When you apply for a credit card, your new account is opened upon approval. But in most cases, you won't be able to use the card until you receive it in the mail.
That likely won't be a problem for many credit card users. But if you have a very specific need for the card and are on a tight deadline, you'll want to know what to expect.
While card issuers can vary, the longest you'll have to wait to get your new card is 10 business days. In some cases, though, you'll get the card sooner, and you may even be able to request to get the card expedited.
Here's what you need to know and why it's important.
See related: How do credit cards work?
How long it takes to get your card from a major credit card issuer
If your credit is good enough to get approved for a credit card and there's no reason for a card issuer to earmark your application for further review, you'll typically get an approval notification within seconds of submitting your application.
If you don't get approved right away, reach out to customer service, says Brett Holzhauer, a credit card expert at FinanceBuzz.com. It's possible that you were denied, but it could also be that the card issuer needs some more information to complete the application.
“The customer service agent may be able to tell you something you aren't aware of,” Holzhauer says.
And even if you're stressed about getting your card on time, kindness will go a long way, he adds.
Once your account has been approved, when you receive your card and can actually start using it can vary from issuer to issuer.
“Some will expedite if you request it,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, “but you may be charged a fee depending on the issuer.”
Here's what to expect from the major credit card issuers:
How long does it take to get a credit card from a major issuer?
- American Express: With most cards, you'll get the physical card within 7-10 business days. However, that timeline is shortened to 2-3 days for Platinum credit cards. In some cases, you can get instant access to your card number so you can start using it immediately. Just keep in mind that you may not have access to your full credit limit until you receive your card in the mail and activate it.
- Bank of America: You'll receive your card in the mail within 10 business days. Bank of America does not offer to expedite delivery.
- Barclays: Standard delivery is 7-10 days. But if you need it sooner, you can request next-day delivery for a $15 fee.
- Capital One: In most cases, you'll get your card within 7-10 business days. You can request expedited shipping if you need the card sooner, but the decision to do so is made on a case-by-case basis, and there's no guarantee.
- Chase: You can expect to receive your card within 3-5 business days, and the card issuer may expedite delivery upon request.
- Citi: You'll receive your card within 7-10 business days. If you need it sooner, you'll be out of luck because there's no option to expedite.
- Discover: The bank will deliver your card within 5-7 calendar days. There is no way to get the card sooner than that.
- U.S. Bank: Standard delivery for new cards is 7-10 business days, and there's no option to expedite the process if you need the card sooner.
- Wells Fargo: You can expect to receive the card within 5-7 business days. Wells Fargo does not offer expedited delivery.
If it takes longer than these estimates, it might be a good idea to check in.
“If it's taking longer than expected, be sure to call the issuer to let them know,” says Steiner. “They can send a new one and ensure that no charges were made on the other card.”
See related: Do you need current income to get a credit card?
How to time your application just right
If you need your credit card to pay for a big purchase or to prepare for a trip, it's important to have a strategy in place to make sure you get your card on time.
If you're just looking to make a big purchase with your new card or you want to get it before you go out of town, plan to apply at least a couple of weeks before you need the card.
American Express cards can be an exception to this rule because you can typically get instant access to your card number upon approval. But that's not guaranteed with every Amex credit card, so it's best to apply in advance to be safe.
If you're planning a trip and want to use a new sign-up bonus to cover part of the cost, though, more advance planning may be required.
Many credit card issuers offer sign-up bonuses as an incentive to encourage you to apply and start using your new credit card regularly. To qualify for the sign-up bonus, you'll typically get three months or 90 days to meet a minimum spending requirement.
“You'll want to give yourself the full three months to earn that bonus,” says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert for U.S. News. The last thing you want is to rush yourself and end up overspending just to get the incentive sooner, she adds.
If it's taking longer than expected, be sure to call the issuer to let them know. They can send a new one and ensure that no charges were made on the other card.
On top of that, give yourself enough lead time to book your trip in advance.
“You should be planning at least six to seven months out on a trip if you want to use a sign-up bonus to pay for part of the expenses,” says Holzhauer. “The airline or hotel may run out of space to accommodate customers using points to pay, and award rates may skyrocket as the date approaches.”
If you're already too late for that, though, all is not lost if you're flexible with your card choice. Some credit cards, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, allow you to redeem your rewards for travel retroactively.
Instead of booking directly with points or miles, you can use these cards to book travel through a third-party merchant. Then you'll have a set period during which you can redeem your rewards for those eligible travel purchases.
In other words, you don't need to have earned the sign-up bonus before you travel to be able to use it for that specific trip.
“This takes a ton of stress and time out of the equation,” says Holzhauer.
See related: 7 ways to attract targeted credit card offers
Once your account is approved, the sign-up bonus clock starts ticking
While many credit cards give you three months or 90 days to earn a sign-up bonus, you'll almost never get that full amount of time to meet the minimum spending requirement.
“From the card issuer's perspective, your account is opened when you're approved,” says Harzog. In other words, the promotional period starts when you're approved, not when you activate the card.
If the sign-up bonus period is 90 days and it takes 10 days to get the card, you'll actually have only 80 days to meet your spending goal.
As a result, it's important to know whether you can earn a sign-up bonus based on your regular spending habits, says Harzog, especially given the shortened period. Avoid the temptation to get a card that will require you to overspend just to meet the minimum spending requirement, she adds.
The bottom line
In most cases, it might not matter how long it takes for you to get your credit card. But if you have a specific plan for the card and you're on a deadline, it's important to plan in advance to avoid running out of time.
Even if you don't need the card for something specific, keep track of the days just in case the card gets lost in the mail, and you need to request a replacement.