Why do credit card applications get rejected? It's not the reasons you think.


You may think you're living in a Chase Sapphire Reserve world, but your rejected credit card application says "ha, no" — you're really a few tiers down, maybe more of a Chase Freedom Unlimited contender, if you're lucky.

At least you're not alone: Of the people who applied for credit cards this past June, 15% were rejected, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

That's slightly better than the 20% with unsuccessful applications in June 2014, but no solace if you're in the unlucky bunch.

Indeed, about half of people polled said they wouldn't tell a friend they were rejected for a credit card, according to a new study by NerdWallet.

Why might that be? Blame perceptions. About a third of people in the study said those whose credit card applications get rejected are irresponsible with their finances. 

And being negged can feel personal: 70% of people in the study said that after being turned down, they wouldn't apply for another product from the bank that rejected their application.

Now, misinformation about how the process works is a big problem. According to the survey, more than a third of Americans think — incorrectly — that credit card applications are often rejected because a person already holds too many cards.

What are the actual reasons?

Here's the real deal — and what you can do to improve your chances of getting a credit card.

What causes credit card applications to get rejected, really?

Yes, your credit score will help or hurt you, but there are other factors that make or break your chances at a credit card. Here's what can get you:

Bad credit: Card issuers will scrutinize your credit score: Anything below 600 is going to make it harder for you to get accepted. But your credit report also gives issuers other details about you, including late payments, collections or bankruptcies.

Outstanding debt: If you have a lot of outstanding credit obligations — student loans, mortgages and high credit card balances — issuers will view you as a riskier borrower, even if you are paying on time.

Little or no credit history: If you are young and have virtually no credit history, that will make some issuers nervous. Some ways to start building credit are by getting a secured credit card, a student card or a store card.

Insufficient income: To pay back debts, you need to make more moolah than you are borrowing. Issuers may even have a flat income floor, and if you make too little, they will not approve you.

Past bankruptcies: If you've had a bankruptcy it doesn't mean you won't be approved for a credit card, it just means it will be a lot harder. And your selection of credit cards may be limited.

How do you get approved for a credit card, then?

Millennials are more likely than other generation to experience embarrassment and frustration because of credit card rejection, per the NerdWallet study.

But they are also the most likely to take the rejection as a call to action, the study found: 18- to 34-year-olds are more likely than other age group to crowdsource a solution, check their credit score or ask friends and family for advice.

That's smart. Here are some other good moves.

Find out why you were rejected: The credit card issuer legally has to tell you why you were rejected by sending you what is called an "adverse action" notice. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you also have a right to know the name of the credit reporting agency that the credit card issuer used to make its decision.

Check your credit report: Crucially, you have a right to dispute the accuracy of any information provided by the credit report. This information is key, because you may find errors that led to the rejection. After receiving an official "adverse action" notice, you have 60 days to grab a free copy, according to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. You get also access to your credit report once annually, even if you haven't gotten a rejection. Triple check there's nothing fishy dragging down your score. Then set about building it up.

Ask for a reconsideration: If you feel you may have been on the cusp of being approved, you can contact the issuer and ask for a second look at your application. Maybe you have other sources of income or have recently paid off a lot of debt; let the company know that your application deserves an update.

Find a card that is a better match: Look harder at other credit cards with lower bars to entry. If you have a low credit score, consider a secured card, which will help you build up to a card with more generous rewards.

Now that you know the real reasons credit cards applications are rejected, you can take a stand — and bolster your application next time.