Credit Card Application Rules By Bank (2020)

Filed Under: American Express, Bank of America
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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 their 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. If you’re new to credit cards, I always recommend starting with Amex, because they’re often the most generous when it comes to instant approvals.

In some ways they have strict rules for getting approved, while in other cases they don’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. 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.

There are some mixed reports as to what exactly “lifetime” means, with some saying that period resets after seven years, but that’s a case of “your mileage may vary.”

Four Credit Card Limit

At this very moment, American Express seems to be limiting people to having four of their 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 they shouldn’t shut down existing cards that are in good standing. 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 charge cards, like the following:

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 charge cards, 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.

Eligibility Check

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 they’re also often the toughest to be approved for. So 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 one of their cards if you’ve opened five or more cards 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 them. Rather their restriction seems to be based on how much total credit they’re willing to extend you.

Often they’ll 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 they’ll give 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 their cards. I think the best way to describe Citi is that they can be quirky when it comes to approvals. So 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 they have 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

Some Citi cards, including the Citi Premier® Card (review), Citi Prestige® Card, and Citi Rewards+℠ Card (review), have family card rules. In other words, for those three cards:

  • 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 CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®. The good news is that there’s no “family” rule in that case.

Capital One Application Rules

Capital One is a fairly new issuer when it comes to having cards that are interesting to those into miles & points, given their introduction of a transferable points currency in late 2018, with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (review) and Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business (review).

Let’s look at what you need to know about applications with them.

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 an ever-increasing number of credit cards that are interesting to those looking to maximize rewards, including cards like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card (review), Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card (review), and Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Credit Card (review).

2/3/4 Rule

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.

3/12 Rule

This seems to be a relatively recent addition to Bank of America cards, but anecdotally it seems that you 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

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.

Inconsistent Rules

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 they 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 they don’t see that you’re spending on your existing card, they may not approve you for another card

How Coronavirus Impacted Credit Card Approval Odds?

Coronavirus, and the accompanying economic uncertainty, have changed so many parts of our economy. Has coronavirus impacted the odds of you being approved for a credit card? Yes and no.

In general, we’ve seen card issuers get tougher with approving people for cards, though rarely does this come in the form of any published policies.

Given the uncertainty, card issuers want to limit their exposure, so this could present itself in a few ways:

  • Card issuers are in some cases limiting 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 are even in some cases closing down cards and reducing credit lines for cards that aren’t being utilized much, in order to minimize exposure
  • Card issuers may be increasing requirements for approval, ranging from requiring higher credit scores to higher income
  • Anecdotally we’re in many cases seeing small business credit cards get tougher to be approved for, given how many businesses are struggling financially and may be more likely to take on credit card debt

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.

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Comments
  1. “If you already have five cards then that’s totally fine, as they shouldn’t shut down existing cards that are in good standing. Rather the point is that if you currently have four credit cards, don’t expect to be approved for a fifth card. you to having four of their credit cards at any given”

    No biggie but I think you missed some edits.

    Next question, is it possible to be approved for more than one of the same Amex charge cards? For example, two (personal) golds? If so, I assume the welcome bonus only applies to the first gold, correct?

    Third situation…if you have a delta gold and Amex offers a delta gold with no lifetime language, does that count as 2 (out of 4) slots?

  2. I just started my own insurance agency back in the spring and applied for an Ink Bus Cash to pair with my personal Sapphire Preferred. Though I have an 800+ personal credit score and have never missed a payment to Chase or anyone else, Chase initially declined me due to not yet having reportable business income. I called back once to the reconsideration line and spoke to a representative who was not willing to help. Something told me to try again, so I called back the following afternoon and got a rep who was willing to hear my case. I told her that I don’t have much overhead, that I’m the only employee as of now, yada yada.. and that I just wanted something to keep personal and business expenses separate. After a several minute hold, she came back and said I was approved with the minimum $5000 credit limit.

    A month later I applied for the AMEX Blue Bus Plus and was instantly approved with a $7500 limit.

    I just wanted to share my story, as it further illustrates the simplicity of AMEX and the more restrictive nature of Chase, as you mentioned.

    Thanks for all y’all do!

  3. I was recently denied an Amex Green application because I have too many credit cards opened. I have about 10 total, I’m at 3/24 and have a credit score over 800. What gives?

  4. @Reaper:

    Anecdotally I know of a few people who have multiple AMEX Platinum cards open as their annual fee is waived under SCRA/MLA and they take advantage of multiplying the Uber, cell phone, and travel fee credits.

    Personally I find this to be distasteful, and not in the spirit of what both legislators and AMEX are trying to accomplish with their goodwill, but per the letter of the law/ AMEX policy they are able to do it. I honestly feel a little guilty just having a CSR card with those benefits and no annual fee, I can’t see myself finding it ethically acceptable to open multiple accounts to stack discounts. That being said I’m very appreciative of the fee waiver and financial benefits offered.

  5. I currently have the old Hyatt card and want to cancel and apply for the new one. How long should I wait between canceling the old one and applying for the new one??

  6. For Chase, I was just approved this month for two personal credit cards within 5 days. Both applications went pending but the accounts showed up online within hours.

  7. Hi Lucky,

    How does Citi treat product changes for ThankYou cards? If I change a Prestige to a Premier for example, does that count as closing the Prestige snd thereby resetting the 24 month window?

  8. >> 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…

    If I have a supp Sapphire card (ie card number same as my parent’s main card), does that count has having a Sapphire, so I am ineligible if I get my own Sapphire?

  9. Ok, I realize this post is about “applications”, not usage. But I think it’s worth noting that AMEX can get really testy if you cancel a new AMEX card in less than 12 months after issuance.

    No, this doesn’t mean you have to renew it, as AMEX won’t bill the renewal until 13 months, giving you a month to cancel without a new fee and stay in good standing.

    Oh, and reports are that AMEX might ‘claw back’ points received from buying gift cards, including cards from grocery stores that have the new reporting system to let AMEX know what you bought. That hasn’t happened to me, despite having bought $ tens of thousands of VGCs over the years, as my local 2 store “chain” doesn’t seem to have that system yet.

    But I’d think carefully about doing that at large chains like Safeway or Kroger. “Out of an abundance of caution”, as they say, I no longer buy GCs with AMEX cards anywhere.

  10. @C having a authorized user card from someone else’s main account won’t make you ineligible for a sign up bonus. But if it makes you seem to be over the 5/24 limit, you will have to call the Chase application department and get them to take the AU card off of your app, even if it’s already been canceled. If you get an unfriendly agent, you may have to “hang up and call again”, to get that done. 😉

  11. @Lee Don’t pc a Prestige to a Premiere, as that will indeed count as a canceled account, and in addition all your Prestige points will expire in 90 days if not transferred out. Instead downgrade the Prestige to a Rewards + card, which will keep the same account number, not count as a cancel, and not endanger your points.

    Then you can apply for a Premiere, and get a sign up bonus for that. When it comes time to use the points from the former Prestige card, you can transfer them to your new Premiere card, and have 90 days to send them to a City partner.

  12. @Lee I guess I’m assuming you’ve had that Prestige for more than 24 months, as it’s in the same “family” as the Premiere. If it’s been less than 24 months, I think the above will still work, but Citi won’t give you the sign up bonus for the Premiere. Still the best way to protect any Citi points remaining in the Prestige account though…

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