Understanding Credit Card Mail Offers

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Last updated on October 12th, 2023

Seeing “you’re pre-approved” for a credit card in the mail can be exciting – especially if you have less-than-perfect credit. But what does a pre-approval mail offer actually mean? Let’s dive into credit card mail offers, their language, and how credit card issuers offer pre-approvals.

What Does A Credit Card Mail Offer Mean?

A credit card mail offer is a direct marketing initiative by issuers, financial services companies, and banks. Often called “pre-sorted” or “pre-approved,” these offers are sent to consumers by mail and typically come in letters or brochures.  These credit card mail offers fall into one of three categories:

  • Invitation to Apply: An invitation to apply is a bank’s basic mail offer. Banks and lenders issue these offers based on broad demographic information, such as your location, housing status, or income. Invitations to apply are essentially advertisements from banks, and as such, the approval rate for these mail offers is significantly lower than others.
  • Pre-selected: Lenders pre-select consumers based on information in their credit reports. However, these pre-selected offers are much broader than pre-approval offers, meaning the bank requires more information before approving a credit card application. Pre-selection mail offers rely on basic credit information, such as a person’s credit score.
  • Pre-approved: Receiving a pre-approval mail offer from a bank or credit card issuer is the closest thing to guaranteed approval. A pre-approval letter means the bank has conducted a basic review of a person’s credit report and the information they have means the letter recipient makes a good match for one of their credit cards.

According to previous data from Experian, American consumers receive over three billion (3,000,000,000) credit card mail offers each year, with two billion being invitations to apply, or ITAs. Pre-selected and pre-approved offers account for a little over one billion more, highlighting how many credit card offers flood mailboxes nationwide. And, despite an ever-increasing number of targeted credit card offers, application rates for these offers continue to decline, with an average application rate of around 49% from these mail offers.

How Do Banks Get Your Credit Report Info?

Where do banks, card issuers, and other financial services companies get their information for pre-sorted mail offer?
Credit bureaus Many lenders often obtain basic credit information from the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). This data and information includes your credit score, credit history, overall outstanding debts, and total credit inquiries. Remember that this information will not impact your credit score unless you submit a full application and consent to having your full credit report pulled.
Market reserach Marketing firms and data collection agencies are one of the largest suppliers of pre-sorted credit information to banks, issuers, and other financial services firms. Lenders purchase marketing lists, called "selection criteria" from data brokers that contain demographic and behavioral information about consumers, like credit scores, geographic location, bankruptcy history, and more.
Public records Lenders may source public records for data to select potential applicants for their products. These lenders They access records on things like property records and legal judgments, to get additional insights into your financial health.

Many credit card issuers purchase basic credit information from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). The thought of banks buying your information might sound alarming – but it isn’t as invasive as it sounds. Banks purchase the same basic credit information available to consumers through free credit monitoring tools, such as Credit Karma, Capital One Creditwise, or American Express MyCredit Guide. This info omits major credit report information only available when a person applies for a credit card, instead offering issuers a glimpse at the individual’s suitability for card products.

How Likely Are You to Be Approved for a Mail Offer for a Credit Card?

As mentioned, pre-sorted credit card offers are essentially an invitation to apply for a credit card and little else. Sure, you have better approval odds, thanks to the pre-screen credit info provided to the issuing lender. However, what chances do you have when actually applying for these cards? That depends on the offer type:

  • Pre-approved Offers: The approval rate for pre-approved or prequalified offers is high – around 90% success. This high approval rate is due to the lender receiving basic credit information and determining that you are a good fit for their product.
  • Preselected Offers: Pre-selected offers are made based on your credit history but don’t provide all the data to offer a pre-approval. Still, there is a 70% success rate with these offers for applicants.
  • Invitation to Apply: You might think receiving an invitation to apply would mean you are a shoo-in for the product, but you’d be wrong. Data shows that only around a 10% to 30% success rate is largely due to the minimal, basic info lenders use to reach these offers.

What to Do Before Responding to a Credit Card Mail Offering

Before responding to or accepting a mail offer for a credit card, there are essential steps to be aware of. These include:

Read the Terms and Conditions

Checking the fine print is essential to ensuring a pre-selected or pre-approval mail offer is a good deal for you. Reading the fine print on any credit card offer can help you fully understand the rates and fees associated with opening an account. For example, if the card is a secured credit card, what is the minimum deposit required to open an account? Does the security deposit earn interest? Is there a route towards an unsecured line of credit, including doubling of the credit line after making a certain number of payments or graduation to an unsecured card?

Beyond any single credit card type, the terms and conditions will inform you about any additional fees you might be responsible for with the card. The terms explain the grace period, during which you can pay your balance in full without incurring interest. They also specify how interest is calculated. Understanding these details helps you manage your payments effectively. Additionally, these terms detail additional ways your credit card can be used, such as conducting cash advances, balance transfers, or limitations on types of merchants or geographic restrictions when making purchases.

Check the APR

Checking the interest rate is also essential. The Truth in Lending Act requires credit card issuers to fully disclose credit card information in a standardized way to avoid confusion about the rates and fees associated with a card offer. A general rule of thumb is that the better the credit score, the lower the APR. It’s best not to let a card offer entice you to apply if you plan to carry a balance – but the interest rate charged on that balance is sky-high. It’s also worth noting that your APR might not be at its highest if you are pre-selected for a secured credit card. Secured cards feature slightly lower interest rates than other subprime cards because of the security deposit requirement, which acts as collateral in case of default.

What to Do If You Decide Not to Apply

If the mail offer isn’t worth applying for, destroy the letter, as it may contain sensitive personal information. The simplest way to dispose of an offer for a credit card is to shred the physical mail offer. Tearing up or shredding the offer will make it more difficult for thieves to steal personal credit information. There may be several reasons to walk away and pass on a credit card mail offer, including:

  • If you plan on carrying a significant balance on a new card, which would limit the value of a balance transfer offer
  • The bonus reward categories don’t mesh with your personal spending habits
  • A welcome offer is lower than you’ve seen in the past
  • If you want to ensure you are keeping your finances under control and don’t need a new credit card
  • The card’s features aren’t worth the annual fee – even with the sign-up bonus and other perks

Can You Stop Nuisance Credit Card Mailer Offers?

If pre-sorted and pre-approved credit card offers are becoming a headache, don’t worry – opting out of future mail offers is easy. The major credit bureaus (including Innovis, another credit agency) offer an opt-out service through OptOutPrescreen.com. Signing up on this website removes a person’s name from a list of pre-screening consumers the agencies sell. Opting out is also available by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT. You can also opt out of pre-sorted offers permanently by downloading, completing, and mailing a signed “Permanent Opt-Out Election” form, available through the same avenues previously mentioned.

If you opt-out, your name will no longer appear on lists provided by credit reporting companies. However, card issuers can still solicit and send you offers if they’ve done business with you or get your name from other sources. This removal may help limit your exposure to data theft or ID fraud, should your information somehow be compromised. Note that opting out of mail offers will not necessarily improve your credit.

Related Article: How to Prepare Before Applying for a Credit Card

Editorial Disclosure – The opinions expressed on BestCards.com's reviews, articles, and all other content on or relating to the website are solely those of the content’s author(s). These opinions do not reflect those of any card issuer or financial institution, and editorial content on our site has not been reviewed or approved by these entities unless noted otherwise. Further, BestCards.com lists credit card offers that are frequently updated with information believed to be accurate to the best of our team's knowledge. However, please review the information provided directly by the credit card issuer or related financial institution for full details.

About: Cory Santos
Cory Santos

Cory is the senior credit card editor at BestCards, specializing in everything credit card-related. He’s worked extensively with credit cards and other personal finance topics, including nearly five years at BestCards. Cory’s extensive knowledge is an essential part of the BestCards experience, helping readers to live their best financial lives with up-to-date insights and comprehensive coverage of all facets of the credit card space, including market trends, rewards guides, credit advice, and comprehensive credit card reviews.

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BestCards is an independent, Florida-based credit card comparison platform. Many of the card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which BestCards receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). BestCards does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.