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Understanding Credit Card Application Rules and Restrictions

February 8, 2024
Sam Helmy
There are many credit card application rules and restrictions; sadly, not all financial institutions have the same rules and restrictions. So here is an overview of the rules from the major issues.

Almost every single credit card issuer has its own set of credit card application rules and restrictions. Unfortunately, these are not universal across issuers and vary depending on the individual institutions’ risk appetite and strategy. We recently looked at a travel rewards strategy for both co-brand credit cards and flexible points credit cards. Here, we will look at the main credit card application rules for the main flexible points card issuers.

Understanding credit card application rules is key to successful applications

Chase Credit Card Application Rules

Chase has some rules and restrictions covering a wide range of areas, from your line of credit to how many times you can earn a welcome bonus, and it’s now the famous 5/24 rule.

The famous 5/24 rule

Perhaps the most famous of all credit card application rules since it was one of the first around, and there was some confusion about how it works. Simply Chase lets you open no more than 5 cards in a 24-month period. So, if you have been approved for 5 cards or more in the last 24 months, you will be ineligible for most Chase cards regardless of your credit score or any other considerations.

Remember this does not only apply to chase cards, but to all of them. So Chase will look at cards you opened with Amex, Citi, Capital One, and others. One thing to note, and this is where you will need to do some research, is that Chase does not count every card as one of the 5. So in some cases you may have already applied for 5 cards but can still be approved for a new Chase Card.

Chase Line Of Credit restrictions

Chase offers its customers a total line of credit depending on their financial situation. So, you will only be allowed to have a maximum line of credit with Chase. If your card limits reach that, you will be unable to receive another card since your credit line is at its maximum. However, you may be able to speak to Chase and have them transfer some of the credit lines from your existing cards to a new card.

Successful applications mean you can earn points and miles for everyday purchases

Chase Welcome Bonus Restrictions

Since Chase lumps its cards into families, the restrictions tend to apply to families of cards. For instance, when it comes to most co-brand credit cards, you can only earn a welcome bonus for a given card once every 24 months. So, if you open a card, earn the bonus, and subsequently close the card. You will not be eligible for another welcome bonus if you have received the first one in a 24-month period.

When it comes to the Sapphire card family, the process is more restrictive. Here, you will not be able to earn a new welcome bonus if you have earned a bonus in the last 48 months. Sadly, this does not only apply to the same card but to any card in the Sapphire family.

American Express Application Rules

Amex has some of the most restrictive and opaque rules when it comes to credit card applications and welcome bonuses.

Amex Signup Bonus Restrictions

The fine print of most Amex cards indicates that you will be ineligible to earn a welcome bonus. If you have held the card before and received a welcome bonus. This is framed as a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus. However, as many online data points indicate, you can receive a second bonus. However, you will have to wait several years.

Amex does not publish any details about the exact details of what it considers a lifetime. However, as a rule of thumb, expect it to be five years or more.

Amex Maximum number of cards

Again, Amex does not publish exact guidelines and rules, so most of what is available is based on second-hand information and online data points. As a rule of thumb, it seems that you can hold a maximum of five American Express cards at any one time. The rule applies to both personal and small business cards.

American Express issues a wide range of co-brand airline and hotel credit cards.

Amex Application Frequency Rules

Yet again, with no defined rules, this is based on anecdotal data. However, it seems that Amex only allows you to apply for a card every 90 days, regardless of your credit score. One thing to not is that there are some exceptions to this when applying for certain combinations of cards.

Capital One Application Rules

A relative newcomer in the travel rewards market, Capital One has some of the strictest rules and restrictions. Currently, there are two points of view about how many Capital One cards you can have. On the one hand, many data points suggest that you can only have two personal Capital One cards. However, there are a few other instances where it is clear that you could possibly have up to 5 Capital One cards.

Recent Applications

According to multiple sources, Capital One looks deeply into the number of recent credit applications on your credit file. So, if you have applied for any cards recently and have excellent credit, your application may still be declined. So make sure you have not applied for any cards for a while before making an application to Capital One.

Some credit cards will let you access the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge when flying Air Canada
Some credit cards will let you access the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge when flying Air Canada

Capital One Sign-Up Bonus Restrictions

As a rule, Capital One has a relatively strict policy when it comes to receiving a welcome bonus the second time around. In the fine print of most Capital One terms and conditions, it is clear that you will be ineligible for a welcome bonus. If you have already received one in the last 48 months. Bear in mind some cards may genuinely only have a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus.

Citi ThankYou Rules

Citi has a few rules governing its credit card applications. These cover the usual sign-up bonus eligibility and how often you can apply for a Citi ThankYou credit card.

Sign-Up bonus Restrictions

While some cards do vary, Citi has the same rule for the vast majority of its card lineup. You will not be eligible to receive a welcome bonus if you have received one in the previous 48 months. According to multiple sources, this applies to both Citi ThankYou cards and a host of other co-brand credit cards like those for American Airlines and more.

Using your card for everyday purchases can help you reach your next travel rewards

Citi Application Frequency Restrictions

Citi has one of the more unusual and restrictive application frequency rules. You can only apply for a card every 8-day period, and you can only apply for two cards in a 65-day period. So once you have applied for your second card, you will have to wait a while before applying for another card.

Marriott Bonvoy Cards

While Marriott Bonvoy is one of the major flexible points currencies, it does not have its own set of rules. Since Marriott is not a financial institution, it does not issue its own cards. Instead, most Marriott cards are issued by American Express and Chase. So, if you are interested in applying for a specific Marriott card you will have to either follow Chase or Amex rules to be approved for a new card.

A Note About Application Rules

If you have noticed so far most of the rules are based on anecdotal data. There is a reason for that, and it is that almost every issuer does not publicly publish what the exact rules are. However, over the years, when asked at press conferences and such. Executives often confirm the rules and how they work to a degree.

The right points and miles can unlock thousands of dollars worth of premium travel.
The right points and miles can unlock thousands of dollars worth of premium travel.

The main reason these rules are not set in stone publicly is twofold. First, they can be changed at will without much fanfare. Second, when they want, the institution can choose to ignore its own rules to meet its own goals and objectives, without any complaints.

However, this lack of clarity can be confusing and annoying and makes researching and figuring out these rules harder than ever.

Final Thoughts

If you do not fully grasp and digest credit card application rules. Then applying and getting approved for a card can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. Even if you have excellent credit. A small misunderstanding here or there can lead to multiple rejections and declined applications.

While this may be frustrating and annoying, it does have another negative impact since every time your application is declined, it will show on your credit file. This has a negative effect on your credit score. Therefore, understanding credit card rules and restrictions not only increases your chances of being approved but can also serve to preserve your credit score.