Do preapproved credit card offers make your head spin? A clear explanation written by someone who did this for a living can clear up some confusion.

Prescreening allows banks to mail people who are most likely to respond, complete an application, and handle the new account responsibility.

Most of the processing occurs behind the scenes. Peek behind the curtain and open your mail like a confident expert.

  • How the process works (inquiries, denials, opting out)
  • How to get offers in the mail (bad credit, department stores)
  • Key definitions (preapproved, prequalify, preselected)

How the Prescreening Process Works

The credit card prescreening process is a bit mysterious for many consumers at first. In fact, the process is rather simple to understand once you break it down. These are the basic steps.

  1. Bank submits detailed criteria to a consumer-reporting agency
    1. Equifax
    2. Experian
    3. Innovis
    4. TransUnion
  2. Bureau outputs a file of consumers meeting the criteria
  3. Furnishing bureau logs a soft inquiry
  4. Bank makes a firm offer of credit to everyone on the list
  5. Consumers throw out or respond to the solicitation
  6. Bank verifies that the applicant still meets the original criteria
Table Of Contents

Soft Inquiry

People who meet the credit card prescreening criteria will have a soft inquiry logged on their consumer report. The soft inquiry does not affect your score as it appears only on report versions seen by individuals pulling their own files.

The soft inquiry alerts you the consumer that a lender (or bank) viewed a copy of your consumer report in connection with a prescreened letter. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) explicitly permits companies to see your information without your permission – in exchange for a tangible benefit.

In this case, the tangible benefit is a firm offer of credit.

Hard Inquiry

People who respond to a prescreened credit card offer should expect the bank to log a hard inquiry during the application phase – even though they must make a firm offer of credit under the FCRA. A hard inquiry does hurt your score at the bureau providing the back-end pull.

The purpose of the hard inquiry is to verify that you still meet the original criteria. Expect the lender to pull a copy of your consumer report to verify that nothing important changed.


Banks can deny preapproved credit card offers if the responder no longer meets the original criteria. You must meet the qualifications at both points of time – not just at the beginning.

  1. Time elapses as the process phase goes from the bureau to the mail print shop, through the United Postal Service, into your mailbox, and onto your kitchen countertop.
  2. Consumer reports change every day as data contributors refresh their payment information and the bureaus update their records.

The companies can reject your application if you become delinquent in the interim, ran up balances on other accounts, or your file now displays flags for potentially fraudulent activity.


You can stop future preapproved credit card letters by opting out of the process. An industry-based online resource makes it easy to turn them off or back on. is the official consumer reporting industry website to accept and process requests. This resource applies to campaigns originating with Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion.

How to Get Preapproved Offers

Making your profile attractive to lenders is the best way to get pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. Banks look for three types of behaviors that indicate a profitable new customer – hopefully you.

  1. People who pay their bills on time are less likely to be delinquent in the future. Lenders can only make firm offers of credit to responsible individuals.
  2. Individuals likely to respond and complete an application cost less to acquire. Printing and mailing letters is very expensive.
  3. Consumers who revolve a balance pay interest. They are more attractive (profitable) than those who transact (pay in full each month).

Getting more solicitations in your mailbox makes it easier to open an account without affecting your score. You avoid having to apply too many times.

Bad Credit

People with bad credit rarely get pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. Two parts of the process disqualify most individuals with a negative history of late payments on their consumer report.

  1. Prescreen criteria eliminates most bad credit borrowers. Banks do not want to make a firm offer of credit to someone unable to stay current on other obligations.
  2. Secured credit cards do not represent a firm offer of credit – unless the limit exceeds the required deposit in a checking account by a significant margin.

Therefore, bad credit borrowers should not get their hopes up for receiving letters in the mail. Disputing errors on your report could help.

Department Stores

Getting department store preapproved credit card offers in the mail requires shoppers to make themselves visible. Show the retail store that you are a likely responder and reduce their projected costs for printing and postage.

Do something that connects your name and address with valuable customers.

  1. Join the department store frequent shopper club
  2. Take advantage of mail-in rebates and coupons

Credit Card Offer Definitions

People are rightfully confused about the definitions of preapproved offers versus prequalified versus preselected credit card invitations. Each means something slightly different about what underwriting steps the bank may take, and whether they will ultimately approve your application.


A pre-approved credit card offer means that the bank initiated the review of information on your consumer report. It must make a firm offer of credit to offset this small intrusion into your privacy.

A firm offer of credit means that the bank cannot impose any further application qualifiers. It can only consider data from your updated consumer report (payment status, debt levels, FICO score, etc.). Only changes that fail the original criteria can lead to a declination.


A prequalified credit card means that the individual initiated the review of information on his or her consumer report. The bank then reads the file to suggest qualifying products based on these data alone.

The prequalification process works differently during the application phase. The bank then asks for additional information for use in their underwriting decision. They can decline your application based on these extra data.


A preselected credit card invitation means that the issuing company did not use any information from your consumer report in the process. Instead, they found your name and address from an alternative source.

Affinity programs are frequent sources of preselected campaigns. The banks mail an invitation to apply to specific affinity groups known to have good qualifications in general.

  • College alumni lists
  • Association membership lists
  • Magazine subscriber lists

Banks perform full underwriting when a preselected invitation results in an application. Declination rates are highest as a result.

  • Consumer report and score
  • Citizen and employment status
  • Income amounts and sources
  • Monthly housing expenses

Online Sites

You can check to see if you can prequalify for a credit card online by visiting the issuing company website. Remember the first step only considers data from your consumer report and does not affect your score.

Once you decide to apply, you must provide additional information that could affect eligibility. The subsequent hard inquiry will hurt your score.