Pre-qualified vs. pre-approved: What’s the difference?

What does it mean when you see “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” on a credit card offer you get in the mail? It typically means your credit score and other financial information matched at least some of the initial eligibility criteria needed to become a cardholder. Even though these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences to keep in mind.

Keep reading to learn more about what it might mean to be pre-qualified or pre-approved for credit card offers.

Key takeaways

  • Both pre-qualified and pre-approved credit card offers usually result from a credit card company working with a credit bureau to look at your basic credit information.
  • A pre-approval might indicate a slightly higher chance of having an application accepted than a pre-qualification. Ultimately, it depends on the issuer.
  • Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card doesn’t guarantee approval.
  • Pre-qualification and pre-approval for credit cards both typically involve soft inquiries, which don’t affect credit scores. 

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Pre-qualification vs. pre-approval for credit cards

“Pre-” is the key part of both terms. When a credit card offer mentions that someone is pre-qualified or pre-approved, it typically means they’ve met the initial criteria required to become a cardholder. But they still need to apply and get approved.

Think of these offers as invitations to start the actual application process. Once someone has already been pre-qualified or pre-approved, these offers can give them more confidence when they start the application process. 

What does pre-qualified mean for a credit card?

In general, pre-qualification means that a credit card company has done a basic review of your credit and found that you might qualify for a card. If you’re interested in the card, you can give the company personal and financial information—like your Social Security number (SSN) and monthly income—to help it take a closer look.

Keep in mind that pre-qualification isn’t a guarantee. But it can give you a sense of whether you may be approved if you take the next step and apply for a card. 

What does pre-approved mean for a credit card?

Pre-approval also typically involves a prescreening that’s done by a credit card company. The company may work with a credit bureau to target people who are likely to qualify for a certain card—and for that reason, the criteria may be more rigorous than they are for pre-qualified offers.

One major difference between pre-approved and pre-qualified offers: Pre-approved offers can be stronger indicators of approval. That means you can generally move forward to the application phase with a higher degree of certainty. 

Does pre-qualification or pre-approval affect your credit score?

Here’s how pre-qualifications and pre-approvals might impact your credit during each stage of the process:

During the pre-qualification and pre-approval process

Simple reviews of your credit—including checks that lead to pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers—usually use soft inquiries and don’t affect your credit scores

During the application process

A second type of credit check, called a hard inquiry, is made only after you respond to a card offer by applying for the card. explains that a hard inquiry typically has only a minor effect on your FICO® score if most other factors—like timely bill payment—are in order.

This full credit check will help determine whether you could be approved to get the card. If you’re approved, the issuer must offer you the same terms that appeared in the original pre-qualified or pre-approved offer. 

During the credit evaluation

If there are changes to your credit information in the time between the prescreening or preselection process and when you apply for a card, your eligibility might also change. For example, this might happen if there were any major changes to your employment, salary or debt. 

Before you apply, learn more about how credit card applications can affect credit scores.

How do you get a pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offer?

Some pre-qualified or pre-approved offers might come to you in the mail, by phone or by email. If you’re interested in a new card, you can respond to these offers and apply to become a cardholder. 

Keep in mind that you haven’t actually applied for the credit card when you receive one of these offers. But if you’re interested in a new credit card, you can use pre-qualified or pre-approved offers as an opportunity to compare options before applying.

If you’re interested in either pre-qualification or pre-approval but haven’t been contacted by a credit card lender, what’s your next step? One option is to look online or go directly to an issuer.

What’s next after getting pre-qualified or pre-approved?

When you apply for a card, you’ll share more of your financial information, including your income level. That’s also when a card issuer will conduct a full credit check.

If you decide you want to apply, that’s a good time to take a closer look at things like interest rates and the other card terms to determine which card is right for you. Many cards offer additional benefits like earning cash back or travel rewards, $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases, travel insurance, premier access to events and more.

How to opt out of pre-qualification or pre-approval offers

If you’d rather not receive pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers, you can opt out of receiving them by calling toll-free 888-5-OPT-OUT—that’s 888-567-8688—or by visiting

Pre-qualification vs. pre-approval FAQ

Want to know more? Here are a few frequently asked questions about pre-qualification and pre-approval:

What’s better: pre-qualification or pre-approval?

Both pre-qualification and pre-approval mean your financial history has been reviewed by a lender and put you a step closer to potentially securing a line of credit. Neither is necessarily better than the other. 

Does pre-qualification guarantee a credit card?

With pre-qualification, lenders review your creditworthiness using basic financial information. But this doesn’t guarantee approval. 

How can I increase my chances of getting a pre-qualification or pre-approval offer?

Credit card issuers typically look into a number of factors related to credit history and income. Here are a few things you can do to potentially receive more offers:

Keep in mind that requirements can vary by issuer and card.

Pre-qualification vs. pre-approval in a nutshell

Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card can be reassuring—for instance, if you’re thinking about applying for a card and wondering which one you may be eligible for. 

One way to get started? See if you’re pre-approved with Capital One. Simply answer some pre-approval questions, check out your eligible offers and decide which card may be right for you—with no risk to your credit score.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information, or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

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