Credit Card Preapproval Letters Explained


If you’re of a certain age and have a mailing address in the United States, you’ve likely received a credit card approval or 100 in the mail. Most of the time, it can be easy to dismiss the offers as junk mail and toss them in the trash bin. However, if you’re in need of credit, you may be justifiably interested in the offer, and seriously consider responding. Not so fast – there are a few things you need to consider before contacting the credit card company and taking them up on their offer.

If you’re wondering how a credit card company can “pre-approve” you for a card when you have never even contacted them, you’re not alone. The pre-approval process happens without your knowledge, and without your consultation.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should understand the next time you receive a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail.

What “Pre-Approval” Actually Means

Pre-approvals are actually just a way for credit card companies to target well qualified leads. First, credit card companies define the criteria of a good credit card customer. Then, they work with a credit reporting agency to build a list of individuals who meet their criteria (for example, if your credit score is above a certain threshold).

Once the credit reporting agency has provided this list, the credit card company will then mail their offers directly to the consumers. This is valuable to credit card companies for two reasons. First, they are weeding out consumers who are less likely to qualify for a credit card. Second, it allows them to offer better rates because you may be lower-risk since you meet their requirements.

Do Pre-Approvals Affect My Credit?

No. Because they are performed without your consent, credit card pre-approvals are soft inquiries, meaning they do not hurt your credit report or credit score. These inquiries are only visible when you check your own credit report, and aren’t visible to any other person or organization.

Once you take a credit card company up on their offer (meaning, actually apply), the resulting hard inquiry will show up on your credit report and can affect your credit score.

Does a Pre-Approval Guarantee Me a Credit Card?

Despite the connotations the word “pre-approval” contains, an approval letter does not guarantee you a credit card. The credit card company bought your name with a list on it, and didn’t view your credit report in full. You can still be rejected if, during the application and inquiry process, the credit card company finds something it doesn’t like.

What Should I Do About My Pre-Approval Letters?

If you are actually in the market for a credit card, you may want to apply if the offer is attractive and you don’t already have an arsenal of credit cards.

If you aren’t interested, you should shred them and throw them away. While credit card offers don’t contain sensitive information like Social Security numbers, there is still a risk of theft or fraud. While a random stranger on the street couldn’t pick your offer out of the trash and take out a credit card in your name, a crafty person who may have access to your personal information could.

If you really aren’t interested, you can opt out of receiving credit card offers. You can opt out permanently or for five years. Instructions on how to do so are available here:


You should now have an idea of how credit card pre-approval offers actually work. While they may be valuable for a very specific person, they are not literally a guaranteed offer for credit. It is simply a less expensive way for credit card companies to pursue new customers. Luckily for you, these offers do not affect your credit or finances in any way if you choose not to participate.

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