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What Does It Mean When You’re “Pre-Approved”, “Pre-Qualified” Or “Pre-Screened” For A Credit Card?

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You’ve likely received a pre-approved, pre-qualified or pre-screened credit card offer. People are often confused by what these terms actually mean. These terms are used interchangeably by credit card issuers depending on which term they think consumers are more likely to respond to. In this article we will talk about pre-approval offers, but the same is true if the wording says pre-qualified or pre-screened.


What Does Pre-Approved Actually Mean?

The oxford dictionary defines pre as “Previous to; before:”. Approval is defined as the action of approving something and approve is defined as “Officially agree to or accept as satisfactory”. This means that the official definition is something along the lines of:

Previous to the official agreement

Or in laymans terms pre-approved is the stage before something is officially approved. Most consumers believe that to be pre-approved means that you’ve already been approved or that you are guaranteed approval.

This is not the case. In reality when you receive a pre-approved offer it means that you’re conditionally approved for the credit card. There is no guarantee that you will be approved and you have no recourse if you’re not approved.

All of these offers are known as ITA offers (invitation to apply). All this means is that the card issuer has accessed data that they think makes you eligible for a specific card. E.g, credit report, zip code, age or any other number of factors. In general credit card companies will purchase data from one of the credit bureaus to base their pre-approval offers on. This could be complete data (such as a credit score) or a specific data requirement (such as people over the age of 30 within the 90210 zip code), let’s use an example to illustrate how it works.

An Example

Credit card company (from herein known as CCC) launches a new credit card. They’ve identify a new profitable segment of the market, people who used to be delinquent on payments but in the past three years have had all on time payments. They ask the credit bureaus to send them the details of 20,000 people that fit this criteria. CCC then sends out pre-approval letters for their new credit card.

1,000 people who received the letter decide to apply, the vast majority of them are approved. Bob receives the pre-approval letter, applies and is denied. The reason CCC has denied Bob is because in the time that CCC received the information from the credit bureaus and when Bob applied for the offer he didn’t pay one of his bills on time. Bob no longer fits the criteria that CCC originally created and thus is denied for the card.

This is an over simplified version but I hope it helps illustrate how pre-approval offers work.

Our Verdict

Once you have your credit score use one of the many sites available to check to see what scores others had when they were approved for the same card. If your score is within that range, go ahead and apply. You’ve got an excellent chance of being approved. If it’s out of that range or your credit history has changed significantly in the last six months, you’re at a greater risk of being denied so it might be advisable to wait before applying.


Why do banks use these terms if they aren’t actually going to approve you?

These terms have a pretty clear psychological impact on consumers. Consumers are much more likely to respond to an offer that has any of the words such as “pre-qualified”, “pre-approved” or “pre-screened”. Usually they have every intention of approving you if your credit stays the same or improves, but in some cases you’re credit is negatively impacted to the point where they can no longer approve you.

Does seeing if I am pre-approved hurt my credit score?

No, when you check to see if you have any pre-approval offers there is no check on your credit score. This is because while credit card companies will check your credit report to see if you are approved

(in most cases) they do a soft pull on your report. Only hard credit pulls can be seen by other lenders and affect your credit score.

A hard pull will only be done when you apply for a new line credit (anything from overdraft protection on a checking account, a new credit card, an autoloan to a mortgage).

How do I see if I have any pre-approval offers?

Finding out if you’re pre-approved/pre-qualified for any credit card offers is easy. Most card issuers have a link on their site, alternatively you can view our full list of card issuers that have a pre-approved feature on their website .

I wasn’t approved for a credit card I was approved for, why not!?

There are many reasons as to why you might not have been approved for a credit card that you were approved for. Here at the most common reasons:

  • Your credit changed enough that you no longer fall within the criteria that the card issuer requires. Often there can be a delay of when the card issuer previously checked your credit and when you received the pre-approval offer (even if you check online, as a new credit report is not automatically pulled). Some possible reasons for this change in card include:
    • Late payment(s) on your existing lines of credit
    • New accounts opened
    • Higher credit utilization ratio
  • They purchased the data in bulk and you were never actually approved. Sometimes card companies will buy data in bulk and send these offers out to every consumer without checking to see if they’d actually be approved or not. This is usually the less than scruple credit card companies.

What are my chances of being approved when I’ve received a pre-approval offer?

This really depends on your individual situation, but Greg Lull of Credit Karma has previously stated that “If you look at the low-end cards, as low as 80 percent of people who are pre-approved actually get approved” and “If you’ve got good credit and you’re getting a lot of offers for rewards cards, your chances of getting approved are much greater — more like 95 percent

The reasons that there is such a large difference is because people with worse credit are more likely to commit mistakes between the time they receive their pre-approval offer and the time they actually apply for the card.

I don’t want to receive these offers any more, can I opt out?

What about if I am pre-approved for a mortgage or auto loan?

This is a different kettle of fish. When you are pre-approved for either of these types of loans, it means a lender has run your credit and agreed to give you a loan, but cannot do so until you choose which car or house you’d like to purchase.

You’re still not guaranteed approval, because lenders want to see which property or automobile you purchase to ensure they have a security to collect if you go into default – but as long as you don’t choose a lemon you’ll be approved. E.g, if you get pre-approved for a $15,000 auto loan and then choose to purchase a car valued at $2,500 for $15,000 the auto lender will likely back out of the deal as the car will not have enough resale value if you default on your loan.

I received a guaranteed approval offer, what does this mean?

Guaranteed approval offers are extremely rare these days, they mean that you are guaranteed to be approved for the credit card advertised. The problem with these cards is that they almost always require a security deposit  and often come with extremely high fees as well.

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Category: Bank

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