Nowadays, consumers can get instant approval when they apply for certain credit cards, but it can take another week or two before that powerful plastic rectangle arrives in the mail. For many, that’s just fine — they can just use other credit cards and debit cards in their wallets.
But what if you need to use that card the day you’re approved? That’s where instant use credit cards come in. An instant use credit card allows you to make purchases immediately, either through a barcode, digital card number or your digital wallet.
Not every credit card issuer offers instant credit card numbers, and some issuers may only offer it on select credit cards. If you don’t have time to wait for a physical credit card in the mail, prioritize applying for one of these coveted cards.
An instant use credit card allows consumers to begin using their new line of credit as soon as they are approved. Rather than swipe a physical card, consumers pay digitally — like through Apple Pay or Google Pay, with a digital account number or even using a barcode.
Co-branded credit cards — like store cards, airline cards, and hotel cards — are common candidates, but even some other common travel and rewards credit cards are available for instant use. American Express, for example, offers an instant credit card number for all of its cards (as long as you apply online).
Upon approval for an instant use credit card, the card issuer will provide you with a method for using the card digitally, typically through a barcode or an instant credit card number.
In either case, you should still expect your physical credit card to arrive in the mail — usually within one to two weeks.
If a credit card company doesn’t offer instant use for the card you want, you can call to try to expedite shipping of the physical card. You may pay extra for this service.
Instant credit card numbers offer a lot of perks to those who qualify:
While an instant credit card number doesn’t inherently have any downsides, they make impulse buying easier. Think critically before applying.
Instant use cards offer consumers a lot of perks without any downsides (as long as you can responsibly manage a credit card). But finding a card offering instant approval and instant use can be harder than you might think.
Many card issuers offer instant use for a select number of cards, meaning you’ve got to navigate through their offerings to find eligible cards. American Express is the big exception: As long as you apply on a computer or smart device, you should get instant access upon approval.
Here’s a list of major card issuers — and the low down on their instant approval credit cards:
As long as you apply for your Amex online, you should receive an instant credit card number to begin making online retail purchases, add the card to your digital wallet and even make travel purchases through Amex Travel.
This applies to core American Express cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred, American Express Blue Cash Everyday, American Express Gold Card and American Express Platinum Card.
It also applies to co-branded cards, like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Card
Bank of America is one of many banks that offers some instant use cards. Several of its co-branded cards offer instant use, as do the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card and Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card.
The catch? You’ll need to apply through the mobile app. This makes it more attractive for current Bank of America members who already have the app downloaded.
Like Bank of America, Barclays offers instant credit card numbers for some of its co-branded cards, including several airline and cruise cards. Among these cards are the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard, JetBlue Card and Carnival World Mastercard.
If you already have Capital One, you can get an instant credit card number upon approval if you meet specific criteria. That number will be available in the Capital One app, which you can use for online retail purchases or purchases made over the phone.
Chase has credit cards on both the Visa and Mastercard networks, but only its Visa cards offer instant use — and even then, not all the Visas.
Notably, some of our favorite Chase cards do offer instant use via digital wallets, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited. Two top airline cards also make the cut: the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the United Explorer Card.
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card from Chase is not only instantly available for use on Amazon, but it also includes an instant sign-up bonus: a $100 Amazon gift card. This card has no annual fee and offers sizable cash back rewards. (Non-Amazon Prime members can qualify for the Amazon Rewards Card; it has a smaller sign-up bonus and lower rewards rates but is also available for instant use.)
The list of Chase exclusions is long, however. You won’t get instant use with any of the following Chase credit cards: Disney Visa Card, Disney Premier Visa, Chase Freedom Flex, IHG Rewards Traveler Credit Card and Aeroplan Credit Card, to name a few. Chase’s business credit cards are also excluded.
Citi’s core credit cards are not instant use (though all cards are eligible for immediate approval). However, some of Citi’s notable co-branded credit cards do offer instant card numbers, like the Costco Anywhere Visa Card and Citi’s American Airlines cards.
SoFi only offers one credit card — the SoFi Credit Card — but it is immediately available upon approval.
Synchrony offers two co-branded retail cards that offer instant use: the PayPal Cashback Mastercard and Venmo Credit Card.
Several co-branded store cards — like the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card by Chase, the Apple Card by Goldman Sachs and the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard — offer instant card numbers.
Some large retailers also offer closed-loop credit cards (cards that you can only use at that store) with instant use capabilities, including the Target RedCard, Walmart Rewards Card and Kohl’s Credit Card.
Instant use cards offer a number of perks, but the instant gratification may tempt you to open a card without fully thinking it through. Here are some things to consider before applying:
Some cards mentioned above charge an annual fee for you to keep them open. If you don’t envision yourself using the card beyond the initial purchase — or infrequently enough that it’s not worth paying an annual fee — skip out. There are enough instant use cards on the market that you should be able to find one that suits your needs without an annual fee.
The appeal of immediate access to credit can lure you in to applying for a card, but research the APR before doing so. While we recommend never carrying a balance month to month (that’s how you avoid paying credit card interest), you should prioritize cards with a lower interest rate, just in case.
Some instant use credit cards offer a 0% intro APR. This makes them helpful when financing a major purchase. As long as you can pay off the balance during that introductory period, you won’t have to worry about accruing interest.
It’s not just the annual fee and APR you need to consider. Think about foreign transaction fees if you plan to use the card abroad and balance transfer fees if you want to carry over a balance from a high-interest credit card.
Traveling internationally? While American Express offers instant use for all its cards, you’ll have more trouble finding merchants that take Amex when spending abroad.
Getting instant access to a line of credit is great, but think about the long term. Ideally, you should choose a credit card that offers cash back (as a statement credit) or rewards points or miles for every purchase.
Looking for a great rewards credit card? Check out our favorites:
Rewards cards also typically offer a welcome bonus to reward you for immediate spending. It’s easier to earn your sign-up bonus with an instant use card since you’ll have access to the card sooner.
While you shouldn’t prioritize a credit card solely because of its sign-up bonus, such welcome offers can be important to your larger overall consideration.
Can’t choose the right rewards credit card for your wallet? Think about other perks, like a statement credit for airfare or checked bags. Co-branded airline and hotel credit cards are more likely to offer such perks — and many are instant use.
The Platinum Card by American Express might be the most perk-heavy card available, with a statement credit for everything from streaming services to hotel stays to Uber Eats. And like all Amex cards, this one’s available for use instantly.
Borrowers with fair credit can usually qualify for store credit cards, but travel and rewards cards are typically reserved only for consumers with good or excellent credit. Before applying, make sure your credit score is strong enough to guarantee approval.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati who covers banks, loans, insurance, travel and automotive topics for The Penny Hoarder.
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