Pre-Qualified vs. Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers

Is there really a difference?

Credit card companies spend millions of dollars annually on their marketing budget to entice potential customers with offers via snail mail or e-mail to apply for new credit. Some of these you may receive are called “pre-qualified”, while others will say you are “pre-approved”. Is there really a difference?

Yes there is. Understanding the difference can be beneficial to you when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger and apply for credit, and potentially take a hit via a hard inquiry on your credit report.


You will likely see this language on an offer when the credit card issuer has received some basic information from your credit report, such as a minimum FICO score, and based on that information, they have presented a product(s) that you could have interest in. The information they have has not negatively impacted your credit report, and there are many credit card companies that have websites in which you can see if you pre-qualify for their current cards. (see below).

pre qualified vs pre approved credit cards
Discover Pre-Approval Advertisement

Pre-Qualified Credit Card Offer Websites

(Updated September 2019)

American Express

Discover Card

Citi Card

Chase Bank


In most cases, a credit card issuer with whom you have an existing relationship with will provide an attractive pre-approval offer for one of their products to you. The issuer already has an idea of who you are as a borrower, and a hard inquiry to act on a pre-approval doesn’t always take place. It is never guaranteed you will get approved with a pre-approval, which is why it is important to know where your current FICO score and credit report is before taking action on either a pre-qualification or pre-approval.

If you do not want to be considered for any offers, you can opt out. Filling out the form on will ensure you will not receive any offers for five years. We always recommend you do not apply for credit cards just because you are pre-approved. Apply for credit when you plan on it, which often means when you have a need for it. If you are cleaning up your credit, resist the temptation of adding additional credit cards into your life, and pay down your existing credit card debt.

If you get declined after receiving a pre-approval or pre-qualification offer, make sure you read the letter that accompanies your decline as to the reason. Lenders are required to list your FICO score and date they pulled your report, as well as mitigating reasons for not extending credit. Take actionable steps to address each reason listed, and if there is nothing you can do at the moment (i.e “too many new accounts open” listed as a reason), consider waiting 9-12 months before applying for another card, while your new credit begins to age on your report.


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