How quickly can you get a credit card?

In an era of payday loans with same-day cash transfers, people expect their personal finance products quickly. But even though huge strides in application processing have been made, credit cards which can take up to 2 weeks to arrive, can feel like a relic of a bygone era.

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Why do credit cards take so long to get?

When you apply for a credit card, a number of steps and processes take place. Some of these are relatively quick (depending on the particular card issuer). However, some issuers depend on infrastructure outside their control, and some delays are purposefully built into the process to help improve security.

So what steps do you and your card issuer need to take for you to get your new credit card?


Credit cards can only legally be supplied to people who apply for them. Issuers cannot, for good reason, solicit new customers by pre-approving and sending them a card. So, the first step anyone wanting a credit card must undertake is applying for a product.

There are numerous products available, and many of our other guides detail the features and benefits that different products offer.

Having selected a product, you must complete the relevant application form. This can be undertaken online, by post (using a paper application form) or sometimes in-branch.

Online Applications

Completing an application online is usually the quickest method, and many credit card issuers boast that they will give your application a response within 60 seconds if you use their online process. In some instances this means they will instantly confirm whether your application has been accepted or declined.

In more complex cases they will require further information (especially if you have moved jobs or the data you have supplied does not match the credit reference agency data). In these instances, the response will state that they need to speak to you to gather additional information before processing your application.

Also, to prevent fraud, many issuers will not automatically approve applications during certain periods, for example when staff are not in their office to provide oversight. People who apply during these times usually receive a response on the following working day.

Offline Applications

People applying offline can be subject to numerous delays.

If they apply by post, then their application can take a couple of days before it reaches the card issuer. Then data must be transferred from the form to a computer (as most 'decisioning' is automated with computers). Depending on the issuer, they may then send notification of their decision, before a card is eventually dispatched some days later.

Applications completed in-branch are not necessarily subject to the delays that using traditional mail can cause, but applicants are still at the mercy of opening hours and whether they can get an appointment with a staff member to process the application.

Credit Agreements

Having applied for credit does not mean that an issuer will simply dispatch a card on approval. Each and every customer has a specific and often different credit agreement with an issuer. This could mean a different credit limit, a rate of interest that is different from the advertised Representative APR or even a lesser introductory 0% deal. As such, customers must agree and sign their credit agreement before a card is dispatched.

People who have been approved for a product online can usual access their credit agreement instantly. Most UK credit card issuers now allow customers to sign their credit agreement electronically, with a simple tick box. This is the quickest way to confirm a credit agreement.

People applying for a product offline must sign a physical copy of their credit agreement. If you are applying in-branch then you might be able to do this there and then, but if you have applied in the post you must wait for your credit agreement to arrive, sign it, and send it back. This can easily add a week to the process of get a credit card.

Card Dispatch

Regardless of whether you applied on or offline you will need to get your physical card and PIN number before you can start using it. Most issuers use the Royal Mail for card delivery. They do this both for historic reasons (they have always used them), and because the Royal Mail staff tend to be less transient than many of their rivals (they stay in their jobs longer). This means greater accountability if and when cards go ‘missing' in the post. Unfortunately, it does mean that 14% of the week is not available for delivery, as they don't deliver on Sunday.

PIN Dispatch

It used to be that, having activated a card, you could use it almost instantly, with a signature. The introduction of Chip&Pin has largely stopped that, so you need to wait for your PIN to arrive to use your card.

PIN numbers are never sent in the mail on the same day as the card they are associated with, as this would make it very easy for criminals to target them. PIN numbers are therefore usually sent before the card, because physical cards (which can be felt through an envelope) might alert a criminal to the fact a PIN is on its way.

Card Activation

Cards are never dispatched in an active state, so they cannot be used by someone who intercepts them in the post. Therefore before use, a card must be activated. Different credit card issuers enable users to activate cards in various ways. The most common methods for activation are:

By Phone
Most cards arrive with a sticker on them with a number to call to activate them. Sometimes the call is automated, and sometimes an operator requests security information before a card is activated.

Most card issuers now enable users to use the online banking portal they set up on application to activate the card.

People often use an ATM to change the PIN number that they have been randomly assigned to something more memorable. To do this, you will need to use the PIN you have been sent for your card.

What can you do to speed up the arrival of your credit card?

There are a few common-sense ways you can help to accelerate the arrival of your credit card.

Apply Online

If there is one thing that causes the most delays in card applications, it is a reliance on traditional mail. Applying online removes your reliance on traditional mail, for all but the final dispatch of the physical card. So it is by far the most efficient way to speed up the process.

Application Form Data

Although the particulars you complete in your application form is your card issuer’s primary information about you, they will cross reference this with 3rd party data sources (like credit reference agencies). If the data you have completed in your application form does not match the data they can see from 3rd party sources, it will ring alarm bells.

Sometimes people are prone to exaggerating their income, or other facts, in the hope that it will improve their chances of getting a card. This rarely works, and it more likely to result in delays or people being declined outright for products.

Apply for the Right Card

If you have a bad credit history (missed payments, late payments, breached credit limit, etc.) you should not apply for products you are unlikely to get. Credit card issuers always include information regarding product eligibility, so this should guide you. Applying for a card you are unlikely to get will probably result in you being declined, and it could harm your chances of getting other products in the future.

Apply at the Right Time

In a world of computers and automation, it may seem crazy that the day you apply will affect how soon your card arrives. But credit card issuers, like traditional banks, have certain working hours and days. Therefore, if you apply on a Friday night, there is a good chance that the actual processing of your card, or any additional paperwork/calls, will not start until the following Monday (assuming it is not a 'Bank Holiday', in which case it is Tuesday before action will start).

Applying on a Monday or Tuesday is usually the best time if you want to avoid any unnecessary delays.

Quicker in the Future

Waiting for your physical card to arrive accounts for the longest delay, but as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and other digital wallets emerge, the necessity of a physical card is diminished, meaning card issuers will very soon be able to offer instant access to credit via a digital wallet. In other words, it will be quicker to get credit with a reasonably priced credit card than it will with a prohibitively expensive payday loan.


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