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Once you’ve researched and chosen the card that is best for you, it’s time to learn how to apply for a credit card. It sounds easy–you know where to get your card, right? Just return that exclusive card offer you received in the mail or click the correct boxes online after a custom offer shows up in your inbox or as you’re surfing the web–that should do the trick. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that easy.

Actually getting approved for the card you want is a whole new ballgame. (And, yes, you can sometimes apply for an instant approval credit card at the ballpark.)

Know your credit score

When you apply for a credit card, you must meet the credit card issuer’s eligibility criteria. This usually means that the credit card issuer requires you to be within a specific credit score range. Therefore, the first thing you’ll need to do is research your credit score.

You may be thinking you don’t need to research your credit score because you know you have excellent credit. But, that is a common misconception. Often times, once you see your credit score, you’re surprised that it differs from what you imagined. So, please check.

The good news is that you are entitled by law to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from the three nationwide credit-reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) . Those companies will also sell you a copy if you’ve already used your freebie. You can also check to see if one of the cards you already have provides a FICO score as part of your benefits; it’s worth asking.Decide what you need in a credit card

Decide what you need in a credit card

After you’ve researched your score, see what cards are best-suited to your credit range, and determine what other things you are looking for in your credit card. That instant-approval card offered by your favorite sports team might look pretty good after a couple of beers (and you might need a new credit line to pay off the bar tab), but every credit card application you submit gets noted in your credit report. Do your research to avoid applying for credit cards you have no chance of actually obtaining.

After you’ve researched your score, see what cards are best-suited to your credit range, and determine what other things you are looking for in your credit card. That instant-approval card offered by your favorite sports team might look pretty good after a couple of beers (and you might need a new credit line to pay off the bar tab), but every credit card application you submit gets noted in your credit report. Do your research to avoid applying for credit cards you have no chance of actually obtaining.

Apply for a card with care

Even if you have great credit, read the fine print on any “instant approval” card you’re offered. Some of them have interest in excess of 30 percent APR, steep annual (or even monthly!) fees, and easily triggered penalty fees and rates.

The best thing to do is to review the terms and conditions provided by the credit card issuer. Under the law, every credit card issuer is required to lay out the main points about the credit card such as APR, late payments, fees, etc. in the same way, making it easier for you to compare one credit card with another. Read all the way through the terms and conditions, don’t stop at the chart at the top. Below that chart is where the credit card issuer provides all of the inclusions and exclusions. For example, if you are looking for a cash back card for groceries, you’ll want to see what exclusions apply. In some instances, warehouse stores that sell in bulk are excluded from these cash back offers. If you are buying most of your groceries from Costco or Sam’s Club then you’ll want to know this before you apply for the card.

Don’t ever stretch the truth on your credit card application

On any application for a credit card, the number one rule is to be honest. Sure, you can make up your income and occupation (“major league baseball players make a minimum of $500,000, so I’ll just put that down…”) but that’s not a winning strategy.

You should always provide accurate information. Questions will include income (include all of it), housing costs (rent or mortgage), employer, as well as questions about debt. This last one is especially important: don’t forget to include car, student, or personal loans in addition to outstanding credit card balances.

Knowingly lying on your application can open you up to legal trouble in a big way–the penalty for fibbing when applying for a card is up to 30 years in federal prison and fines of up to $1 million.

Got rejected? Don’t be dejected.

Despite being thorough in your research, and scrupulously honest on your credit card application, instead of receiving your shiny new card, you may get a letter or email denying your application.

Even after performing the most detailed research, you may not always get the card you want with the best cash back bonuses or rewards, all at a super-low APR percent. Credit card companies do reject applications: the trick is to not take it personally and to remain persistent.

Many companies offer the chance to appeal their decision by phone or in writing. In either case, be super-polite and friendly to your customer service representative and have a plan of action going in. If you genuinely feel that the rejection is unfair, they are there to listen and, after all, they usually want you as a loyal customer. At the very least, an appeal is your chance to understand why you were rejected try and resolve the issue before you apply for another card.

Learn more about finding the best credit card for your needs here.

Be responsible with your existing credit

Because having good credit is the best way to get approved for credit cards with perks and low interest rates, be sure not to carry high balances on your existing cards, and always pay off as much as you can every month. If you’re just starting out, don’t overdo it — some cards will offer cash advances or balance transfers at a good introductory rate, but you should resist the urge to charge big purchases unless you know you can pay them off right away.

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