It seems like every time you look in your mailbox, open your email or walk into a store, someone is trying to get you to open a new credit card. But just because the offers keep coming, doesn't mean that being granted plastic power is a given.
In fact, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling's (NFCC) 2014 Financial Literacy Survey showed that 7 percent of respondents had been rejected for a credit card in the past 12 months (that's close to 17 million people!), up by three percentage points since 2011.
So what are the top reasons that people are getting declined?
"There are several factors we look at when evaluating a card application," says Kimberly Litt, public affairs manager of American Express. "Spending and payment history with American Express, debt with other lenders, reported income, credit bureau scores and other credit report information are all considered before making a decision on an account."
That's a long list, but when you think about it, you could hardly blame credit issuers for holding applicants to some sort of standard. After all, would you be willing to loan money to a perfect stranger without knowing anything about them?
That's not to say that those with less-than-stellar credit can never qualify for a credit card.
"Each lender has their own lending model, often including lending to people with poor credit, as they may be able to assess a higher interest rate on those accounts," says Gail Cunningham, the NFCC's vice president of public relations.
That being said, here's a closer look into some reasons why your credit application might be denied.
Lenders use hundreds of scoring models, but any credit score is educational to show where you fall on the range of risk and how to improve your score, says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. She recommends that everyone gets their free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Another way to know where you stand is to get your truly free credit score.
You don't have any credit history
Some people may get turned down because they are "unscoreable," says Sweet. In other words, if someone has no established credit history (for instance, a college student who has only used a debit card), he or she will not even have a credit score. And, says Sweet, having no credit is viewed as even more risky as having poor credit, whether you're trying to get the best credit cards or the lowest mortgage rates.
Having high balances with other lenders
Figure out how much you owe in relationship to how much available credit you have, and that's your credit-utilization ratio.
"This is the second-highest weighted element of the FICO credit scoring model, coming in at 30 percent of the weight," explains Cunningham.
If you owe almost as much as the limits on your accounts, a potential lender may see you as stretched too thin, thus a bad risk, she adds.
Too many new accounts
Research shows that applying for too many accounts in a short period of time indicates that a person is a greater risk, says Cunningham, especially for someone who doesn't have a long credit history. Keep in mind though, that if you're shopping around for an auto loan, for instance, multiple inquiries during a 14-day period are counted as only one inquiry.
Not enough reported income
Income is not a part of a standard credit report, points out Sweet. However, it is often a question on a credit application.
"Lenders want to make sure that you're going to pay them back, and it's required by law that you have adequate income to do so," she says.
Some exceptions do apply, such as a recent update to The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act that allows stay-at-home spouses or partners to include the household's shared income.
Not qualifying for the best credit cards isn't the end of the world, especially with so many other options out there. However, if you are denied, consider it a red flag to do some credit-status soul searching so you can make any necessary improvements to benefit your financial future.