Guide to credit card offers: The meaning of 'pre-approved' – and other mysteries

As the glow of the holidays gives way to the glare of all those credit card bills, you may start to notice zero-percent transfer offers flooding your mailbox. And what offers! You have been "pre-approved," "pre-screened," "pre-qualified," or "pre-selected" to receive a credit card that's not offered to just anyone. It looks like a great deal. Should you apply? Here is a guide to sorting through credit-card offers:

1. If the credit-card offer says 'pre-approved,' are you approved?

Nick Ut/AP/File
Credit-card decals adorn a window of a wig shop in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles in this 2007 file photo. Credit-card offers that say you're 'pre-screened' or 'pre-approved' don't guarantee that you'll get the card – or that it's the best card for you.

The terms that sound like you’re already been screened and approved should not be taken literally. They're marketing language. They come with a standard application and do not constitute any type of actual pre-approval.

Credit-card offers that say you're pre-approved, pre-screened, pre-qualified, pre-selected – or any other “pre,” for that matter – are known as "invitation to apply" (ITA) offers. They mean that whoever made the offer – a bank, retail store, or other lender – has done a background check that might include your credit score, borrowing history, and any other personal information available to them. The bank or credit card company may have purchased a list from one of the credit bureaus that fits the criteria for people they are targeting. With that information, they decide if you meet their criteria for credit.

Because they already evaluated you, chances are you will qualify for that offer. But credit laws require the card issuer to assess your ability to pay before approving you for a card. And you have just as much chance of qualifying for hundreds of other credit cards you can find online through credit-card comparison websites like mine. The best online offers frequently represent a better deal than what you get in the mail.

So if you are interested in the card, look beyond the marketing terms and assess the terms of the credit-card offer.

1 of 5

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.