Chase thought I stole my own identity — so I got my first credit card with Amex instead

Feb 24, 2020

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A few months ago, I applied for what I thought would be my first rewards credit card — the Chase Freedom Unlimited. It didn’t quite go as planned. Long story short, Chase thought I stole my own identity because of a mixup between the address on my application and the address Chase apparently had on file. But the world of credit cards and points and miles was far too alluring (and lucrative) for me to give up. To avoid another potential application snafu with Chase, I decided to consider another premier credit card issuer: American Express.

One of the most important factors in determining which credit card is right for you is to evaluate your spending habits. As a newcomer to the working world who drives a fairly long daily commute and cooks most nights, a large percentage of my income goes toward two essential categories: groceries and gas.

After waiting about two months to give time for my credit score to improve (hard pulls on your credit can temporarily lower your score), I gave it another try, this time aiming for a Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. The Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year; then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back on transit and at U.S. gas stations and 1% on all other purchases — all categories that fit well into my spending habits.

Related reading: Credit card review: American Express Blue Cash Preferred

(Photo by The Points Guy)
The Blue Cash Preferred earns bonus rewards in categories where I spend the most. (Photo by The Points Guy)

I knew I wasn’t a shoo-in for approval. The Blue Cash Preferred is one of the best cash-back credit cards on the market, and I still only have about a year and a half’s worth of credit history from my local bank back home. But I do have a squeaky-clean payment history baked into those 18 months, so I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for the Blue Cash Preferred through TPG’s link. After filling out the application, I only had to wait about 30 seconds before receiving my answer. I had been approved!

My card came in the mail within five days. The first order of business: connect my new Blue Cash Preferred to my Spotify and Uber accounts so that I’m earning bonus rewards. While the Blue Cash Preferred is typically hailed as a great card for families because of its unparalleled 6% cash back at supermarkets and 3% cash back on gas, I would argue that it’s also an excellent card for students and young adults, thanks to the recent addition of streaming services and transit to its bonus categories.

If you are vying solely for the grocery and gas benefits, the Blue Cash Preferred’s younger sibling — the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express — is also a solid choice. The EveryDay doesn’t come with an annual fee, (see rates & fees) but you’re also only earning 3% on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year and 2% at U.S. gas stations. If you’re spending more than about $3,300 annually on groceries (about $275 per month), and really any amount of money on gas on top of that, the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual fee of $95 pays for itself and then some. (see rates & fees)

After connecting my accounts to my new card, I downloaded the Amex mobile application to keep track of my spending, bill due date and rewards. Cruising between the five tabs, I could see my recent purchases and the respective rewards I’d earned from them, my current statement balance, ways to redeem my membership reward dollars and current American Express offers at various retailers. I also could control my current account information.

An American Express application logo is seen on an iPhone screen in this photo illustration on November 20, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
I’m a personal fan of the Amex app, which I find to be intuitive to use as a credit cards beginner. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Since activating my card, I’ve made sure to follow TPG’s rewards credit card commandments and have accomplished a few key milestones as a new cardholder. I put nearly every expense on my card in hopes of meeting my sign-up bonus (currently a respectable $250 back on your first $1,000 spend in the first three months). I also paid off my first statement well before the due date, and I set up reminders in my phone to do the same from here on out. I’ve been reminded of the importance of keeping your credit utilization below 30%, which can be a bit tougher when you’re like me: new to the credit card game and only granted a $2,000 credit limit upon approval.

Related reading: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

So what went wrong with my Chase application?

While I was excited to receive and start using my new card, I wanted to look a bit deeper into why this application process had been so much smoother than my first attempt. After all, it had only been about two months between the two events, with really no changes to my account or score.

Of course, there’s often no rhyme or reason from the consumer’s perspective as to why you may be approved or denied for a credit card. However, when it comes to applying for cards from different issuers, it’s likely that the applications resulted in information, both credit-related and personal, being pulled from entirely different places. Whether it’s a new address, a change in income or a report on a late credit payment, the three major credit companies —Transunion, Equifax, and Experian — are likely to have information on file about you that doesn’t 100% align.

Your best bet is to ask your creditors to update your records when things like contact details and your permanent address change — and make sure to check your credit reports from each major bureau regularly

My next credit card

I would absolutely recommend that students and recent college graduates get a solid cash-back credit card to start building credit and launch a relationship with banks and issuers. I’m dipping my toe into the expansive credit card rewards landscape with the Blue Cash Preferred, but I’m after more than a straightforward cash-back card with my next application.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

To supplement the Blue Cash Preferred’s bonus categories, I could benefit from valuable rewards when eating out or traveling. With that in mind, I have my eye on the American Express® Green Card, which was recently revamped to include 3x on a broad selection of travel and dining purchases, in addition to a bevy of other appealing perks. And if I choose to give Chase another chance (since it’s hard to deny the worth of Chase Ultimate Rewards), I might jump on board with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which is an excellent card for beginner travelers as well.

Bottom line

The mix-up with Chase was certainly frustrating, but I didn’t let that stop me from jumping into the credit card rewards game. If you experience a similar setback when applying for your first card, you shouldn’t, either. Getting denied for a credit card wasn’t the end of the world. I even ended up getting a card that better matches my spending habits compared to my original choice.

Whether your first application process goes off without a hitch or has a few bumps in the road, it is important to understand how to be responsible from the start with wise spending habits, on-time payments and an awareness of your credit limit and utilization.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday, please click here.

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