Everything You Should Know About Credit Card Application Rules in 2019

Rules can vary by card issuer, so it’s essential to know how to avoid unnecessary applications.
10/3/19 | By Ben Luthi
how to keep credit card application rules straight

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation when you click links to products or services mentioned in this story. The opinions and recommendations are the author's own and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Learn more about how we make money.

If you’re an experienced credit card user looking to maximize your rewards with multiple credit cards at the same time, you may run into some issues when applying for a new card.

In an effort to curtail abuse, many credit card issuers have instituted official and unofficial credit card application rules that can make it difficult to get approved for your next card. Depending on the issuer, you may be denied based on how many open accounts you have, how many recent cards you’ve opened, and more.

Here’s what we know about these credit card application rules and what you can do to comply with them and avoid unnecessary denials.

Why credit card application rules exist

Credit card users are savvier than ever, forcing credit card issuers to compete for new business. This environment has given rise to lucrative bonus offers on several of the best credit cards, some of which are worth upwards of $1,000.

While these incentives are relatively successful at enticing consumers to apply, advanced credit card users began to take advantage of these offers and were churning (i.e., apply, get the bonus, cancel, then repeat) the same credit cards over and over again.

As a result, many card issuers have created credit card application rules to reduce abuse of these rewards programs or prevent it entirely. If you’re caught abusing your credit card’s policies after you’re approved, the card’s issuer may choose to shut down your account.

The exact rules can vary by credit card issuer, and traditional eligibility requirements, such as credit score, income, and payment history, still apply. By understanding the various credit card application rules, you can avoid wasting a credit inquiry by applying for a card you’re likely ineligible for from the get-go.

Credit card application rules at a glance

Max. number of cards How often you can apply Restrictions on welcome offers Unofficial rules to consider
Amex Five Two cards every 90 days Once in a lifetime N/A
Bank of America Some are limited to four N/A Every 24 months 2/3/4
Barclays No set limit but data indicates no more than one of each card One card every six months/only one card at a time Wait at least six months to reapply if you decide to cancel a card The issuer may look at spending across all open Barclays cards and consider the number of new accounts opened in the past 24 months
Capital One Two One card every six months None Some data points show all three credit bureaus are pulled upon applying
Chase No limit Two personal cards per month; one business card per month Every 24 or 48 months 5/24
Citibank No limit One personal card every eight days; two personal cards every 65 days; one business card every 95 days 24 months from opening or closing the account None
Discover Two First card must be open at least one year None None
Wells Fargo No limit N/A Every 15 months Typically want you to have an existing relationship with the bank before approving card application

Amex credit card application rules

American Express offers several travel and cashback credit cards, some of which earn valuable Membership Rewards points. If you’re considering adding some Amex cards to your wallet, here’s what you should know.

How often you can apply

There are no published rules regarding how often you can get a new Amex credit card. But based on data points, you can only get one credit card per five-day period and two credit cards every 90 days.

However, these limits don’t apply to the issuer’s charge cards, including the Platinum Card from American Express.

How many cards you can have

American Express limits you to five credit cards. Again, that limit doesn’t extend to charge cards, so it’s possible to have more than five cards total between the two types.

Restrictions on welcome offers

Amex has the strictest rules on welcome offers, limiting cardholders to just one bonus per card per lifetime. Because of this, it’s important to time your Amex card applications for when high limited-time offers are available.

If you don’t remember whether you’ve had a specific Amex card before, the card issuer will let you know during the application process to save you an unnecessary credit inquiry.

Affected Amex cards

These rules apply to most, if not all, Amex credit cards, including:

Bank of America credit card application rules

Bank of America doesn’t have a lot of travel credit cards in its quiver, but some of them can be valuable for the right traveler. Here’s what you should know about the bank’s application restrictions.

How often you can apply

You can apply as often as you’d like, but there’s an unspoken rule that the bank will only approve you for up to two cards every two months, three cards every 12 months, and four cards every 24 months. This is also referred to as the 2/3/4 rule.

In general, if you apply for more than one card on the same day, Bank of America will merge the two inquiries into one when reporting to the credit bureaus.

How many cards you can have

There’s no official limit to how many Bank of America credit cards you can have. Instead, the bank may limit accounts based on how much available credit you have across all your credit cards with them. That said, some people have reported being limited to four cards.

Restrictions on welcome offers

Bank of America recently added a new rule that you cannot receive a sign-up bonus on many of its cards if you’ve applied or had the card in the past 24 months. Be sure to read the terms and conditions before you apply.

Affected Bank of America cards

These rules apply to most, if not all, Bank of America credit cards, including:

  • Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card

Barclays credit card application rules

Barclays offers a wide array of airline, hotel, and cruise credit cards, as well as its flagship Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®. If you want flexible general travel rewards, points, or miles with a specific brand, here’s what to know.

How often you can apply

Barclays doesn’t have a set limit for how often you can apply for credit cards, but waiting six months between each card application is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Also, if you’re applying for multiple cards in a short period, it may be a good idea to put some spend on other cards you have with the issuer, if applicable, to improve your chances of being approved.

How many cards you can have

There’s no limit to how many Barclays credit cards you can have. However, some rumored data points indicate you may be denied for the Arrival Plus if you have too many accounts across all card issuers.

Restrictions on welcome offers

Barclays allows cardholders to qualify for a sign-up bonus on the same card more than once. Don’t apply too soon after you cancel your account, though; it’s a good rule of thumb with the issuer to wait at least six months to reapply.

Affected Barclays cards

These rules cover all Barclays credit cards, including:

Capital One credit card application rules

Capital One is unique among major credit card issuers in that it runs a hard inquiry on all three of your credit reports when you apply. So if you’re worried about having too many inquiries, it may be best to avoid the card issuer altogether. Otherwise, here are some other rules to watch out for.

How often you can apply

Capital One limits cardholders to one new card every six months, so if you’re thinking about getting a couple of cards from the issuer, apply for one, then set a reminder in half a year.

How many cards you can have

You’re limited to having just two personal Capital One-branded credit cards in your wallet. This restriction doesn’t apply, however, to business credit cards or co-branded credit cards.

Restrictions on welcome offers

As long as you follow all the other rules, you shouldn’t run into any issues with getting an early spend bonus more than once on the same card. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be a required waiting period after you close a card to apply for it again and get the bonus.

Affected Capital One cards

These rules apply to all personal Capital One-branded credit cards, including:

Chase credit card application rules

Of all the major credit card issuers, Chase has the most credit card application rules, and the bank enforces them strictly — something to be mindful of if you intend to apply for more than one Chase credit card.

How often you can apply

New cardholders can get approved for up to two personal credit cards per month and one business credit card per month. So if you’re applying for multiple Chase cards, keep that in mind.

How many cards you can have

The bank doesn’t limit how many Chase credit cards you can have. However, you’ll have a hard time getting approved for a new Chase card if you’ve opened five or more new credit card accounts in the last 24 months. This 5/24 rule applies to most of the bank’s credit card lineup.

Restrictions on welcome offers

With most Chase credit cards, you can’t get a card’s sign-up bonus if you’ve received a bonus on that same card in the last 24 months.

Two major exceptions to this rule are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which don’t allow you to earn a sign-up bonus if you’ve received a bonus on any Sapphire card in the past 48 months.

Affected Chase cards

These rules apply to most Chase credit cards, including:

Citibank credit card application rules

Citibank doesn’t have as many must-have travel credit cards as some of the other card issuers on our list, but there are some restrictions to know if you’re planning to apply.

How often you can apply

Citibank limits cardholders to one personal credit card every eight days, two personal cards every 65 days, and one business credit card every 95 days. If you’re thinking of getting more than one of the bank’s credit cards, make sure to space out your applications accordingly.

How many cards you can have

The bank doesn’t have a limit on how many Citi credit cards you can have. They may, however, limit you based on the total available credit you have with them.

Restrictions on welcome offers

You can’t earn a sign-up bonus on a Citi-branded credit card if you’ve opened or closed the same card or a card in that family — for example, cards that offer Citi ThankYou points — in the last 24 months.

Affected Citibank cards

These credit card application rules apply to most, if not all, Citibank credit cards, including:

  • Citi ThankYou Premier Card
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Discover credit card application rules

Because Discover offers only one travel credit card, most travel credit card enthusiasts won’t run into any problems with the bank’s application rules. That said, here’s what you need to know if you intend to apply for multiple Discover credit cards.

How often you can apply

If you want more than one Discover credit card, you’ll need to wait at least one year after you open your first account with the bank to apply for a second.

How many cards you can have

Discover allows you to have only two of its credit cards at any given time as a primary account holder.

Restrictions on welcome offers

As long as you follow the other rules Discover has for its credit card applications, there are no restrictions on its cards’ sign-up bonuses.

Affected Discover cards

The primary cards Discover credit card users care about the most with these rules are the Discover it Miles and the Discover it Cash Match.

Wells Fargo credit card application rules

Wells Fargo is another bank that isn’t a heavy-hitter when it comes to travel rewards cards, but it may still be worth it to know the issuer’s rules if you plan to apply.

How often you can apply

Wells Fargo doesn’t have any official or unofficial restrictions for how often you can apply for the bank’s credit cards. That said, you typically need to have an existing relationship, such as a checking account, mortgage, or another type of loan, to qualify for a credit card.

How many cards you can have

There’s no limit to how many Wells Fargo credit cards you can have at any given time.

Restrictions on welcome offers

If you’ve opened any Wells Fargo credit card in the last 15 months, you may or may not earn the sign-up bonus on a new credit card account. This restriction is a lot broader than similar ones with other issuers, so make sure you haven’t recently opened a card with the bank before you apply for a new one.

Affected Wells Fargo cards

While Wells Fargo offers only a handful of credit cards, all of them may be subject to these rules. The only one experienced credit card users may be interested in, though, is the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card.

Advertising Policy

FinanceBuzz.com is an independent, advertising-supported website. Some of the offers that appear on this page are from third party advertisers from which FinanceBuzz.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear).

FinanceBuzz.com does not include all financial or credit offers that might be available to consumers in the marketplace. FinanceBuzz.com does not include all companies or all available products.

FinanceBuzz has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. FinanceBuzz and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone.