How often are you asked at a retail outlet if you have a store credit card, and if not, whether you would like to apply for one and put today's purchase on that card? These cards are examples of "instant approval" credit cards — cards that are approved or denied within a matter of minutes based on your available credit record.
Instant approval credit cards are not limited to store credit cards; they are available as generic cards through major banks. However, in those cases, you will generally have to wait for the physical credit card to arrive in the mail before you can use the card. Check with the issuer to determine when the credit line will be available to you.
The approval process is based primarily on your credit score, so to qualify you will need a good one — the actual number will vary by the card issuer. You will likely also have to supply some basic information such as your yearly income, housing status, and place of employment, as well as your Social Security number.
Since credit scores are so important to the approval process, it makes sense to check your score before applying for any instant approval card (in order to avoid instant rejection). If you don't have access to your credit score already, start by reviewing your credit reports.
You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips. Look for any errors or blemishes in the report that could cause you to be rejected.
Just because a card has instant approval doesn't mean that you should only put an instant's worth of thought into whether to get that card. Consider whether or not it is the right instant approval card for you. There is a wide range of instant approval cards for different levels of credit, containing various rewards programs and fee structures. Make sure to investigate the terms and conditions associated with the card thoroughly, especially with respect to interest rates and fees. Card companies are willing to give up something in exchange for a rapid approval process; it is up to you to find out what the tradeoff is.
Be sure you understand what type of card you are getting with instant approval. Is it a store card used only for in-store purchases? Is it a prepaid or secured credit card? Does the card report your activity to the credit bureaus?
Finally, before choosing an instant approval credit card, think about how you plan to use that card and how it will affect your credit score. The best situation is to acquire a card that you will use only periodically and pay off in full, making the interest rate a non-issue and keeping your credit utilization low — a factor in keeping your credit score high. Make sure that the rewards programs, whether they are cash back, airline miles, or low introductory interest rates, meet your needs.
Instant approval credit cards bring another level of convenience to the credit application process, so feel free to take advantage of that process — but remember to do due diligence and check out the credit card terms and conditions thoroughly before you sign up. Do not trade a few days of convenience for months and years of financial inconvenience.
If you want more credit, check out our list of credit card offers.