5 things to check before applying for your next credit card
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In the world of travel rewards, it almost always seems like a good time to get a new credit card. And even more so now, with the numerous excellent, all-time-high sign-up bonuses on some cards.
But before you click “submit” on that next credit card application, take some time to evaluate a few things to help decide if the time is actually right for you — and if the card you’re eyeing will actually align with your needs. Below are the questions you need to answer before hitting that card application submit button.
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Is the credit card from a loyalty program you are familiar with and will use?
You don’t want to sign up for an increased bonus offer on the Timbuktu Airlines rewards card (not a real airline, obviously) if you have no plans to go to Timbuktu and they don’t have any partner redemptions you can use.
But seriously, using a real-life example, I rarely travel on Delta Air Lines, so I’ve yet to feel like it was the right time for me to get a Delta credit card from American Express. Since Amex limits the number of credit cards a person can have, I’ve thought some of their other cards were a better fit for me and wanted to save my spots for those. That’s not to say I’ll never get a Delta card — just that the time hasn’t been right yet, even when the offers are attractive.
Part of being familiar with the program is to know whether or not the points or miles you earn will expire. And if so, when?
You’ll want to have some sort of idea in mind for how to use the points or miles you’ve earned if they have an expiration date. Or you’ll need a strategy to keep your loyalty program account active, especially if you cancel the credit card after a period of time or aren’t using the card for regular spending beyond the sign-up bonus.
For example, Wyndham points expire four years after they’re earned even if you have new activity. And if you have no new Wyndham activity, your points expire after 18 months. While Wyndham has a new lineup of credit cards with bonus offers ranging from 30,000 to 45,000 points, it’s best to have identified some potential redemptions and plan just how many nights you’ll be able to redeem points for using that sign-up bonus within a couple of years.
What are the spend requirements — and can you meet them?
In order to receive the sign-up bonus, most banks require you to spend a certain amount of money within a set period of time. This is known as the minimum spend requirement. Minimum spending requirements can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
Before applying, identify how much you need to spend to receive the bonus and make sure you can do so within the time period required. Not sure if you can spend $5,000 in 90 days? You may want to look for a different card with a lower spend or longer time period to hit the threshold.
I like to apply for new credit cards when I know I have large expenses coming up soon, such as paying my homeowners or car insurance premiums in full, planned car maintenance or home improvement projects or repairs.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express stands out, thanks to its 125,000 Membership Rewards points awarded after spending $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening. It also comes with it a $595 annual fee (see rates and fees).
At first glance, $15,000 sounds like an incredibly hefty sum, but it breaks down to $5,000 per month which is probably within the spending range from many with a small business. So to figure out whether or not I could meet the spend requirements, I’d analyze whether I thought I could comfortably spend that amount on the card within the prescribed number of months.
What are the bank’s application rules?
It’s no secret banks have caught on to people who only open credit cards to get the bonus and then close the card shortly thereafter. That’s why many of them have developed rules or processes concerning new applications.
Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule for a given card’s bonus, Chase’s 5/24 rule and Bank of America’s 24-month restriction are among the most well-known application rules, but other banks may be wary of granting new credit if you have too many new accounts in the past six to 12 months. Bank rules are subject to change, and frequently do, so you’ll want to make sure to read the fine print on the application to avoid a potential letdown later on of being denied a card or even worse, receiving the card but not the bonus.
Before applying, check your credit report to see how many cards you’ve opened in the past six, 12 and 24 months. Is it more than five personal cards in 24 months? If so, a new Chase card will not be an option for you.
And if you’re looking at American Express, check your history to make sure you haven’t had the card before. If you have, you can apply and may even get approved, but won’t get the welcome offer due to its once-per-lifetime rule.
What is your credit score?
I use Credit Karma to check my scores before applying for a new card. No, this isn’t my actual FICO score, since Credit Karma uses the VantageScore, but it’s close enough for me. Many banks and credit cards also offer credit scores as a free feature.
You’ll want to make sure your credit score is high enough for the card you want to apply for, especially if you’re looking at a premium card, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express. Here’s a look at the credit scores you need to get approved for some Amex cards and the ever-popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
For a quick boost to your credit score, pay your balances before your statement close date to avoid having them report to the credit bureaus. This will lower your debt-to-credit ratio. If you have some older inquiries that may drop off your report in the near future, wait and let them drop off for a potential increase in your score.
How does this sign-up bonus rank?
Sign-up bonuses and welcome offers can be cyclical or limited-time offers.
It’s a good idea to check the history of offers available for the card you’re interested in with a little online research. Checking the history can help you determine how to rank the current bonus on a particular card versus previous bonuses on the same card or other similar credit cards.
If the card you’re interested in is only offering a 30,000-mile bonus, but a few months ago it was 60,000, you may want to wait and see if the offer will increase again. These days, the banks are not necessarily matching better offers if the sign-up bonus offer increases after you apply, so it’s best to try and make sure you’re applying for the highest offer you can.
The American Express® Gold Card — with a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) — is currently offering its highest public welcome offer ever — 60,000 Membership Rewards when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening. You may even be able to earn an elevated offer of 75,000 points via the CardMatch Tool (offers subject to change at any time).
A little bit of planning before your next credit card application can help increase the odds you’re applying for a card that you’ll be approved for, that you’ll be able to meet the minimum spending requirements and that you know how to redeem the points to your benefit.
Featured photo by Suradech Prapairat/Shutterstock.
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