What To Do If Your Credit Card Application Is Declined

Barret Williams - January 4, 2022

A little over 5 years ago, I started on a really bizarre journey of collecting credit card points. It's kind of an odd thing to say, but it's fun. There's something about traveling for nearly free that is exciting, and there's the fact that I wouldn't have been able to travel nearly as much without credit card reward points.

This post isn't about collecting points, though. It's about the rejection letter that Chase sent me after trying to start my rewards journey with the Southwest Airlines card, and what I did afterwards to recover from the rejection. These next steps are important, because today I have over 20 credit cards, and more than $200,000 in available credit. This didn't happen by making a million dollar salary, it happened by making calculated, smart credit choices.

What to Do When You Are Declined for a Credit Card

The first thing you're going to do is feel bad. Getting rejected is never a good feeling. After getting over the initial disappointment, it is critical to understand why your application was declined. In the Chase's decline letter, they noted my credit score was 637. I didn't really know what this meant at the time, and with 50% of Americans claiming that they were never taught credit, it's not surprising that I also fell into that camp.

This is when I decided to check my credit profile. Sites like Credit Sesame offer free tools to get your credit score and report. The report will break down what is impacting your credit score. For me, the biggest impact was Sallie Mae reporting a whopping 15 loans as being paid late. This was pretty amusing (not at the time), because our loans were in forbearance and the payment due was $0. Apparently, I had failed to pay $0 in a timely manner and not my credit score was suffering. Yay! Government efficiency.

Keep in mind that sites like Credit Sesame will provide a Vantage 3.0 score, and most banks use your FICO score when determining if your application is approved. Free credit score sites are great to help you monitor your credit progress month to month, and to make sure your information is correct. When it comes to your actual credit score, they may not be the most reliable. It's not uncommon for Vantage and FICO scores to vary more than 50 points. They weigh items in your credit profile differently for scoring - just keep that in mind.

Once I realized that the information on my credit report was incomplete, the next step was to file complaints with the three major credit bureaus to have the incorrect information removed. This was a painless process and can be completed online for Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The whole dispute process took a couple of weeks and once the incorrect information was removed, my score jumped a little more than 70 points.  

From there, I slowly applied for new credit cards every six months or so. Once my account had aged 12 months, I requested credit limit increases. Gradually, I worked my way up to over 20 cards with an average credit line of $10,000 each on a salary inline with the average Americans. Your credit score is a function of math, and as long as you understand the equation, you can stack the numbers in your favor.

What If My Information Is Accurate, And My Score Is Still Low

While my fix was fairly easy and had a happy ending, everyone's score is going to require a different level of effort to correct. Here are some other factors that may be impacting your credit score and some possible solutions.

1) Your available debt to balance ratio is too high. You never want to have more than 30% of your available credit in use, and less than 10% is ideal. This means if you have a $2,000 credit limit, you never want to carry more than $600 on your card past your payment date. Not only will you pay crazy interest fees, but this makes up 30% of your overall score.

  • Pro Tip - Always try to pay off your balances, but if you find yourself carrying a balance, consider asking for a credit limit increase, or open a secured credit card to increase your overall available credit. Don't let the additional credit line tempt you, though. Use it as a tool to keep your utilization under 30%.

2) You have late payments. Payment history makes up 35% of your score, so this one is a credit score killer.  

  • Pro Tip - Make sure you make all of your payments on time, at all costs. Payments that are 30-60 days late will drop your credit short term if it is an isolated incident, but payments later than 60 days or a pattern of late payments will crush your score for the immediate future.

3) Not having much credit at all. The types of credit you have makes up about 10% of your score. 

  • Pro Tip - It's best to have at least one installment account (loan) and one revolving credit line (credit card) on your credit profile. If you need an installment account, a credit builder account can be a low-cost option.

Don't let getting declined for a credit card ruin your day. Take control, figure out the problem, come up with a solution, and get the credit you deserve. You got this.


If your credit card application is declined, you can try calling the bank to get an understanding of what factors on your credit profile lead to the decision. In some cases, you may be able to get the bank to reverse their decision. 

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