5 steps to applying for cards you're likely to get

By Michael Lloyd

It's usually a good idea to avoid applying for too many credit cards at once, since each application is a hard inquiry on your credit report and takes a small toll on your credit score. This is especially true if your score is not in great shape. You're more likely to get rejected, which means you're getting no benefit to offset the credit score damage (not to mention the rejection could take a toll on your ego).

"When you apply for a credit product, lenders will generally do a hard search on your credit report," James Jones, head of consumer affairs at Experian, said in an emailed response to questions. "This type of search means that other lenders will see that you've applied for credit. A hard search will stay on your credit report for a year and may initially cause lenders to be [hesitant] to lend to you until they have seen how you are managing the new credit you've applied for."avoid-rejection

One way to sidestep numerous inquiries is to avoid applying for cards you likely don't qualify for. With a few steps, you can scratch certain cards off your list and apply for one or two you're likely to be approved for, avoiding multiple dings to your score -- and your self-esteem.

1. Check your credit score.
Before shopping for a new card, look at your credit file.

"[Checking] your credit report ... will allow you to see what a lender sees and help you understand whether now is the best time to apply for credit,
or whether your credit report has room for improvement," Jones said.

If you have a low-to-middling score, you're less likely to qualify for the best deals on the market, such as top balance transfer offers and the most competitive interest rates.

Regardless of whether you're in the market for a new card, you should check your report once a year to look for errors and to have a general idea of what your score is.

You can get a free multi-agency report from Check My File, or approach the three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and Callcredit -- separately. You can get a free Experian credit report by signing up for a 30-day trial of Experian CreditExpert, which allows you unlimited access to your credit report for a fee of £14.99 a month once the free trial expires. You can also obtain a one-time credit report from Experian for a £2 fee. Many services come with free trials for new customers.

2. Be sure you meet minimum eligibility criteria.
Your next step is to check card issuers' eligibility criteria. You should be able to view the minimum requirements for acceptance before you submit a completed card application. There may be requirements regarding age, income or previous County Court Judgements (CCJs) for non-payment of debt, among other qualifications.

If you don't meet these minimum criteria, you can skip that particular application.

3. Use soft search eligibility checkers.
Many card issuers such as Barclaycard, NatWest and Capital One offer online eligibility checkers that use information from your credit file, but don't leave a hard search footprint.

"Eligibility calculators can be useful, as they give you an indication based on your personal circumstances of how likely you are to be accepted for specific products," Jones said. "They generally conduct a soft search on your credit report, which won't be seen by lenders or affect your credit rating."

4. Try Noddle.
Callcredit offers consumers free credit file access through its Noddle service. The service makes money through advertising, and the products each user sees advertised are selected based on that individual's credit score.

"Noddle will search the market to find consumers the best credit cards and loans available to them based on their credit rating," a Callcredit spokesperson said in response to emailed questions. "This is worked out by our third party partner using a combination of factors, the consumer's credit rating being one of them."

5. Consider cards for people with bad credit.
If you find that your credit file or personal circumstances preclude you from applying for the best cards on the market, you can get access to credit and start building your score by getting a card designed for people with bad credit. "Bad credit" card issuers are more likely to accept you even if you have had debt problems, are on a low income or, in some cases, if you have a CCJ.

Use one of these credit-building cards for about six months, making regular charges that you pay off in full and on time, then try again for a better card.

See related: Rebuild your score with a credit-building card, 7 small mistakes that can break your score, Watch out for credit repair services

Published: 1 October 2015