Pre-screened Credit Card Offers

  • What’s the difference between being prescreened versus pre-qualified?
    • In short, prescreens are initiated by creditors while pre-qualifications are initiated by consumers. This is why creditors use language like “you’re invited to prequalify” as opposed to flat out telling you that you’re pre-screened.
    • Prescreening is essentially targeted marketing by creditors. The ‘targeting’ is accomplished by creditors selecting consumers (through filtering of information held at major credit bureaus) that they deem to be creditworthy. Prequalification is similar, but a more broad solicitation. For example, creditors can’t prescreen to consumers under 21 – but there are no such restrictions on prequalification.
    • To illustrate – prequalification is asking if the cute girl across the bar is single, prescreening is your best friend telling you that cute girl wants to grab drinks later.
  • How did I get prescreened; how do creditors have my information if I don’t already have an account with them?
    • They utilize tradeline summary data from the major credit bureaus. This doesn’t require a hard inquiry, meaning that being pre-screened doesn’t affect your credit score. Although when you do submit an application for credit, creditors will then pull your full file – resulting in a hard inquiry.
    • The annoying part of prescreening is that you literally don’t have to take any action to be prescreened by creditors. But to stop receiving offers, you have to initiate the process to opt-out. To opt-out of prescreen offers, be prepared to provide your name, address, SSN and date of birth at to be removed from the bureaus’ “eligible prescreened candidate list”. You can also call 1-888-567-8688 and provide the same four pieces of information.
  • What criteria are creditors looking for?
    • It depends. As with any other loan product, different creditors have different standards of stringency. But common examples include: whether or not you’ve had a loan charged off, the number of past due payments you’ve had over a certain time period (say three years or so), or bankruptcies.
  • So… what’s in it for me?
    • The good news is that if you’re seeking new credit card offers, many prescreened offers are accompanied by benefits for new customers – temporarily lower APR, cash bonus if spend a certain amount per year, etc.
    • The crux that the prescreen process is built on is that creditors can only pull your credit bureau info if they make you a firm offer of credit. This means that if, at time t = 0, you meet the creditor’s criteria of X, Y, and Z, then when you apply at time, t = 1 and you still meet those criteria, the creditor must approve your application. If there are material differences to your credit profile between t0 and t1, then may not get approved.
    • If you’re not looking for new offers, then on behalf of all those creditors clogging your mailbox, I apologize. Make sure you recycle those letters and opt out of prescreened offers ASAP.
  • Is there anything else I should know about prescreening?
    • Be advised that not all credit card offers that end up in your mailbox are prescreened offers. Sometimes, creditors just invite you to apply via mass marketing campaigns. You can discern prescreen offers by their FCRA disclosure which contains, in legally-required all caps: PRESCREEN FCRA DISCLOSURE.
    • You know those times when you talk about cat food in conversation and then you’re inundated with cat food ads on Google for days and days? A similar phenomenon happens when it comes to pre-screening. Some of the criteria that companies use is information on *where* you’re trying to get credit. If you request a quote for car insurance, you may find several other car insurance offers in your mailbox. It’s not because they’re selling your information to their competition (because why would they?). It’s because part of their prescreening criteria is to filter by what soft inquiries you have on your profile.

What other questions do you all have about credit? I’d love to know and am happy to educate!

— J

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