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When Should You Apply for a Credit Card?

Some of us have too many credit cards. Depending on your lifestyle, it might make sense to have three or four cards in your wallet. And as long as you’re keeping up with your monthly bills, there’s nothing wrong with having multiple credit cards. But what if you don’t think you have enough cards? What if you want to apply for a new one? Let’s dive into the credit card application process and look at when it does (and doesn’t) make sense to apply for a credit card.

Find the credit card that’s right for you

How to Apply for a Credit Card

If it’s been awhile since you applied for a credit card, here’s a refresher on how the process works. You can apply for a credit card by mailing in a paper application, speaking to a representative over the phone or completing an online application. Be prepared to provide various details about yourself and your financial background, such as your annual household income and the amount of money in your bank and investment accounts.

How long it takes to get a credit card depends on your application method and the type of credit card you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a credit card online, for example, you may be instantly approved. But if you’re applying for a credit card through the mail, the approval process could take weeks.

Before you apply for a credit card, it’s always a good idea to do some research. That way, you can find the most appropriate card for your financial situation. As you’re shopping around for cards, don’t forget to compare perks, fees, interest rates and general terms and conditions. Reading online reviews could also be worthwhile if you want to know what others think about a particular card.

When Applying for a Credit Card Makes Sense

When Should You Apply for a Credit Card?

Applying for a second (or fourth) credit card may be worth considering if you want to raise your credit score. After all, opening another credit card account will automatically lower your credit utilization ratio. That factor (along with the total amount of debt you owe) accounts for 30% of your FICO® score. And as long as you make on-time payments across all of your accounts, getting another credit card could improve your credit.

Filling out another credit card application could also make sense if you have a high credit score and a good track record with your current card issuers. An additional credit card could give you access to benefits, including better rewards, lower interest rates and a higher credit limit. And if you know you can handle having another credit card, you might as well go for it.

Opening another account could improve your credit mix, too. Only 10% of your FICO® score depends on the types of credit accounts you have. But if you’re determined to raise your credit score as much as possible, it doesn’t hurt to have a variety of accounts.

When Applying for a Credit Card Is a Bad Idea

With each hard inquiry, your credit score will take a bit of a hit. So if you have bad credit, applying for another credit card may only make matters worse. Plus, your chances of getting approved for another card will be low if your credit’s in rough shape.

Getting a new credit card could also be a bad idea if you have poor financial habits. If you always max out your cards or you regularly make late payments, you’re not a good candidate for another card. The same goes for anyone who can’t afford to cover the cost of extra interest and credit card fees.

You’ll need to think about how often you would use a new credit card as well. Your credit card issuer may eventually close your account if you stop using your card. That will cause your credit score to drop.

How Long You Should Wait Before Applying Again

When Should You Apply for a Credit Card?

Applying for multiple credit cards in a short time span can ding your credit score. It can also raise a red flag if it seems like you’re desperate for access to additional credit. Having too many credit inquiries on your credit report (i.e. six or more inquiries) also suggests that you’re a risky borrower who’s more likely to default.

If you’ve recently applied for a credit card, it may be a good idea to wait six months before trying to open another account. But how long you should wait to apply depends on your credit score. If you have good credit, you can probably get away with submitting another credit card application within three months or less. If you have bad credit, however, your best bet is to focus on building credit. Raising your credit score enough to qualify for the card you want could take as many as 12 months.

Bottom Line

Wondering whether you should apply for a credit card? It’s best to take inventory of your current financial situation. If you can manage another credit account or you have good credit, getting another card might be beneficial. If you’re deep in debt, however, or your last request for new credit was denied, it’s in your best interest to concentrate on improving your credit score and paying off your existing accounts.

Update: Have more financial questions? SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/kzenon, ©iStock.com/MangoStar_Studio, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov

Amanda Dixon Amanda Dixon is a personal finance writer and editor with an expertise in taxes and banking. She studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, AOL, Bankrate, The Huffington Post, Fox Business News, Mashable and CBS News. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Amanda currently lives in Brooklyn.
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