally read that this will only work if you’re right at 5 new cards in 24 months and one of them is an authorized user account (which happened to be my exact situation).
- A handful of cards are not subject to this rule at this time. Though this could change at any time, there are still a few Chase cards not subject to 5/24 at the time of writing, including the British Airways Visa Signature Card and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card. You can find the full list in our “Ultimate Guide to Chase’s 5/24 Rule.”
Chase also imposes restrictions on earning sign-up bonuses, though these aren’t as strict as those of American Express. In general, you won’t be able to earn a sign-up bonus on a Chase card if you currently hold that card in your wallet or if you earned a sign-up bonus on that exact card in the last 24 months.
Here’s the specific language on most Chase cards’ application pages (this was copied from the Chase Freedom Unlimited‘s page):
“This product is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months.”
In other words, you must cancel a card before reapplying for it, but you don’t need to wait two years to apply after cancelling. The 24-month waiting period starts when you receive the sign-up bonus, not when you cancel the card.
It’s also worth noting that there are some slight variations to this policy that apply to specific cards:
- Sapphire cards: This policy lumps both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve together, so you won’t be able to get the bonus on one if you currently have the other, nor can you get the bonus for one if you earned a bonus for the other within the last 24 months.
- Marriott cards: The same holds true for the old Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and the new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card. However, it does not include the Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.
- Southwest cards: The same holds true for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, though like Marriott, it doesn’t include the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.
Interestingly enough, this “rule of pairs” doesn’t (as of now) appear to apply to the new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which was launched in April 2018 to replace the old IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card.
Number of Cards
Like Chase, Citi typically doesn’t limit the overall number of credit cards you’re allowed to have, instead using the same approach of limiting your overall credit extended across all of your Citi cards. Once you’ve reached that tipping point, you’ll likely be given the “application pending” notice when you apply for a new card, and a quick call to Citi’s reconsideration line (1-800-695-5171) should help you get approved by moving some credit from one card to the new one.
That being said, one of my colleagues was actually immediately denied for the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard in January 2018, with the reason given that he had reached the “maximum number of Citi credit cards.” It’s unclear if that was based on the number of Citi cards he had open at the time of his application (7) or if it was based on the number of cards he had opened with the issuer across his entire lifetime.
Number and Timing of Applications
Unlike American Express and Chase, Citi has very specific rules for how frequently you can apply for new credit cards. There are slightly different rules for personal and business cards:
- You can only apply for one personal card every eight days and no more than two in a 65-day window.
- You can only apply for one business card every 95 days.
Of course, there are plenty of reports out there with exceptions to these rules, but I would keep them both in mind when you’re applying for Citi cards.
Citi is another issuer that allows you to earn a sign-up bonus multiple times on a given credit card. However, there’s a mandatory waiting period between canceling and re-applying that you must follow: 24 months from either opening or closing the card. Here’s a sample of the language pulled from the application page of the Citi® Double Cash Card, which just started offering a sign-up bonus in 2017:
“Cash back bonus is not available if you have had Citi® Double Cash card opened or closed in the past 24 months.”
What’s interesting about Citi’s policy is that the issuer uses the terminology “opened or closed” (emphasis mine). In essence, this means that your 24-month clock starts ticking the moment you’re approved for a card. If you then close that card, the clock resets. You then need to wait 24 months from the date you closed your account to be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the card again.
In addition, Citi follows a similar policy to Chase when it comes to cards that are in the same general “family” or accrue points or miles in the same program:
- ThankYou Rewards cards: Citi includes the Citi Prestige, the Citi Premier Card and Citi ThankYou Preferred Card in this context. As a result, opening or closing one of these cards will make you ineligible for a sign-up bonus on both it and the other two for at least 24 months.
- American Airlines cards: Citi also lumps the personal American Airlines cards together, including the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (the latter of which is currently offering an elevated sign-up bonus). However, it doesn’t include the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard. As a result, you should be able to earn the bonus on both the business card and one of the personal cards within a 24-month period.
With all these rules in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of examples:
- You opened the ThankYou Preferred in May 2016 and earned the sign-up bonus shortly thereafter. You now want to open the Premier. You need to wait until June 2018 to ensure you’re outside of the 24-month window, and you should not close the ThankYou Preferred during that 24 month period or you’ll reset the clock back to zero.
- You opened the AAdvantage Platinum card in May 2016, earning the sign-up bonus shortly thereafter. You then cancelled the card in May 2017 when the annual fee came due. If you’re then interested in the AAdvantage Executive card so you and your authorized users can access the Admirals Club, you must wait until June 2019 if you also want the sign-up bonus, since that will be more than 24 months since you closed the other account. However, you could apply for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card in June 2018 to take advantage of its elevated sign-up bonus, since Citi treats that as a separate card.
One important final note: if you request a downgrade on an existing card or change a card to a new product type, it may result in a reset of the 24-month clock. We actually answered a reader question along these lines in July 2017, with a direct response from Citi as follows:
“If they have converted but their account number has not changed, they will still qualify for the bonus.”
Unfortunately, I continue to read conflicting anecdotes online. Some people have downgraded or product changed a card, received a new account number and didn’t have the clock reset. Others did the same thing but did have the clock reset. As a result, my advice would be to take the conservative approach: do your best to not downgrade or change your existing card(s) until you have been approved for a new one with an applicable sign-up bonus. There’s simply too much uncertainty to know for sure how downgrading a card will impact your 24-month clock.
Bank of America
Number of Cards
Like most issuers, Bank of America doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules regarding how many total cards you’re allowed to have. Given that it was previously possible to get approved for multiple of the same card in a very short period of time (which has since changed, as we’ll discuss in the next section), there are plenty of customers with Bank of America cards numbering into the double digits.
Number and Timing of Applications
As noted above, Bank of America used to be one of the most flexible issuers when it came to approving applications. This began to change in 2017, as first documented on Reddit, and has since become known as the 2/3/4 rule:
- You can only get approved for 2 new cards in a 2-month period
- You can only get approved for 3 new cards in a 12-month period
- You can only get approved for 4 new cards in a 24-month period
As a result, you could get approved for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card if you apply for both of them on the same day or within the same month. But if you then apply for another Bank of America card within two months of these applications, you’ll likely be denied. However, data points indicate that this does not extend to business credit cards issued by the bank.
In addition, reports indicate that you can’t get approved for a second version of the same card within 90 days of your first application. So if you want to get two Alaska cards (to get the carrier’s companion ticket for your entire family, for example), you have to wait at least three months.
There are a few important distinctions between Bank of America’s 2/3/4 rule and Chase’s 5/24 rule. First, this policy has been formally communicated by the issuer’s customer service reps to applicants, though it’s worth noting that it is not posted online. Second, it only applies to cards issued by Bank of America, whereas Chase will look at all new cards across all issuers. That being said, the bank may still consider the total number of cards and hard inquiries you’ve had when they run your credit, so you may get denied even if you fall below these thresholds.
Finally, you may be able to work with a representative to reconsider your application if there’s a legitimate reason for applying for so many cards (hint: “I want the sign-up bonus” is likely not one that will work).
One final wrinkle: I have seen reports from early 2018 indicating that the issuer is now evaluating your banking relationship in determining whether or not to approve your new credit card application. If you have no checking, savings or investment accounts with the bank, it may hurt your chances of getting approved, though there’s no formal policy along these lines.
Once you make it through these restrictions and actually get approved, the bank doesn’t have any published language restricting your sign-up bonuses. You can earn a sign-up bonus on the same card multiple times, as long as your applications are timed given the above rules and you’re actually approved for the card.
Number of Cards
As is the case with most issuers already covered, Barclays typically doesn’t limit the number of cards you have open with them at any one time. The bank will, however, consider your overall credit profile before approving you, as noted by the following language on most of its card application pages:
“If at the time of your application you do not meet the credit criteria previously established for this offer, or the income you report is insufficient based on your obligations, we may not be able to open an account for you.”
Given this information, a large number of cards, a high number of hard inquiries or large balances may still impact your chances of successfully opening a new card.
Number and Timing of Applications
Barclays isn’t known to have any specific rules or policies like 5/24 when it comes to applying for new cards. However, there are a few general rules of thumb to follow if you’re looking to apply for multiple cards issued by the bank in a short period of time:
- You likely won’t get approved for multiple applications on the same day, even if you call reconsideration. However, Barclays will often combine these applications into a single hard inquiry.
- You need to cancel an existing card and then wait for a period of time before re-applying for that card (the recommendation is six months).
- Barclays has been known to look at prior spending on existing cards to determine approval for a new card. If you’re looking at a new one and currently have a card or two with the issuer and haven’t spent much (or anything), take them out of your desk drawer and use them for a few months before applying.
Again, these aren’t concrete rules but general guidelines to follow.
When it comes to sign-up bonuses, Barclays typically hasn’t prevented you from earning the sign-up bonus on a card multiple times, as long as you close the card first and then wait to apply (generally six months). However, the issuer does have a couple of notable items in the terms & conditions of popular cards like the JetBlue Plus Mastercard. The first is as follows:
“This offer is available to new cardmembers only.”
This could be interpreted in two ways. One would be that you’re not eligible for the bonus if you’re currently a cardholder of the card. The second is a bit more concerning: if you’ve had the card before, even if it’s been a year or more since it was opened, you’re technically not a “new cardmember” of the card.
This latter interpretation is potentially reinforced by different language on most Barclays-issued cards. The exact verbiage varies slightly, but here’s what it looks like on the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard‘s application page (emphasis mine):
“You may not be eligible for this offer if you currently have or previously had an account with us in this program. In addition, you may not be eligible for this offer if, at any time during our relationship with you, we have cause, as determined by us in our sole discretion, to suspect that the account is being obtained or will be used for abusive or gaming activity (such as, but not limited to, obtaining or using the account to maximize rewards earned in a manner that is not consistent with typical consumer activity and/or multiple credit card account applications/openings).”
The vague wording here means in a worst case scenario, you could be approved for a new card as a previous cardholder, meet the minimum spending threshold and still miss out on a sign-up bonus if Barclays decides you’re ineligible for any of the above reasons. While you may have a perfectly legitimate reason for getting a second iteration of a card (e.g.: a new job with extensive travel on JetBlue), just be aware that a sign-up bonus may not be part of the package.
Number of Cards
Unlike most of the others on this list, Capital One does restrict the number of personal cards you have in your wallet to two. As a result, if you have the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, you won’t be able to open the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card if you want to take advantage of that card’s 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases (when booked and paid via Hotels.com/Venture). and new Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit. Note that this typically only applies to personal cards managed by Capital One — co-branded cards and small business cards (like the Capital One Spark Cash for Business) are generally excluded.
Number and Timing of Applications
Capital One is also known to have a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to timing your applications. You’re only able to get approved for one card every six months. This lumps personal and small business cards together, so if you open the Venture card today, you’ll need to wait at least six months before applying for the Spark Cash card (for example). While this is the most stringent rule of the issuers on this list, the two card limit noted above means that you aren’t truly missing out on much by being forced to wait at least six months between applications.
The issuer has been known to award sign-up bonuses multiple times on the same card if you follow the above rules and are approved. However, just like Barclays, I see some language on the website for most Capital One cards that gives the issuer the right to not award the sign-up bonus. Here’s the specific verbiage from the Venture Rewards card’s application page:
“The bonus may not be available for existing or previous account holders.”
Once again, the use of the vague term “may not be available” seems to imply that you might be rolling the dice on applying for a new card and earning a bonus if you’re a current or past holder of that card.
Number of Cards
Just like most of the above issuers, Wells Fargo generally doesn’t limit the number of cards you can have, but the normal recommendations apply regarding your overall credit profile.
Number and Timing of Applications
Given that Wells Fargo is one of the smaller credit card issuers out there, we don’t have a ton of data around the number of applications you can have with the bank. However, there’s a phrase on the terms & conditions page for most Wells Fargo-issued cards that’s worth repeating here:
“You may not qualify for an additional Wells Fargo credit card if you have opened a Wells Fargo credit card in the last 6 months.”
Once again, we run into that horridly vague “may not” language, indicating that you could be denied for a new Wells Fargo card if you have one with the bank that’s less than six months old (and may want to wait even longer — see the next section).
In addition, many reports indicate that Wells Fargo is another issuer (like Bank of America) that often considers your “relationship status” with the bank when determining whether to approve you for a card or note. As a result, you may waste an application if you’re not currently a Wells Fargo customer or if you recently opened a new card with the bank.
In addition to the above items, Wells Fargo also has a relatively draconian (yet simultaneously vague) policy on welcome bonuses. Here’s the specific language from the terms & conditions of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card:
“You may not be eligible for introductory annual percentage rates, fees, and/or bonus rewards offers if you opened a Wells Fargo Credit Card within the last 15 months from the date of this application and you received introductory APR(s), fees, and/or bonus rewards offers, even if that account is closed and has a $0 balance.”
Note that this is a blanket policy that applies to all Wells Fargo-issued cards — though it again includes the term “may not,” reports indicate this 15-month language is generally enforced. So when you combine this language with the above six month rule, I’d recommend spacing out any Wells Fargo applications by at least 15 months to ensure you’re eligible for any welcome bonuses.
Top travel rewards credit cards are a great way to quickly add points and miles to your various loyalty account balances, and many carry a wealth of valuable perks in addition to an initial sign-up bonus. Unfortunately, if you misunderstand the nuances of each issuer’s application restrictions, you could be left with a hard inquiry plus a missed welcome bonus or, even worse, a hard inquiry with a flat-out denial! While the policies above aren’t so much “rules” as they are “guidelines,” I’d strongly encourage you to pay close attention to them as you plan out your next set of applications.
Know before you go.
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