Consumer Law

Credit Card Applications: What Companies Want to Know About You

By Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney
Credit card companies want to know certain things about you before issuing you a credit card.

If you're thinking about applying for a new credit card, filling out an application online will probably take only a few minutes. But you should get ready to provide plenty of information about yourself to the company that’s issuing the card.

The credit card company will want to know:

  • your personal information, such as your name, phone number, and address
  • your Social Security number
  • how much money you make, and
  • details about your living situation.

Read on to learn how to find a credit card that’s right for you and what you’ll need to tell the issuer (the credit card company) when you apply for the card.

Finding a New Credit Card

When shopping for a new credit card, consider whether you want a card that provides cash back, rewards, travel deals, no annual fee, or has some other feature. You can review and compare different types of credit cards online at websites like www.bankrate.com and www.nerdwallet.com.

Once you find a card you want, review its terms and conditions—including the annual percentage rate (APR), grace period, and fees—to make sure they’re acceptable. For example, if you think you’ll carry a balance on the card, you don’t want a card with a high APR because you’ll rack up a lot of interest charges. You can find information about the terms in the credit card agreement. To get the agreement, go to the company’s website and search for a link that says “Terms and Conditions” (or something similar). Under the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act of 2009, also called the Credit CARD Act, credit card companies have to put their credit card agreements online.

Also, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a database of credit card agreements from hundreds of different companies.

Information You'll Have to Provide

When you apply for a credit card, you’ll have to give the issuer the following information.

Your Personal Information

The application will ask for personal information like your legal name, birth date, phone number, email address, and your mother’s maiden name.

Your Social Security Number

You’ll also have to supply your Social Security number. (Though, there are ways to get around this if you don’t have one. For example, Citi offers credit cards to international students and relocating executives who don’t have Social Security numbers. In those cases, Citi accepts bank statements, a passport, and a verifiable address, among other things, instead of a Social Security number.)

The credit card company will use your Social Security number to get credit reports and other information about you from consumer reporting agencies. Your credit history is one of the most important things a credit card company considers when reviewing your application.

You can get an idea of what kind of credit you must have (excellent, good, fair, or bad) to get a particular card at www.bankrate.com or www.nerdwallet.com. Generally, credit cards with less strict credit requirements have higher fees and interest rates.

Your Income

The credit card company will also ask for your estimated total annual income. Most of the time, the company will take you at your word, but it might request proof (such as recent pay stubs or a W-2) in certain situations. You will also need to note on the application whether you’re employed, unemployed, self-employed, a student, disabled, retired, or military.

The credit card company considers your income when deciding whether to approve your application and to determine your credit limit. However, you don’t have to report all of your income on the credit card application. For example, you generally can exclude alimony or child support, if you don’t want it considered as a basis for repaying the debt. But, excluding income on the application won’t help you qualify for the card.

Your Living Situation

Sometimes a credit card company will ask if you are a homeowner, renter, or living with others. The company might also ask how much you pay in monthly mortgage payments or rent.

These questions help the credit card company assess your financial stability and calculate how much money you’ll have available to repay your credit card debt. Credit reports don’t contain rental information, so the credit card company must gather this data on the application. Mortgage information, on the other hand, is contained in credit reports. Credit card companies often ask about mortgage payments to double check your answer against the reports.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I get a credit card if I refuse to give the card company some of my personal information?
  • What should I do to protect my identity if someone steals my personal information from the credit card company?
  • What can I do if I believe the credit card company illegally discriminated against me when it turned down my card application?
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