When to Apply for an Unsecured Card vs Secured
Those new to credit or rebuilding credit often wonder when they should apply for an unsecured card versus choosing a secured card. The right timing for applying for unsecured approval involves evaluating several factors.
How Secured and Unsecured Cards Differ
Unsecured cards represent traditional credit cards that do not require any deposit. Approval is based on your creditworthiness.
Secured cards require an upfront security deposit that becomes your credit limit. These help applicants with poor or limited credit get approved.
Unsecured cards offer higher limits, rewards, and perks. Secured cards establish initial positive history to eventually qualify for unsecured offers.
Transition Process from Secured to Unsecured
Here is the typical transition path for those starting with secured cards:
- Apply for secured card due to poor/limited credit history
- Use secured card responsibly by making payments on time and keeping balances low
- After 6-12 months of positive history, credit scores start improving
- Continue responsible usage for 12-24 months to further build credit
- Become eligible for graduation to unsecured cards when credit profile strengthens
- Graduate from your secured card issuer or apply for new unsecured cards
This demonstrate why having patience is key. The process of establishing good credit takes diligent work over 1-2 years before unsecured approval becomes likely.
Credit Score Guidance
Your credit scores provide the best indicator of when you may qualify for unsecured card approval:
- Below 600 – High likelihood of denial for most unsecured cards
- 600-659 – Borderline approval odds, may need to start with secured card
- 660-679 – Decent approval chances for some unsecured cards
- 680+ – Strong approval odds for most unsecured card offers
Higher scores in the good to excellent range (680+) offer prime approval odds for unsecured credit cards.
Minimum Credit History Length
In addition to your scores, issuers look at the length of your credit history:
- 0-6 months – Too limited for unsecured approval
- 6-12 months – May get starter unsecured card with proof of income
- 1-2 years – Reasonable chance with good scores
- 3+ years – Preferred history length for the best approval odds
At least 12 months of history is recommended before applying for unsecured cards. Many issuers prefer to see 2+ years of established history.
Other Factors Impacting Unsecured Approval
Beyond your scores and history length, the following also influence unsecured approval odds:
- Income – Higher incomes improve your chances
- Employment – Steady jobs provide more security
- Existing accounts – Mix of credit types helps
- Inquiries – Too many recent applications causes denials
- Utilization – Keeping balances low helps approval
- Errors – Mistakes on credit reports get corrected
- Recent late payments – These must be avoided
Optimizing all these factors together, in addition to your scores, maximizes your chances for unsecured card approval.
Unsecured Card Eligibility Checks
Rather than applying and risking denial, first check if you pre-qualify for unsecured card offers:
- Check for pre-approved credit card offers by mail
- Use online pre-qualification tools from various issuers
- Try services like Credit Karma that match you with suitable cards
- Review any pre-qualified card offers from your existing bank
- See if you can product change existing cards to unsecured versions
Checking your pre-approval odds first allows you to assess your real chances without risking hard inquiries from denied applications.
Compare Specific Unsecured Card Requirements
Every credit card issuer has their own approval requirements. Compare minimum criteria for your top unsecured card picks:
- Capital One – No minimum credit history, income requirements vary
- Chase – 1+ year of history and $5,000+ minimum credit limit preferred
- Citi – 3+ years credit history, $7,500+ minimum income
- Wells Fargo – 3+ years credit history, $5,000+ income
- Discover – 2+ years credit history, $20,000+ income
Meeting the minimum requirements improves approval chances for specific cards you are interested in.
Consider Alternatives to Traditional Unsecured Cards
If denied for regular unsecured credit cards, consider these alternatives to build your profile:
- Secured cards – Require deposit but easier approval
- Student cards – Geared to those in college
- Store cards – Easier approval for retail cards
- Authorized user – Get added to a family member’s account
- Credit builder loans – Similar benefits to secured cards
These can establish initial positive history and improve your scores until qualified for unsecured cards.
Sample Credit Profile on Path to Unsecured Approval
Here is an example timeline and credit profile illustrating the transition to unsecured cards:
- Month 1 – 620 score, no history. Secured card recommended.
- Month 6 – 660 score, 6 months of positive history. Pre-qualify for student cards.
- Month 12 – 680 score, 1 year history. Apply for 1-2 starter unsecured cards.
- Month 18 – 700 score, 1.5 year history. Pre-qualify for most mainstream unsecured cards.
- Month 24 – 720+ score, 2+ year history. Eligible for premium travel and cashback rewards cards.
This demonstrates the steady credit building process over 2 years to become eligible for prime unsecured offers.
- Good credit scores (680+) and 2+ years of positive history optimize unsecured approval odds.
- Check for pre-approved offers and pre-qualify before applying to avoid unnecessary denials.
- Compare card requirements to find unsecured offers you match well with.
- Secured cards remain an option if denied for unsecured applications.
- Give yourself 1-2 years to demonstrate responsible usage and build credit with secured cards first.
With a combination of patience and diligent work, the transition from secured to unsecured credit cards is very feasible. Monitor your credit profile regularly to identify the prime approval timing.