Occasionally, an offer for a pre-approved credit card may come to you via mail or e-mail from a financial institution that you’re a member of, and sometimes one you’ve never heard of before. Pre-approvals are a great indication of what cards you should consider, but they don’t guarantee approval.

How Pre-approval Credit Card Offers Work

Generally, the process for pre-approval credit card offers will go as follows:

  1. Receive an offer in the mail, e-mail, or a banking app
  2. Apply for the credit card – this includes consenting to a credit pull, which can ding your credit score and submitting information on financials, such as income
  3. Approval or denial – the credit card issuer should be able to inform you relatively soon as to whether you were approved or denied based on the information collected
  4. Determine a credit line – if you’ve been accepted, the financial institution will decide how big or small your credit line will be

When you receive a pre-approval offer, it’s a preliminary approval based on the limited information they have, which is typically only a ‘soft pull’ of your credit score. That means the institution may be able to see your credit score, but not your full credit history or employment status.

Because of this, the offers should be taken with a grain of salt. The pre-approval credit card offer should be seen as a first step and not a golden ticket.

When to Consider a Pre-approval Offer

These offers may come and go over time, but you definitely shouldn’t jump on every, or most, of the offers coming your way. If you’re wondering how to tell if a pre-approved credit card offer is worth it, first ask yourself if you need a new credit card. If you don’t need a new card, don’t let a pre-approval offer convince you to apply for one.

It’s also important to check if the benefits of the card match your lifestyle and needs. If the credit card pre-approval offer is coming from a card with little benefits or benefits that won’t be applicable to you, don’t waste your time. Your energy, the credit hit for a hard inquiry, and little benefits in the future aren’t worth it. Instead, wait until you’re eligible for a card that better fits your needs.

Similar to the above, definitely don’t apply for a credit card with a pre-approval offer if you know that you may not be approved upon closer review. If you’re carrying a large amount of debt or you have a history of missed payments, applying for a new card may hurt your score further.

Use pre-approvals to see the variety of offers you could qualify for and be selective about choosing the most optimal cards for your purchasing needs.