How to activate a credit card

Geoff Williams
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Geoff Williams
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If you have just successfully applied for a new credit card, you may find yourself wondering what your next steps should be. Does the card need to be activated? Are you good to go ahead and make your first purchase?

If this is your first credit card, or your first credit card you’ve applied for in ages, it’s understandable if you’re unsure about the next steps. While all credit cards follow a predictable, similar pattern to activating them, there are some subtle differences you should be aware of, and some credit card issuers do a better job than others in explaining on their websites how to activate their cards.

That said, none of this should be too hard for anyone. Credit card issuers want their cardholders to use their credit cards, and so they tend to make the process pretty intuitive.

How to activate a credit card – by issuer

How to activate American Express credit card

American Express offers three ways cardholders can activate their credit card:

  • Call the help line at 1-800-419-2122
  • Activate the card online
  • Download the American Express app, enter your card details, create a user ID and password and then, if you don’t already have one, set up a PIN of your choice. Once that is all taken care of, the card will be activated.

How to activate Bank of America credit card

To activate a Bank of America credit card, first create or log in to an existing Bank of America online account. From there, you’ll find an “activate your card” link which will take you through the necessary steps. For further assistance, you can contact the number found on your new credit card.

How to activate Citi credit card

You can always call the number on your new Citi card for assistance, or you can simply go to the Citi activate your card link and enter your card details for simple and quick activation.

You can also log in or create a new Citi online account, and activate your card through your online account or the Citi app.

How to activate Capital One credit card

To activate a Capital One credit card you’ll need to create, or log in to an existing Capital One online account, or use the Capital One mobile app. (You can text “GET” to 80101 to download the app.)

Once you create or log in to your account, you’ll find an option to “activate your card.” Simply click this link and follow the instructions. If you need further assistance or aren’t comfortable activating your card via the internet, you can contact a Capital One representative by calling the number found on your new card.

How to activate Chase credit card

On your new card there should be a sticker leading you to a website where you’ll be given instructions on how to activate your Chase credit card. If there is no website on the sticker, there will at least be a toll-free number. Simply call the number on your credit card, to activate it.

How to activate Discover credit card

Discover spells everything out very clearly on its website, and its instructions are very simple: “You can activate your credit card online, using a card issuer’s mobile app or over the phone by calling the card issuer’s customer service number.”

For easy access, here is Discover’s credit card activation link, and here’s their customer service phone number: 1-800-347-2683.

How to activate U.S. Bank credit card

It should be a fairly easy process. On the front of your credit card, there should be a sticker with a phone number or website listed. Call the number or go to the website and follow the instructions, and you’ll soon have it activated.

But if for some reason you don’t want to do that, you can go to your online U.S. Bank account and select “My Accounts,” and then choose an account to select your credit card. After that, choose the card controls tab, then select “Activate card.” Once you’re on that tab, you’ll enter the card information and follow the prompts to complete the activation.

You can also elect to use the U.S. Bank Mobile App. From there, the steps are as follows:

  • Open the main menu select “Manage cards”
  • Choose the card that says “Ready to activate”
  • Select “Activate card”
  • After that, you’ll provide your card information and last four digits of your SSN, then select “Activate”

How to activate Wells Fargo credit card

As with most credit cards, there should be a sticker on your new Wells Fargo credit card with a phone number on it as well as a URL. Simply call the toll-free number on the sticker and then follow the instructions, if there are any, once you call, so you can activate your credit card. Or go to the webpage on the sticker and follow the instructions to activate your card.

Or you can go online to your checking account or use your Wells Fargo app, where the website will walk you through the steps to activate your Wells Fargo credit card.

Short of that, if you’re really in need of help, you could go to a Wells Fargo branch, and the staff would be able to help you get your credit card activated.

Can I activate my credit card before it arrives in the mail?

It depends on the credit card. American Express, Capital One and Chase, for instance, are pretty good about giving cardholders instant access to their cards. In many cases, however, you’ll need to wait until your card comes in the mail and you have your card details in hand to activate it.

What happens if you don’t activate a credit card?

If you apply for a new credit card, and then forget to activate it, or you decide you no longer want the card, after about 45-60 days, the credit card issuer will typically cancel your account. That is, after they send you multiple reminders to activate your card. Again, remember, they want you to activate and use your card.

If this happens, there’s a chance that your credit score could be negatively affected, due to your credit utilization ratio being affected. Lenders like seeing that you have a lot of credit available, and now without your new card, you’ll have less available credit. Still, having a credit card account that you never used and then deactivated isn’t going to truly hurt you, but it’s best to be really sure you want a card before you actually submit an application for it. For one, your credit will likely take a small, temporary hit when you submit your application, and also, it could later affect you for things like Chase’s unofficial 5/24 rule, which (again, unofficially) states that Chase won’t approve a credit card application for someone who has opened five or more new credit cards from any issuer in the past 24 months.

How long do you have to activate a credit card?

You usually have about 45-60 days to activate your credit card. So if you get your credit card in the mail, if you have a kid who needs attention, or your dinner is burning, or somebody you know is lying on the floor bleeding, absolutely go live your life and worry about activating the credit card later. But you wouldn’t want to toss it in a pile of unopened mail and forget about it for months. Eventually, the account will be canceled.

If I don’t activate my credit card, can I avoid paying the annual fee?

Unfortunately, no, you can’t. You are on the hook for an annual fee the moment you are approved for a credit card. So in theory, you could forget or decide to not activate a credit card and be charged for an annual fee – for a credit card that you aren’t using – and then if you don’t pay it, you could wind up in collections. Of course, if you promptly contacted the credit card issuer and explained that you no longer wanted the card and would like to not pay an annual fee, you may be able to get out of paying it. We’re just speculating, of course; every credit card issuer handles things differently. Still, usually, it is when people stop communicating with a credit card issuer that they get into financial trouble.

Now that you’ve activated your new credit card…

You’ve successfully activated your credit card! Great! Just a few things to remember:

  • If your credit card lets you turn on fraud alerts, do. Weird things can happen in the world of credit cards, and scammers can sometimes get ahold of new credit card numbers pretty quickly. You want to make sure you’re on guard for that sort of thing, the moment you activate a new account. That said, if something did happen, as long as you report a suspicious purchase, you aren’t going to be held liable. The most you’d lose is $50, according to federal law, and most credit card issuers don’t hold borrowers liable for even a penny that a con artist may have spent on your card.
  • Don’t share your new credit card information with anyone. Maybe your spouse, but that’s about it. Hopefully that’s obvious advice, however.
  • Use your credit card responsibly. You know, try to avoid impulse shopping and make sure you pay your bills on time, and all of the stuff that sounds like a lecture but is nonetheless important to remember. But at the same time, if your card gives you a lot of rewards points and cash back and especially if it has a welcome bonus, have fun responsibly shopping and saving money while you do so.
Geoff Williams
CardRatings Contributor

Geoff is a freelance journalist and has been since the 1990s. He specializes in personal finance and small business issues and has seen his work published with numerous news outlets including The Wall Street Journal,, Reuters, The Washington Post and Consumer Reports. He also...Read more

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