Should you opt out of prescreened credit card offers?

Written by
Curtis Arnold
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Prescreened credit card offers have become a familiar annoyance for many, but should you opt out of these solicitations? Beyond being a nuisance, opting out carries implications that extend far beyond a cluttered mailbox.

Does getting such offers harm your credit? Do they increase your likelihood of identity theft? Are there any benefits to being preapproved?  In a nutshell, most consumers want to know the pros and cons of getting these offers and how to opt-out should they choose.

What is a prescreened credit card offer?

A prescreened credit card offer (also known as preapproved or prequalified offer) is a marketing tactic used by credit card companies to identify potential customers who meet certain criteria, such as a minimum credit score or income level.

Here’s how the Federal Trade Commission describes the process:

  • A card company (normally a bank) decides what the requirements are to qualify for their card(s). They base the decision on information in your credit report (which contains your borrowing and payment history) or your credit score.
  • Then the company asks a credit bureau — such as Equifax, Experian, Transunion, or Innovis — to give them a list of consumers in their databases whose credit reports meet those requirements.
  • Conversely, the company might also give a credit bureau a list of potential customers they are interested in marketing to and ask which potential customers meet its requirements.

It’s important to note that such offers do not guarantee that you will be approved. It simply means that you have met whatever initial requirements that the lender has established and are potentially a good candidate for the offer.

Rod Griffin, senior director of consumer education and advocacy for Experian, further adds that “the preapproval process can take several months from the time the offer is created to the time it is mailed and then returned by the consumer. Because the consumer’s financial status may have changed, the lender will verify they still meet the terms of the offer when the consumer returns the acceptance form. If they no longer qualify, the offer may be rescinded or revised.”

Griffin also adds that it’s also important to know that if you accept the offer, you are applying for the card. Furthermore, accepting the offer will generally result in a hard credit inquiry on your credit report(s), which can lower your credit score a bit…at least temporarily.


While a single hard inquiry can hurt your score a little, prescreening does not lower your score. There will be inquiries on your credit report(s) showing which companies got your information for prescreening- these inquiries are called soft inquiries. As opposed to hard inquiries, soft inquiries won’t adversely affect your score.

What are the advantages of prescreened credit card offers?

Prescreened credit card offers have numerous advantages that are worth noting. Over the years, I’ve applied for multiple offers I’ve received and have been pleased with the results. One significant plus is that these offers can be custom-tailored and therefore are unique to you (and may not be available if you apply online or over the phone).

Similarly, you can sometimes get enhanced offers that you can’t find elsewhere. For example, a bank’s website might offer a 60,000-point bonus opportunity for new cardholders who apply online, but the mail-in offer might offer you an 80,000-point opportunity for that same card.

Griffin is quick to point out other notable positives:

  • An expanded marketplace beyond local lenders. When you choose to receive preapproved offers, you have access to a national marketplace and opportunities for lower interest rates, higher credit limits, reduced fees, and incentives.
  • A needed jumpstart if you’ve never had credit before or have had bad credit and are trying to rebuild your credit (some offers focus on consumers with poor or no credit).
  • An increase in competition for your business, which can drive the costs down and increase benefits.

A final big perk is that while these offers don’t guarantee that you will be approved, they do increase your odds of being approved. Since the lender has already prescreened your credit (the soft inquiry mentioned above), you are more likely to get approved than if you just randomly start applying for a card online. And while getting denied for credit doesn’t hurt your score, it can be frustrating and a hassle.


If you get an offer that you like and are on the fence about applying, don’t assume that you will get the same offer in the future. Case in point, a colleague of mine received an elevated offer for a popular travel credit card, but it just wasn’t the right time to apply. She’s been kicking herself ever since- and waiting for a repeat offer. Unfortunately, it hasn’t come yet and she has accepted the fact that it might not ever come again.

What are the disadvantages of prescreened credit card offers?

Despite their advantages for some consumers, preapproved offers aren’t for everyone for various reasons. One fairly obvious reason involves debt. According to Griffin, “If you are tempted to accept offers and then overspend, it might be better to opt out of receiving offers, especially if you already are having difficulty managing debt.

“Removing the temptation may help you regain control of your debt. The offers you may receive when you are having challenges with your debt, may not be what you want. They likely would have high-interest rates or fees associated with them, which wouldn’t help you better manage the debt you already owe.”

Another more practical reason is what I call the hassle factor. According to Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, the CEO and founder of the free financial advice site,, it takes enough time and effort to deal with all the junk mail most people get daily. These offers just compound this issue, especially if you have zero interest in applying for a new credit card.

Last, but certainly not least, many experts claim that getting card solicitations can increase your risk of being victimized by data or identity theft. This can be especially true for people with caretakers.

Unfortunately, a colleague of mine personally knew someone who was a victim of abuse by their caretaker. The victim was an elderly person, using an in-house caretaker who had easy access to their information – including prescreened credit card offers.

On the flip side, it should be noted that not all experts agree on this issue. Griffin opines that:

  • The risk of fraud is extremely low. The offers include only your name and address, which are both publicly available.
  • Lenders long ago changed their policies so that if an offer is returned with a change to the name or address, the offer is simply rejected.


Over the years, I’ve heard of a few instances where a consumer got a physical card in the mail that they didn’t apply for. My colleague Geoff Williams has some great advice on what to do if you receive a card that you didn’t request.

How to opt out of prescreened credit card offers

The good news is that if you decide that the cons outweigh the pros, you can choose to opt out of getting prequalified offers thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. According to Khalfani-Cox, this law permits you to opt-out and thereby greatly reduces the amount of preapproved offers that come to your mailbox.

The process is straightforward:

To opt out, simply call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or visit

Please be aware that opting out isn’t a quick fix, though. Griffin explains that “you need to allow six months or so for the offers to significantly decrease. The reason is that any offers already in process will continue to arrive.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Even if you decide to opt out of prescreened credit card offers, you should still be diligent. While this step might help minimize your chances for identity theft, you’re still at risk. Make sure you’re also utilizing fraud and spending alerts on all of your accounts, and that you’re regularly checking your credit report. You could also consider freezing your credit, which restricts access to your credit report so you, or others, won’t be able to open a new credit account while the freeze is in place.

– Jennifer Doss,
Executive Editor, CardRatings

Final thoughts

As with most things, there are generally two sides to the coin. Should you opt out of getting prescreened offers, or shouldn’t you? The short answer is that it’s ultimately up to you.

I would just advise that you carefully consider the pros and cons of such offers before you make a decision. Fortunately, if you opt out and then decide later you want to start receiving offers again, you can also opt back in using the same website listed above.

Curtis Arnold
CardRatings Founder

Curtis founded in 1998 and, in so doing, helped pioneer the concept of rating credit cards. He has been a nationally recognized expert in consumer credit for well over 20 years. He is the author of “How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using...Read more

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