logo
CNBC.COM
CNBC Select may receive an affiliate commission when you click on the links for products from our partners. Click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans without a credit card don't qualify—here's why you may be denied

William Harper Jackson as Chidi from a scene in NBC's The Good Place.
NBCU

If you've been denied for credit, you're not alone.

About 24% of Americans without a credit card say that not qualifying is the primary reason they don't have a card, according to a survey of about 2,200 U.S. adults that CNBC Select performed in conjunction with Morning Consult in May 2019.

It's a bit worrisome that nearly than one in four Americans can't get approved for a credit card — especially considering the push toward a cashless society. However, there are actions you can take to increase the chances you qualify for a credit card.

Below, CNBC Select lists common reasons you may be denied for a credit card and how you can improve your approval odds.

Reasons you may be denied for a credit card

Insufficient credit history

If you have a short or nonexistent credit history, you may not qualify for a credit card. This can be frustrating if you're looking to build credit, but there are still options available, such as secured cards, credit-builder loans and becoming an authorized user.

Low income or unemployed

If you don't have a substantial source of income — or none at all — you may struggle to be approved for a credit card.

Missed payments

Having poor payment history is an indicator that you may not be able to repay the credit lenders extend.

You're carrying debt

Lenders may not look favorably upon applicants who are carrying debt. If you carry a balance month-to-month, it indicates to lenders that they may not be paid right away and you could default.

Too many credit inquiries

If you have too many inquiries on your credit report, especially within a short period of time, lenders may be hesitant to grant you credit. Since there's no specific number of inquiries that's considered too many, simply try to limit new inquiries.

Don't meet age requirements

The CARD Act of 2009 prohibits card issuers from extending credit to applicants under 21, unless the applicants apply with a co-signer or show proof of independent income. If you don't meet these requirements, ask a family member to add you as an authorized user to their card until you're able to open your own account.

There are errors on your credit report

Having unauthorized accounts on your credit report or other errors, can hurt your approval chances. Check you credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute any errors you find.

How to improve your approval chances for a credit card

Become an authorized user

A simple and liability-free way to build credit is to have a family member or friend add you to their credit card account as an authorized user. You'll be able to use the card like any other card to make purchases and won't be responsible for paying the bill. Before becoming an authorized user, just make sure the family member or friend has good credit so you can piggyback off positive, not negative, credit. (And make sure you practice responsible habits as well, so you don't negatively impact their credit.)

Pay off debt

Work toward eliminating any existing debt you carry month-to-month. Some options to pay off debt include opening a personal loan or asking a family member or friend for a loan. Once you build credit, you can consider a balance transfer credit card.

Improve payment history

Payment history is the most important factor of your credit score, comprising a whopping 35% of FICO Scores. As a result, it's key you make on-time payments every month. If you struggle to make on-time payments, consider adjusting your spending or setting up autopay for at least the minimum due. This ensures you avoid late payment fees, high penalty interest rates and negative information on your credit report.

Check your credit score and report

There are dozens of free credit score services available today, so there's no excuse not to check. Plus, no harm is done to your credit. You should check your credit score on a monthly basis, and before you apply for credit know which products you may qualify for. In addition, you should review your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each year, you receive one free report from each major credit bureau (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). We recommend spacing out one report every four months.

Apply for a secured card

Credit newbies or people with less than stellar credit scores may have better chances at qualifying for a secured card, such as the Discover it® Secured, compared to regular credit cards. A secured card is a great way to build credit and can be used just like an unsecured (regular) card in that you receive a credit limit, can incur interest charges and may even earn rewards. You have to make a security deposit in order to receive a line of credit for secured cards. (Check out CNBC Select's roundup of the top secured cards here.)

Be patient

Improving credit takes time and you won't see changes happen overnight. As long as you consistently practice responsible credit behavior, you should be on the road to good credit.

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.