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Here’s a question…
What credit score do you need to get approved for a new credit card?
You might think having an “excellent” credit score would guarantee your approval ‒ but our findings may surprise you.
Because applying for a card you have zero chance of being approved for is a waste of time.
To provide even more clarity, we’ve done a study analyzing over 6,500 data points on credit score and approval. So, let’s have a close look at these numbers, shall we?
- What is a good credit score?
- Is a good credit score good enough to get approved?
- Your credit score and your chance of approval
- What can you do to increase your odds of approval?
- Alternative credit data vs. credit score
- How can I check my credit score in Canada?
- Credit scores, credit reports, and your credit file ‒ what’s the difference?
What is a good credit score?
Technically, a “good” credit score is between 660 and 724.
But is having a credit score of at least 660 enough to qualify for a new credit card?
This graph shows our calculated odds of being approved for a credit card, based on credit scores. As you can see, there is a positive correlation between credit score and approval:
The higher your credit score, the higher your chance of approval. No surprises here.
But the devil is in the details, as they say…
Before we get into these details though, let’s review some potential biases we all need to keep in mind.
Study limitations and potential biases
Although this study is based on over 6,500 data points, like all studies, it has its limitations. These 2 biases come to mind:
- Sampling bias. Online users tend to be more educated about money with an affinity to maximize rewards, offers, and deals. As such, the dataset used here may not reflect the general population.
- Smaller dataset for certain subsets (like the low interest category you’ll see below). The number of data points used for our overall study is large but certain subsets have fewer data points.
So, is a good credit score good enough to get approved?
We know that a Good credit score technically starts at 660, but…
Is 660 enough to get you approved for MOST cards?
Based on our study, the answer isn’t a resounding yes. We estimate a 57% chance of approval for any type of credit card if you have a good credit score.
However, as we’ll see farther down, this number varies by the type of credit card you’re applying for.
There are a few points to note about this graph:
- Even with Poor credit (300), there’s still a 17% chance of approval for a credit card ‒ which is higher than you might expect. But remember, there are secured credit cards that almost anyone can be approved for, and this also takes into account prepaid cards, which have no credit requirements.
- You get the most bang out of improving your credit score when jumping from Poor with 17% chance of approval to Fair (560) with 44%.
- Jumping from Very Good (725) to Excellent (760), only gives you a 4% increase.
Does an “Excellent” credit score guarantee approval?
So if a Good credit score doesn’t guarantee approval, what’s your chances with an Excellent (760+) credit score? In other words…
Are you guaranteed to be approved if your score meets the 760 threshold?
No, you’re not.
Looking at all credit cards, you still only have 69% chance of being approved for any type of credit card.
Key point: When it comes to applying for credit cards, there’s no credit score that provides 100% guaranteed approval. There’s more to getting approved for a credit card than just having a good credit score.
Your credit score and your chance of approval
So how does your chance of approval change based on what credit card you apply for?
Credit score threshold by credit card type
Here are the 6 main categories we’ll look at:
- no fees,
- low interest,
- poor credit,
- premium cards (typically cards with an annual fee of $99 or greater),
- cash back, and
This graph illustrates the chances of approval for each category, and the credit score required for those odds.
Here are some reasons for the differences between these numbers.
Low interest cards
Based on our numbers, credit cards with low interest rates are generally the hardest cards to be approved for.
Why is that?
Low interest credit cards create a higher risk for the bank because as the interest rates decrease, the amount of time for them to get their money back in interest payments increases. This means that if credit card holders default on their debt quickly, then they haven’t had enough time to make a profit.
In short, they need a higher percentage of people who won’t default on their debt. A higher credit score is seen as a positive indicator that their card holders will pay them back.
Differences between cash back and travel credit cards
The type of rewards you choose only has a small impact on credit score requirements. We find that cash back cards have a lower approval threshold than travel cards.
Travel cards have a lot more variability in their perks and benefits. Between things like lounge passes, increased insurance coverage, free hotel nights, and free checked baggage, there’s a lot more potential and uncertain cost to the bank. And depending on the rewards program the card is affiliated with, there’s another cost to entry there as well.
Throw in that travel cards generally have the best sign-up bonuses, and they need more profitable customers to help offset all of these extra costs.
No fee vs. premium cards
You would think that no fee credit cards would have better approval rates than premium credit cards, right?
And that holds true. To get a 60% chance of approval for a no fee credit card, you only need a credit score of 636 for a no fee card, while it’s 733 for a premium card.
Here’s the surprise. The credit score requirement for both no fee and premium cards is neck and neck at 515 and 530 to have a 40% chance of approval.
Average credit score by credit card type
So what types of people are applying for each of our 6 main credit card categories?
On average, we’re seeing people with Good credit scores apply for most cards. Let’s break down the average credit score and approval rate by category.
Here again, the low interest card category stands out. The average applicant credit score is 608, confirming that people with lower credit scores prefer low interest cards. Yet, their approval rate is only 39%.
While the poor credit category (which includes secured and prepaid cards) has the lowest average applicant score of 526 with a 38% approval rate. This means that a large number of people with inadequate credit scores are applying for cards that they may be ineligible for.
The other 4 categories ‒ no fee, premium, cash back, and travel cards ‒ all have largely the same reported average applicant credit score, with a close-knit chance of approval between 60% and 70%.
Credit score threshold by credit card network
Chances of getting approved for a credit card also vary by the card network.
Mastercards are generally issued by online banks (think MBNA and Tangerine), as well as store issued credit cards like PC Financial and Canadian Tire. These types of issuers seem to have lower credit score thresholds, likely in part because they have lower overhead cost and can take more risk.
Contrast that with Visas, which are issued by the big banks (except for BMO). With brick and mortar locations, and large risk assessment departments, they are better able to determine who the most profitable customers are, driving up required credit sores.
Amex is in the middle, as they are a virtual bank, but also have large resources behind them to assess profitability.
What can you do to increase your odds of approval?
What can you do to increase your odds of being approved?
Here are 10 things to keep in mind if you want an increased chance of approval for a credit card (or any loan).
1. Keep a stable job history
A sign of stability is having a stable job history. If you’re continuously employed, lenders know that you have a steady source of income to draw on and pay your bills.
2. Keep a stable home address
Living at the same address and not moving around all the time is another sign of stability to a potential lender.
In fact, many credit card issuers usually ask if you’ve been at the same address for at least 2 years as part of the application process.
3. Work towards a higher income
This one is pretty straightforward. If you have a high income, you’re more likely to be approved for a credit product.
4. Have a strong history with a financial institution
Maintaining a history with a financial institution is a great way to help increase your chances of approval.
In fact, if you apply for a new credit card with an issuer you already have an existing relationship or credit with, you may not even be subject to a credit check.
5. Call your bank and negotiate
Didn’t get approved? Try calling the issuer and negotiate your case. There’s no guarantee that this will work, but the worst they can do is say no.
6. Get credit when things are going good
However, when times are good, they’ll be more open to taking on new customers and assuming a little risk.
7. Improve your payment history
Miss many payments? You’ll need to put some distance between you and those payments to help improve your credit score.
New lenders won’t want to see missed payments, as it’s a sign of financial duress. Missed payments will also lower your credit score drastically.
8. Pay attention to how much balance you carry
Tend to carry a balance? If it’s small amounts here and there, there’s not much to worry about (that may even help if they think they can make a little bit extra from credit card interest). But if you consistently carry large balances, that’s a lot of debt your new lender may have to take on.
9. Keep your card for at least 6 – 12 months
Frequently apply for credit cards, and cancel them within 6 months? Banks may flag you as a revolving card holder.
Those welcome bonuses are costing the banks. Too many new applications and lenders may start denying you credit simply on the basis that you won’t be around for long.
10. Affluence of your neighbourhood
A seemingly strange point, but being in the right neighborhood can increase your chances of approval. If it looks like you’re in a more affluent area, it may help give the banks and lenders some comfort knowing your finances are more likely to be in order.
Alternative credit data vs. credit score
One trend that is starting to emerge in the United States is the use of alternative data when it comes to credit reports. It’s a way to help those who have lower incomes and traditionally have had a hard time accessing credit.
What is alternative data?
In this case, alternative data is looking for things that aren’t currently included in traditional credit data.
Things like rental payments, asset ownership, and other consumer-premissioned data can be used to gain a better picture of the person applying for credit.
In most cases, using this kind of data provides a more complete picture than just looking at your credit score. This makes it easier for many to qualify for credit they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.
The future of assessing credit risk
Adoption in Canada doesn’t seem to be widespread yet, but it seems to have gained momentum in the United States. It’s likely we’ll see this come our way in the near future.
How can I check my credit score in Canada?
So how can you actually go about getting your credit score?
Here are a few ways you can get both your credit report and score.
The major credit bureaus in Canada will give you access to both your credit report and score.
Equifax gives you free access to your credit report once per year. But not your credit score. You’ll have to pony up $23.95 to get instant one-time access to your score, or $11.95 if you get it through the free credit report form. Equifax also offers monthly plans that include access to your credit score.
The other major credit bureau also lets you access both your credit score and report.
Like Equifax, you can get free access to your credit report from Transunion, but getting your score will cost you.
As part of their monthly monitoring plan, for $19.95 per month you can get unlimited access to both your report and credit score.
One thing to note about the 2 credit bureaus – the credit scores each provides won’t be the same.
Why? They each have their own algorithm for determining a score, meaning the end result score from your credit report from each bureau will not be the same.
Credit Karma Canada
Want to get free access to your report? There’s a few ways you can do so.
One place is Credit Karma. They provide free access to your credit report and score from Transunion, which is updated once per week.
Is there a catch? You’ll get bombarded by emails with offers from them. So while it’s free, your inbox won’t thank you.
Borrowell is similar to Credit Karma. You’ll get access to both your credit report and score from Equifax for free.
But like Credit Karma, you’ll be getting quite a few emails from Borrowell with products they have to offer.
Scotiabank bank accounts
Most Scotiabank chequing accounts offer free credit monitoring from Transunion, which also includes access to your credit score.
Here are the accounts that offer it:
- Scotiabank Ultimate Package,
- Scotiabank Preferred Package,
- Scotiabank Basic Plus,
- Scotiabank Basic, and
- Scotiabank Student Advantage Plan.
RBC bank accounts
Similar to Scotiabank, RBC bank accounts also come with free credit monitoring from Transunion.
This service is available through all RBC chequing accounts.
Credit scores, credit reports, and your credit file ‒ what’s the difference?
Credit scores, credit reports, and your credit file. These things are all intertwined, but there are differences between them.
Your credit file
Your credit file is all the raw data the credit bureaus have regarding you. They contain all the information they have on you, such as current and past addresses, employers, and the various credit accounts you have.
Your credit report is simply a snapshot of this information made at a point in time that isn’t updated unless a new report is requested.
What’s the difference between a credit score and a credit report?
To get a credit score, all the information on a credit report gets put through an algorithm, and produces a score ranging from 300 to 900.
To get a credit score, all the information on a credit report gets put through an algorithm, and produces a score ranging from 300 to 900 gets generated from that information.
Why are credit scores important?
Credit scores are important as it lets the lender know how much of a risk you are. Since everything on your report is taken into account, this one number lets a lender know if you can be trusted or not to make your payments.
Looking to improve your credit score? Here are 5 factors to keep in mind if you’re looking to up-level your credit score.
There’s no credit score that offers guaranteed approval for a credit card.
But a good starting point is a score of at least 660, and obviously the higher your score, the better your odds are of being approved.
What are your thoughts on credit scores?
Is it something you pay close attention to, or even worry about?
Let us know in the comments below.
Here are some frequently asked questions about credit scores and reports.
How long do things stay on my credit report in Canada?
Most items on your credit report stay on it for 6 years. The only exception is to hard credit inquiries, which typically only stay on for 3 years.
How can I fix errors in my credit report?
What is considered to be a good credit score?
A credit score of 660 is considered to be a good credit score.
Will I be approved for a new credit card if my credit score is only 660?
Our estimated chances of being approved for any type of credit card with a score of 660 is 57%.