All of the major credit card issuers have different rules when it comes to applying for their cards. Furthermore, these rules are constantly changing, as banks try to optimize their strategy as to what kind of card members they’re looking for.
With issuers coming up with more and more rules nowadays for being approved for cards, I wanted to provide an updated rundown of the rules from each of the major card issuers.
In this post, I’ll discuss the basics you should be aware of if you want to be approved for a card by American Express, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Bank of America, and Barclays.
I’ll also briefly talk about how coronavirus and the current economic uncertainty have changed credit card issuer approval rules.
Keep An Excellent Credit Score & Use Cards Responsibly
Before I get too deep into the rules, there are a couple of things I want to say upfront.
First of all, this is intended for people with excellent credit. Credit cards can be extremely rewarding, and applying for lots of credit cards can even help your credit. Make sure you do what you can to keep your credit score high, which shouldn’t be too tough when keeping to best practices.
Second of all, you should only sign up for credit cards if you can use them responsibly. This means paying off your balance in full every month, and not increasing your spending hugely just because you’re not paying cash.
Having the right credit cards can help you maximize rewards greatly, though the value of those rewards will quickly be offset if you’re paying 20%+ interest financing charges. So don’t do that.
Lastly, these rules are constantly changing, and I’m also generalizing here, so make sure you always study the terms on the application page of the card you’re considering getting.
With that out of the way, let’s get right into it.
American Express Application Rules
In my experience, American Express cards are among the easiest to be approved for assuming you have good credit. If you’re new to credit cards, I always recommend starting with Amex, because it’s the issuer that’s often the most generous when it comes to instant approvals.
In some ways Amex has strict rules for getting approved, while in other cases it doesn’t, so here are the rules to be aware of:
Once In A Lifetime Rule
The welcome bonuses on virtually all American Express cards are “once in a lifetime.” That means you can get the bonus on just about every card once, but you can’t get it again in the future (with limits, which I’ll address below). Even if you closed the card, you won’t be eligible for the bonus on that card again in the future.
Note that this rule is based on whether you’ve had a card before, and not whether you’ve received a bonus on it. So if you had a card in the past but didn’t receive a bonus, you still wouldn’t be eligible for the bonus.
The good news is that the definition of “lifetime” might not be quite as strict as it sounds. Many report that seven years after canceling a card you’re eligible again, though that’s anecdotal rather than a published rule.
Four Credit Card Limit
At this very moment, American Express seems to be limiting people to having four Amex credit cards at any given time. Note that this limit used to be five credit cards, but it appears that due to the current economic uncertainty, the limit has been lowered to four.
If you already have five cards then that’s totally fine, as existing cards that are in good standing shouldn’t be shut down. Rather the point is that if you currently have four credit cards, don’t expect to be approved for a fifth card.
Note that all of these card limits don’t include cards without a fixed spending limit, like the following:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (review)
- The American Express® Gold Card (review)
- The American Express® Green Card (review)
Two Credit Cards Every 90 Days
You won’t be approved for more than two Amex credit cards in a 90 day period. This limit excludes cards without a fixed spending limit, which are counted separately.
As far as two cards within 90 days goes, it’s generally okay to apply for two credit cards the same day — just expect that one application may be delayed a few days before it’s approved, and that’s fine.
Amex seems to be denying bonuses for certain people based on their history with Amex, beyond the above rules. If this applies to you, you may receive a pop-up during the application process that reads as follows:
Based on your history with American Express welcome offers, introductory APR offers, or the number of cards you have opened and closed, you are not eligible to receive this welcome offer.
We have not yet performed a credit check. Would you still like to proceed?
Chase Application Rules
Chase largely has the most lucrative rewards credit cards, though Chase cards are also often the toughest to be approved for. If you want to be approved for a Chase card, there are a few restrictions to be aware of:
The 5/24 Rule
Chase has what’s known as the 5/24 rule, where you typically won’t be approved for a Chase card if you’ve opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months. This applies to all Chase cards nowadays. Do note that some business card applications won’t count towards that limit, though.
Two Cards Every 30 Days
Chase will typically approve you for at most two personal cards in a 30 day period, and at most one business card in a 30 day period. As I said above, Chase is in many ways one of the toughest issuers, so don’t necessarily expect you’ll be approved for two cards in 30 days, though you might be.
No Limit On How Many Cards You Can Have
Chase doesn’t seem to have a strict limit on how many total cards you can have from the issuer. Rather Chase’s restriction seems to be based on how much total credit the issuer is willing to extend you.
Often Chase will let you switch around credit lines on cards to be able to open a new card, should they feel like you’re maxed out on the amount of credit Chase will extend you.
The 24 & 48 Month Rule
Chase welcome bonuses mostly aren’t once in a lifetime, but rather are based on a 24 or 48 month cycle.
The most common rule on cards is that you’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on a card if you currently have that card, or if you’re a previous cardmember who received a bonus on the card in the past 24 months. For example, this is the rule on the Chase Freedom FlexSM (review) and Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review).
For some cards, this limit is 48 months, though. For example, on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review) the same rules apply, except it’s based on having received a bonus on the card in the past 48 months.
Family Card Rules
For most Chase cards, eligibility for a welcome bonus is based on whether you’ve had that specific card before. However, for applications of Sapphire, Marriott, and Southwest cards, further “family” rules may apply.
For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® (review) you’re not eligible for the bonus if you currently have either of the Sapphire cards or if you’ve received the new cardmember bonus on either of the Sapphire cards in the past 48 months.
Citi Application Rules
Citi is somewhere between American Express and Chase when it comes to how difficult it is to be approved for cards. I think the best way to describe Citi is that the issuer can be quirky when it comes to approvals. Let’s take a look at the rules you should be aware of:
One Card Every Eight Days, Two Cards Every 65 Days
Citi will approve you for at most one card every eight days, and at most two cards every 65 days. This is a rolling limit.
The 24 Month Rule
Much like Chase, welcome bonuses aren’t once in a lifetime, but rather there’s a required waiting period.
With Citi’s 24 month rule, you’re typically not eligible for the bonus on a particular card if you’ve closed that card or have received a new cardmember bonus on the card in the past 24 months.
Family Card Rules
- You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any of those cards if you’ve received a new cardmember bonus on any of them in the past 24 months
- You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any of those cards if you’ve closed any of them in the past 24 months
The 48 Month AAdvantage Rule
Some AAdvantage cards have a different version of the above. For example, you’re not eligible if you’ve received a new card bonus in the past 48 months with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review). The good news is that there’s no “family” rule in that case.
Capital One Application Rules
Let’s look at what you need to know about applications with Capital One:
One Card Every Six Months
Capital One will approve you for at most one card every six months, so pick wisely. This restriction applies to both personal and business cards.
Pull From All Three Credit Bureaus
To me this isn’t a big issue and also doesn’t necessarily impact your odds of approval, though it’s worth knowing that Capital One pulls from all three credit bureaus.
Bank Of America Application Rules
Bank of America has several credit cards that are interesting to those looking to maximize rewards, including cards like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card (review) and Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card (review).
With the 2/3/4 rule, you can typically only be approved for at most two Bank of America cards in a rolling two month period, three cards in a rolling 12 month period, and four cards in a rolling 24 month period.
Anecdotally you generally won’t be approved for Bank of America cards (business or personal) if you’ve opened three or more new credit cards with all issuers in the past 12 months (much like with the Chase 5/24 rule, most business cards don’t seem to count towards that limit).
The exception is if you have a deposit account with Bank of America, in which case the rule seems to instead be that you can’t be approved if you’ve opened seven or more cards in that period.
Note that this doesn’t seem to be enforced 100% of the time, and there seems to be some flexibility. However, we are now frequently seeing people denied for cards with as few as three inquiries in the past 24 months.
24 Month Rule
Many Bank of America cards have a 24 month rule, where you can’t get a card if you’ve had that card in the past 24 months.
Barclays has a limited number of co-branded travel credit cards, including some American Airlines and JetBlue Airways cards. Unlike other issuers, Barclays has very few consistent restrictions on approvals:
There are some general Barclays guidelines worth being aware of, though the catch is that they’re pretty inconsistently applied. If you’re considering a Barclays card, note that:
- Barclays sometimes applies a 6/24 rule, whereby the issuer won’t approve you for a card if you’ve opened six or more new cards in the past 24 months (this is similar to Chase’s 5/24 rule)
- If you’re instantly approved for multiple Barclays cards in a day (which can be tough), the hard inquiries may be consolidated into one
- Generally speaking, you’re eligible for the bonus on a Barclays card if you’ve closed the same card at least six months ago
- Barclays may consider your spending on other Barclays cards in deciding whether to approve you for a new one; in other words, if Barclays doesn’t see that you’re spending on your existing card, the issuer may not approve you for another card
How Has Coronavirus Impacted Credit Card Approval Odds?
Coronavirus, and the accompanying economic uncertainty, has changed so many parts of our economy. Has coronavirus impacted the odds of you being approved for a credit card? Yes and no.
When the pandemic first started, we saw some card issuers get significantly tougher with approvals. Typically these changes weren’t actually published, but rather we saw card issuers try to limit their exposure. This presented itself in a few ways:
- Card issuers have in some cases limited the total credit they’re willing to extend people, meaning you may have to move around credit to get approved for a card
- Credit card issuers have even in some cases closed down cards and reduced credit lines for cards that aren’t being utilized much, in order to minimize exposure
- Card issuers may have increased requirements for approval, ranging from requiring higher credit scores to higher income
- Anecdotally we’ve seen small business card approvals get tougher, given how many businesses are struggling financially and may be more likely to take on credit card debt
However, in recents month I’ve anecdotally noticed that many of these new restrictions have been undone, and card issuers are largely approving cards in similar ways to pre-coronavirus. Your mileage may vary, though…
Credit Card Application Restrictions Summary
As you can see, there’s a huge variance in terms of approval rules across the major card issuers. In all cases, you’ll want to consult the terms listed on the credit card application for the card you’re considering.
Credit card issuers often update their policies as well, and while I’ll try to keep this updated, stuff often changes without us even knowing.
If you have any experiences to share with credit card approvals please do, as it’s possible I missed something, and data points are always helpful.