Applying for a Credit Card without Affecting Your Credit Score: A Guide for Expats in the US

A credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness. It is used by lenders to determine your risk as a borrower and is calculated based on various factors such as payment history, credit utilization, length of credit history, and more. Your credit score ranges from 300 to 850, with a higher score indicating a lower risk and a better chance of being approved for credit.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide information to expats living in the US on how to apply for a credit card without affecting their credit score. We’ll explore the impact of applying for a credit card on your credit score, how to get approved for a credit card without a hard inquiry, and the easiest credit cards to get approved for. We’ll also provide insights into the requirements for different credit cards and how opening a new credit card can impact your credit score. This post will provide valuable information to help expats make informed decisions about their credit and financial future.

Understanding How Applying for a Credit Card Affects Your Credit Score

When you apply for a credit card, the lender will perform a credit check to determine your creditworthiness. This credit check can either be a hard inquiry or a soft inquiry.

Hard inquiries are performed when you apply for a loan or a credit card. These inquiries remain on your credit report for two years and can lower your credit score by a few points. This decrease in credit score is temporary and should recover in a few months.

The number of points your credit score drops after a hard inquiry depends on your current credit score and the number of inquiries you’ve had in the past two years. Generally, a single hard inquiry can drop your credit score by 5 to 10 points.

The rationale is that hard inquiries show that you are actively seeking new credit. This can be seen as a red flag by lenders, as it suggests that you may be taking on too much debt. As a result, hard inquiries can lower your credit score, and make it more difficult for you to get approved for future credit.

On the other hand, a soft inquiry is a type of credit check that does not impact your credit score. Soft inquiries are usually done by companies when they are checking your credit history for pre-approval offers, or when you check your own credit score.

Ways to Apply for a Credit Card without Affecting Your Credit Score

Pre-approval Offers

Pre-approval offers are credit card applications that you receive in the mail or email. They’re pre-screened, meaning the lender has already performed a soft inquiry to determine if you’re eligible for the card. If you choose to apply, a hard inquiry will be performed, and your credit score will be impacted.

To receive pre-approval offers, you can take the following steps:

  • Check your credit score: It’s important to have an accurate understanding of your credit score before you request pre-approval offers. This will give you a good idea of what credit cards you may be eligible for. You can check your FICO credit score easily using your banking apps or sign up for the free versions of all three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). (Need a refresher on FICO credit score? check out this post The Expat’s Guide to Understanding and Improving Your FICO Score in the US.)
  • Sign up for credit monitoring services: Credit monitoring services (like credit karma) can provide you with alerts when new pre-approval offers become available. Some credit monitoring services will even provide you with pre-approval offers that are specifically tailored to your credit score and financial situation.
  • Contact credit card issuers directly: If you are interested in a specific credit card issuer, you can contact them directly to see if you are pre-approved for a credit card. This can be done online or by phone.

Store Credit Cards

Store credit cards are typically easier to get approved for than regular credit cards. They’re often offered during the checkout process, and some don’t require a credit check. Store credit cards often offer exclusive discounts and promotions to cardholders. 

However, store credit cards typically have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. Also, store credit cards can only be used at the specific store and its affiliates, limiting their usefulness compared to other credit cards. Store credit cards’ sign-up bonuses are often not as good as other types of reward credit cards. (need a deeper dive into rewards credit cards? check this post)

Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards are designed for people with bad or limited credit history. They require a security deposit that becomes the credit limit for the card. Applying for a secured credit card won’t impact your credit score as the issuer will only perform a soft inquiry. You can get secured credit cards from your banks or do a quick google search. Most newly relocated people to the US have zero credit history, so you may have to start building your credit history with secured credit cards. If you need a deep dive into secured credit card, check out this post.

I wrote another detailed article on how to improve credit scores for expats in the US here. With a bit of luck, after five months, your credit score can jump to 720+. (Of course, I can’t guarantee anything, and do your own research to make informed decisions.)

Checking for Soft Inquiry Offers

Before applying for a credit card, check to see if the lender offers a soft inquiry option. This will allow you to see if you’re pre-approved for the card without impacting your credit score. This is sometimes available when you have a long-existing relationship with the card issuers and currently have other active cards. 

Are soft-pulled credit cards worth it?

Generally, the best reward credit card (i.e. travel cards or cash-back cards) require a hard pull. And also, the impact of a credit card hard inquiry on your credit score is temporary. Soft-pulled credit cards are often not worth it unless you have no other choices. 

How much does your credit score drop when you apply for a credit card?

According to my research, generally, when a card issuer pulls your credit report after your application, a hard inquiry can lower your score by about five points (or lower). The impact is temporary, though.

Is pre-approval bad for credit?

No. Inquiries for pre-approved card offers do not affect your credit score since only soft inquiries are conducted.

Does signing up for Credit Karma hurt credit score?

No. Signing up and checking your free credit scores using Credit Karma do Not impact your credit score. The same goes with checking your credit scores directly with the credit bureaus (like Experian, and Transunion) or with your banks using the banking apps.

Is a pre-approved credit card offer guaranteed?

Unfortunately no. A pre-approved offer means your chance of being approved is high, but it is not 100% guaranteed. If you receive pre-approved offers from a financial institution that you have a relationship with, the approval chance is very high. Since they already know you via existing relationship and establish that you are a valuable customer.

Pre-approval gives you a higher chance of success than pre-qualified. Pre-qualified means the card issuer has taken some guesses and decided that you may be approved for their offer.

Is there a credit card that approves everyone?

No. I don’t think there is a credit card that approves everyone. Secured credit cards are typically easier to get, especially from your current bank (where you have a savings or checking account), so check them out first.

How many soft inquiries are too many?

As soft inquiries do not impact your credit score, there is no limit to how many soft inquiries you need to stay under to protect your credit score.


In conclusion, applying for a credit card without affecting your credit score is possible. To do this, you should look for credit cards that offer pre-approvals or soft inquiries. It is important to note that credit score impact may vary depending on various factors such as credit utilization, payment history, and length of credit history

Hence, it is always recommended to research and consider your financial situation before applying for a credit card.

In addition, be mindful of applying for multiple credit cards as this can impact your credit score significantly. Instead, choose the right credit card for your needs, and aim to keep your credit utilization low.

Lastly, always be responsible with your credit card usage, make timely payments, and keep your credit score in good standing. This will increase your chances of being approved for credit cards in the future, and ensure that your financial standing remains strong.

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