Julia Kukiewicz. 18 July 2014 ( last updated )
"I just applied for a credit card: how long will it be until I can start using it?"
There are two types of credit card application process: standard and instant decision.
Read on to find out more about the time it takes card providers to go through the application process in both cases and five top tips for getting a card as quickly and as safely as possible.
Alternatively, filter currently available cards by whether they offer instant decision here .
Standard credit card applications
Approx 14 days from application to receive the card
In any standard credit card application process - online, by post or over the phone - applicants are asked for their full personal details and information on their existing financial commitments.
This information is then reviewed manually by the provider which may take up to 5 to 10 working days.
Applying by post is likely to be the slowest process since, aside from postal delivery times, the application would need to be entered into the system first - whereas an online application would be submitted automatically.
Those making a credit card application with their current bank or building society might get a quicker response because the existing relationship makes it easier to verify the information and come to a decision.
'Instant decision' credit card applications
Approx 10 days from application to receive the card
The quickest credit card applications are likely to be instant decision credit cards, which offer a response in minutes to applications made online via the bank's website.
During an instant decision application all or any of the following checks can be completed automatically:
- Identity verification: of the applicant and any other person relevant to the application (i.e. anyone that is financially linked to the applicant, more on financial linking here ).
- Score for credit card suitability: based on current borrowing and past borrowing behaviour
- Fraud checks: aside from simple identity checks banks can cross reference applications with fraud prevention databases, for example to avoid applications made using a stolen identity
The speed of those checks can make it at least a few days quicker to go from applying for a credit card and receiving it.
Instant decision credit cards are, however, only offered by some issuers. See our guide for more on these cards and applying online in general.
In the past, instant decision credit cards were reserved for those with the best credit ratings.
Now, however, instant decision credit cards are available for a whole range of users.
How to get a card faster
Choosing whether to make a standard or instant decision application makes a difference to an application but it's nothing to the time applicants will save by making the credit card application count in the first place.
Here are some of our top tips for speeding up the whole process and guarding against the biggest slow down of all: a rejected application.
1. Do a quotation search first
The fastest, safest way of making a credit card application is to test the waters with a quotation search.
Quotation searches - sometimes known as 'soft searches' - are initial checks a credit card provider can carry out to check whether the application is likely to be accepted.
They're different from a full search in that they don't show up as a 'footprint' on a credit record so, if the quotation search reveals that
the application is unlikely to be accepted, the customer can look elsewhere without penalty (see below for more on the problem of credit file 'footprints').
poor credit history?
Unfortunately, these searches cost credit card providers money. Banks and building societies are less likely to get a return on that cost than they are with full searches so most lenders don't currently provide quotation searches.
Nationwide are a notable exception: their quotation search service is built into their main online application process.
Barclaycard also offer a pre-application soft search to check eligibility for the range of Barclaycards without affecting credit score.
The Barclaycard check isn't an application for credit, so they warn results can vary when a full check is made and, presumably to reduce the number of people using the service, applicants need to apply through a special route that Barclaycard call the eligibility form.
Some comparison sites also offer soft searches.
2. Check and double check application criteria
No matter the method of application, those applying for a new credit card should be very cautious about making sure they fulfil all the application criteria before going ahead and applying for a card.
That includes credit builder or credit cards marketing for first time users, even these deals can be very specific in what they're looking for.
3. Supply as much information as possible
Providers find it easier to make a decision when they have already been supplied with as much information as possible, and certainly everything they've asked for.
Additional information counts: a full record is often a good one.
Accuracy is also important. Credit card providers will cross reference the information they have been given with records from reference agencies and from the electoral roll.
For example, applicants with a quirk of address, such as a flat number, that's entered differently in a few places might want to try to match the version which matches the records of the most reliable source and, if possible, avoid the problem altogether by ensuring that addresses always match in the first place.
It's often worth writing down any details the credit card provider gives at this stage, too.
Many providers give out application numbers which will allow applicants to keep track of their card's progress and sort out issues if it ends up taking longer than expected to arrive.
4. Send back the term agreement quickly
When an application for a credit card is accepted, the first letter from the new provider will contain a terms and conditions agreement, which needs to be reviewed and signed to get the card.
The quicker an applicant can get that form back in the post or electronically signed (only some providers offer the latter), the quicker they'll ultimately receive the card.
Cards should arrive a few days after that paperwork is taken care of.
5. Rejected? Stay cautious
It can be tempting to apply for several credit cards in quick succession especially when there are instant decisions on applications. Resist temptation!
Applying for a credit card leaves a 'footprint' on a credit files. Application for several cards made at the same time may result in lenders seeing multiple searches, which puts providers off and could make future applications harder.
We go into more detail about dealing with a declined application in this article here .
The general rule is to wait at least 3 months between applications and using that period to look at other ways to improve credit rating in the meantime.