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Preapproval or prequalification can protect your credit score and help you decide if you should apply for your next credit card

Before applying for a credit card, you should see if you qualify. Here's what preapproval or prequalifications do to your credit and where you can find these offers.

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Before applying for a credit card, it's smart to shop around for the best one suited to fit your spending habits. Once you find one you like, whether it's a card with no annual fee or one that earns you cash back, your first step should be seeing if you're likely to qualify.

This is especially relevant in today's world as credit card issuers begin to tighten up lending for new and existing customers amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Luckily, many of the major card issuers allow you to prequalify for some of their credit cards, which means you can check your odds of getting approved before actually applying. You may also be able to see your possible rates and terms as well.

Prequalifying, or preapproval (card issuers use these terms interchangeably), won't have any effect on your credit score — that happens once you formally apply. Keep in mind, however, that just because you've prequalified for a credit card, it doesn't guarantee approval when you submit your official application.

Below, CNBC Select explains why preapproval and prequalifications don't impact your credit score and where you can find these offers.

Why preapproval and prequalifications won't hurt your credit

Whether you've applied for prequalification through a card issuer's website or you received a prescreened offer in the mail stating that you have been selected to apply for a certain credit card, neither of these situations hurt your credit score. Issuers only do a soft inquiry, or "soft pull" of your credit report during the preapproval process. It's not a full look — just a glance to see if you seem like an ideal card member.

Once you apply for the card you want, the lender or issuer will have your permission to do a hard inquiry, or "hard pull" of your full credit report from one of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion).

A hard inquiry can temporarily ding your credit score a few points, regardless of whether you're approved or denied for the credit card or loan. This is why it's recommended you only apply for a new credit product every six months or so. And if you do get denied, know there are many steps you can take to improve your credit score.

Where can you find preapproval and prequalification offers?

You can find preapproval offers sent in the mail, and they usually come with a special code to apply.

The second place you can check for preapproval is by going to the card issuer's website. This is a huge advantage since it's easy, convenient and free. Most of the best rewards credit cards require at least good credit, so it's important you check your credit score when you start searching for a new card.

If you are looking to apply for a great credit card for groceries, you could check your approval odds for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Alternatively, you could aim to apply for a balance transfer card like the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. Both cards require good or excellent credit, so if you have any doubts we recommend you check for preapproval first.

The major card issuers that allow you to see if you prequalify online include the ones below:

  • American Express: Only requires that you enter your home address and the last four digits of your social security number. There is an option to include your income.
  • Bank of America: You can receive customized credit card offers by entering your name, date of birth, the last four digits of your social security number, your address and the kind of credit card you are interested in, such as one to build or rebuild your credit.
  • Capital One: Customers enter their name, date of birth, social security number, address and what card benefit is most important (cash back, low interest or not sure).
  • Chase: Enter your name, address and last four digits of your social security number.
  • Citibank: If responding to a mail offer, enter the special code. At this time, the issuer is not allowing new customers to check to see if they prequalify for a Citi card online, but you can view their credit card offerings here.
  • Credit One: Requires you to provide your name, address, email, phone number, social security number, date of birth and monthly income.
  • Discover: Enter your name, address, date of birth, social security number, your annual income, your monthly rent or housing payment, as well as other questions such as your housing status, whether you have a checking, debit, savings, IRA or money market account, if you are a student and the card benefit most important to you (such as cash back or travel rewards).

Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.