Here's what credit card companies look for when you apply

Photo (c) Karen Roach - Fotolia

You may be surprised at what can get your application rejected

Getting a credit card isn't nearly as hard as getting a mortgage these days, but face it – lenders aren't just handing out plastic to anyone, like they did once upon a time.

That's actually a good thing, because a lender who extends you credit without bothering to find out whether you can repay it is not doing you any favors. Just ask payday loan borrowers.

So when you apply for a credit card, the company is going to look at a number of factors – some that might be considered fair, some maybe not so fair. At any rate, knowing what they are going in might save you some time and heartburn.

Credit report and score

As you might expect, a credit card issuer is going to check your credit report and score. It will look for any negative issues in your report, such as late payments or accounts in collections.

It will also look at your other credit card accounts. If you have other cards with balances close to the credit limit, that might reduce your chances of having your application approved.

If you already have a credit card with the same lender, it will likely take that into consideration. If you have been a good customer, making all your payments on time and managing your balance, your chances are good of getting more credit.

But if you have a large balance and have been late a couple of times with your payment, the credit card company will probably decline your application.

Credit card companies will also look at your income. Someone who spends a lot of money with plastic is less of a risk if they have a good, steady income. In fact, these are the kinds of customers credit card companies prefer.

Other criteria

But lenders have other criteria for judging applications that might come as a surprise. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the 2009 CARD Act contained many needed reforms, but still allows lenders to judge a consumer's risk – and even set the interest rate – from personal information, such as where a consumer shops and what he or she buys.

In a chicken-and-egg conundrum, you might also be rejected if you have never had a credit card. Some lenders don't want to be first.

In that case, you might consider applying for a secured credit card, such as the Discover It Secured Card. For starters, there is no annual fee and no late fee on your first late payment. However, if you are trying to rebuild your credit, having any late payments should be avoided.

The card is secured by a deposit, which serves as your credit limit. If you deposit $500, then your monthly credit limit is $500. After 12 months, Discover looks at your account and, if you have paid on time, you can get your security deposit back.

More importantly, it reports your payment history regularly to the three credit agencies, helping to improve your overall credit profile and making it easier to qualify for credit in the future.

Take a Financial Relief Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.