You may have come across emails getting offers from your lenders saying that you have been preapproved or prequalified for a card. It is important to note that credit card companies often send out such offers saying you have been preapproved or prequalified for a particular credit card product. Both preapproval and prequalification mean you are likely—but not guaranteed—to be approved if you apply with the right documentation. While the terms are similar, it is important to know that both preapproval and prequalification can mean different things and be defined/used interchangeably from lender to lender.

Between the envelopes in your mailbox and the emails in your inbox, you've probably come across something that says you're pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card offer. Or maybe you want to see if you're eligible for a card offer with a better rate. But what does this really mean? How do you find out if you're pre-qualified or pre-approved? And why does it matter anyway?

Pre Approved Vs. Prequalified for a Credit Card—what does it mean?

Chances are, you have received credit card offers from lenders saying you have been prequalified or preapproved for a credit card. But what does it mean, exactly? In this article, we tell you what it means to be pre qualified versus pre approved for credit cards.

Does getting prequalified or preapproved mean you will surely get approved if you apply for the card? In both cases, prequalification and preapproval means you are welcome to apply for a credit card, but it does not guarantee approval.   


Prequalified generally means that a lender has decided that you look like someone who might be a good fit for their credit card—hence their invitation to apply. It means that a credit card company worked with a credit bureau to look at your basic credit profile. Sometimes, lenders set a standard, such as a minimum credit score, and ask the credit bureau for a list of people who meet the minimum criteria. 

The pre-qualification process is basically a screening of your basic credit information, and you might see the term "prescreened" instead.


On the surface, it may look like pre-approved and pre-qualified mean the same thing. It may also seem that the two terms are used interchangeably. However, a closer look at the term would tell you that pre-approval could mean a higher approval rate for pre-approved offers than pre-qualified offers. However, it depends entirely on the parameters set by each lender.

Preapproval generally means that a lender has done considerable research on you. Or it might not mean anything. There is not much difference between the two terms, other than legal differences. Sometimes, you might get a mail saying you have been “pre-screened” for their credit card and it seems that you are a fit for their product. Some credit card issuers use that in place of prequalified or preapproved.

Whichever term the lenders use, the bottom line is that the way card issuers and lenders use the terms prequalified and pre-approval can vary. It pays to look closely at the fine print of the credit card offers before you apply.

Prequalified vs. preapproved: What you need to know

Here are some basic things to know about credit card preapproval prequalification:

  • Unsought prequalified/preapproved credit card offers, usually like the ones that arrive in your mailbox or email typically do not signify a hard inquiry credit check. A hard inquiry, which can affect your credit scores, typically happens once you formally apply for a particular credit card or loan product. 

  • Neither prequalified nor preapproved credit card offers come with a credit card—again, you will have to apply to be approved.

  • Also, prequalified or preapproved is not a guarantee you will be approved for the credit card, either on the terms offered or at all.

  • Note that some credit card issuers may distinguish between prequalified and preapproval. Preapproval might have laxer requirements than prequalified and vice versa—so your odds of approval can be hard to figure out. Again, this can vary from lender to lender.

  • Neither prequalification nor preapproval guarantees actual approval

  • Prequalification or preapproval is a sign that the odds for approval might be in your favor. 

  • Be sure to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line and understand what the card issuer means by prequalified or preapproved. 

  • Note that by applying for a prequalified or preapproved credit card typically results in a hard inquiry, which could negatively impact your credit. 

  • It is possible to proactively request prequalification or preapproval before you apply for a credit card. In order to do this, check with the lender’s website and apply for preapproval or prequalification. This way, you will be able to save yourself from a hard inquiry. 

Do preapprovals affect credit score?

Preapprovals typically don’t affect your credit score and appear as soft inquiries on your credit report. Once you fill in the application for a credit card, a hard inquiry will be made, which could impact your credit score.

Does prequalification affect credit score?

A pre-qualification may appear on your credit report as an “inquiry”. This could be a soft inquiry, which means it won’t have a negative effect on your credit report. A hard inquiry happens once you apply for a credit card, and that will most definitely impact your credit score.

Accepting a Preapproved or Prequalified Credit Card

If you decide you want to apply, take a close look at things like interest rates and other terms and conditions. Even after receiving a preapproved or prequalified credit card offer, you still must make an application from scratch. Once you apply, the lender will take a closer look at your application and credit history to decide whether you actually qualify for the credit card.

In the happy scenario that you are approved for a credit card, you may be approved not necessarily with the same terms that were listed in the offer letter. For instance, you may be approved for a higher interest rate or a shorter promotional period. A worst-case scenario would be that your application is rejected for the credit card completely. This would undoubtedly hurt your credit score. That is why, it is always best to proactively search for preapproved/prequalified credit cards, to see if a credit product matches your income and credit history. This will lessen the chances of a hard inquiry and in case the application is rejected, it will eliminate the hurt caused by the rejection. 

Keep in mind that the pre approved/pre qualified credit card offer you receive in the mail may not be the best offer out there. Before you respond, go online to check the lenders most recent offers. You may find something better than the offer you received. Shop around for the best deal. It is highly possible that you may find a better credit card with another lender.