What preapproved and prequalified credit card offers really mean

It can be exciting to find out that you’ve received a credit card offer. Usually these letters, emails, or website notices state that you’ve been “preapproved”, “prequalified”, or “pre-selected”. But, these prequalification and preapproval messages do not always mean that you’re actually approved for the credit card. They are “prescreened” offers and they’re usually accompanied by a disclaimer very similar to the one below that Citi provides with its “pre-selected” offers.


“PRESCREEN & OPT‑OUT NOTICE‍‌:‌ This “prescreened” offer of credit is based on information in your credit report indicating that you meet certain criteria. This offer is not guaranteed if you do not meet our criteria. If you do not want to receive prescreened offers of credit from this and other companies, call the consumer reporting agencies toll‑free at 1‑888‑5‑OPTOUT (1‑8‌8‌8‑5‌6‌7‑8‌6‌8‌8) or write to any of the following consumer reporting agencies: Experian Marketing Services, Attn: Opt‑out Services, P.O. Box ‌80128‌, Lincoln, NE ‌68521‌; Equifax Options, P.O. Box ‌740123‌, Atlanta, GA ‌30374‑0123‌; TransUnion, P.O. Box ‌505‌, Woodlyn, PA ‌19094‑0505‌.”


There’s been plenty of debate about the fairness of these types of pre-screened offers. Some consider this marketing strategy as “bait and switch” because for some applicants that are approved, it’s not for the advertised terms. But, let’s examine another pre-screen notice that provides more insight into possible denial reasons.


“The offered credit may not be extended if, after you respond to this offer, we determine that you do not meet the criteria used to select you for this offer or any other applicable criteria bearing on creditworthiness, or if you do not provide the required collateral.”


This disclaimer states that you may not qualify for the credit offer if, after reviewing your credit, the company determines that you don’t meet the criteria that they used to select you for this offer. This could happen if there’s a change to your credit report. The change doesn’t have to be a negative by itself (like a late payment). For instance, let’s say that a company pre-screens your credit report on March 1st and adds you to its April mailing list because you meet its criteria, which includes having a FICO score of at least 700. On March 2nd, you apply for a credit card with another company and receive a hard inquiry on your credit report. This results in a credit score drop of one point. You receive the pre-screened offer on April 2nd and decide to apply for the card, but you’re declined because your FICO score is 699 and no longer within the company’s credit guidelines. 


The last part of the notice indicates that you could also be disqualified if you don’t provide the requested collateral. This would likely apply for actual loans, and possibly for secured credit cards where a deposit would be required.


In the pre-screened notice, second part of the first sentence states that there may be other criteria that could affect your qualification. This is why some consider pre-screened offers bait and switch. They see this as a loophole for creditors to just decline applications. But, this clause likely refers to income verification or other things that the creditor couldn’t confirm through the pre-screening process. Income is usually a factor in determining creditworthiness. Until you provide your income on your credit card application, the lender doesn’t have a full snapshot of your financial profile. Although the credit card company may have decided to offer you its top card because of your perfect 850 FICO score, they could rescind their offer of credit if they determine that you don’t have sufficient financial resources to take on the debt that you may incur with their credit card.


So, while your credit report may have remained exactly the same since the creditor pulled your credit report and preapproved you, there may be other lending criteria that you will need to meet.


Before deciding to apply for the next credit card that you’re preapproved for, you should also consider contacting the credit card company and just ask what their underwriting criteria is and what is involved in the application process. Whenever possible, get everything in writing or recorded. This is important because preapprovals sometimes result in a hard credit inquiry when the company reviews your credit to determine if there have been any changes to your credit profile. If the company has a chat feature, get the lender to commit to what they’re telling you in writing. Most financial institutions record their phone calls. So, if you’re misled about the application process (intentionally or not) and your application results in a hard credit inquiry, the recorded call could be used to help you get the hard credit inquiry removed. 


If you wish to not receive pre-screened offers at all, there are a number of ways that you can opt-out.






1‑888‑5‑OPTOUT (1‑8‌8‌8‑5‌6‌7‑8‌6‌8‌8)



Experian Marketing Services

Attn: Opt‑out Services

P.O. Box ‌80128‌

Lincoln, NE ‌68521‌


Equifax Options

P.O. Box ‌740123‌

Atlanta, GA ‌30374‑0123‌



P.O. Box ‌505‌

Woodlyn, PA