For some people, a credit card is only a small part of their financial arsenal. It’s what they use to pay for car rentals, hotel stays and large purchases.
But for others, a credit card is a window into a new life, where you get access to concert presale tickets and Broadway shows, where you can check your bags for free when you fly and get access to every airport lounge in the world. The top credit cards have huge cash back and travel bonuses that exceed the fees they come with. They open the door to perks that other cards can’t touch.
These top-tier cards come with a price. Because they have such high rewards, they also have high standards. These aren’t the credit cards that you had as a student in college. These are the credit cards that have some heft to them. They only want the best customers, the ones that have high salaries and credit scores, the ones who will be responsible.
Read below to see how you can qualify for the best credit cards.
Have an excellent credit score
The top credit cards, the ones that have 100,000 bonus mile offers or other top perks, require excellent credit scores. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ credit card is one of the best travel rewards cards on the market. To qualify for it, you probably need to have a minimum credit score range between 680-700.
Not sure what your credit score is? You can check it for free through AnnualCreditReport.com and receive information from the three national bureaus in one credit report. Some banks and credit unions, such as Capital One and Discover, also provide free access to your credit score.
In general, credit card companies will use your FICO scores to determine your eligibility, so there may be a slight discrepancy between the FICO and Vantage scores. However, they’ll give you a good look at your score and what negative marks you have.
Be a good steward of your current cards
If you already have credit cards, then make sure you take care of them well or you won’t qualify for the best cards. It’s like having a plant. If you want to grow a garden, you won’t learn how to tend it well if you keep killing your house plants.
No matter if you only have a secured card or a student credit card leftover from your college days, treat them as if they’re the coveted black card. Make all your payments on time, try to pay off the entire balance if you can and report any fraudulent activity as soon as you notice it. It doesn’t matter what kind of card you have; they all report identically on your credit report. Once you show you’re capable of managing your credit cards well, you’ll be more qualified to take on the best cards.
There are tons of great credit cards out there, and it can be tempting to apply for as many as you want. But you have to be careful when you apply. Credit card applications generally count as a hard inquiry, so they’ll show up on your credit score. Too many hard inquiries will ding your score for at least a year.
Before applying for a credit card, make sure it’s the one you really want to apply for. Some people apply for credit cards in one day, so there’s no time for hard inquiries to appear on their report. Once you’ve decided which cards you want to apply to, set aside half an hour to apply for all of them. By batching them all at once, you’ll avoid getting rejected because of a recent application.
Have a good salary
A good salary only determines your credit card status to a certain degree. If you have a $10,000 annual income, you probably won’t qualify for the best credit cards. But that only matters up to a certain point. For example, the salary you have might determine what credit line you qualify for.
Again, you can’t really control your salary as much, but know that the more you earn, the more likely it is you’ll qualify for the credit card of your dreams.
Determine if you really need them
Typically, the best cards are the ones designed for frequent travelers. Unless you find yourself hopping on a plane a few times a year, it might not make sense to apply for them.
That’s because the best cards almost always come with an annual fee. The more perks, the higher the fee. Add up the amount of times you’ve traveled in the last year, including how many flights and hotel stays you had. Did you use a rental car? Did you have a layover where it would’ve been nice to have access to an airline lounge? Did you check bags? If you’re more of a hermit, then there’s no point stressing about getting those top cards.
Some top cards are also great for business owners and have cash-back options if you buy office equipment, have a company car and more. Having a designated business card can also make it easy for you to track all your business expenses in one place. Some cards also categorize your expenses for you, which can make budgeting easier.
What happens if you don’t qualify
Didn’t qualify for the credit card you were hoping for? Here are some ways to increase your odds next time.
Read the rejection letter carefully
Most often, the credit card company will send you a letter detailing why you got denied. It will say if your credit score is the reason or if you’ve had too many hard inquiries lately. Some card issuers have their own rules. For example, Chase doesn’t allow users to have more than five cards in two years. Look at the reason closely, and try to rectify it if possible.
Call customer service
If you got a rejection notice from the credit card issuer, try calling them in person. Sometimes you can get them to reverse the decision over the phone. This isn’t a foolproof strategy, but it has helped people who may have been on the fence. Always be polite and respectful to the person on the phone; you’ll have better luck if you’re not rude or annoying. If you have a low credit score, you might not be able to argue your way out of that, but other circumstances might be different.
Check any delinquent accounts
If you have delinquent accounts on your credit report, they can drag down your score and render you ineligible for the best credit cards. Look at your score to see if you have any defaults, collections or anything else negative. Make sure those are valid. If they are, you can call and see what it’ll take to get them off your credit report.
For example, some collections allow you to negotiate the amount down. In exchange for making a lump sum payment, they’ll remove the account from your credit report. If you agree to this, make sure to get the agreement in writing so they won’t renege on the deal once you pay the money.
Pay down your balance
A high credit utilization will affect your credit score and can be one reason why credit card issuers will deny your application. Credit utilization is how much credit you’re using divided by how much credit you have access to.
For example, if you have a $50,000 in total credit and a $20,000 balance, you have a 40% utilization percentage. Creditors like to see a utilization percentage of 30% or less. Anything more than that and they’ll think that you can’t afford to pay off your balance.
Make on-time payments
Paying your bills on time is one of the simplest ways to improve your credit. Even if you don’t pay off your entire balance at once, paying it before the deadline will improve your score. Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score, the highest category. Every month, go through your bills and pay them all on time. You can set up autopay if you have too many to remember, or you can find out when the earliest one is due and create a routine where you pay every bill on that day. Some apps, like Mint, also remind customers when their bill is due, even if you already have autopay set up.
Wait before applying again
It can take a few months for your credit to bounce back. Until then you just have to be patient. When your credit score hits the 700s, you can try to apply again. It’s better to wait more time then apply too early, since that will count as a hard inquiry.
The bottom line
The most important part of qualifying for the best credit cards is that you increase your credit score in the process. Everything you need to get a great credit card is the same thing you need to do to get a great mortgage or auto loan.
Even if you’re not interested in credit rewards or bonuses, consider these steps as a “how to” on improving your credit profile.