Here’s What to Do With Those Credit Card Pre-approval Offers You Get in the Mail

You check the mailbox. In between the ubiquitous Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon, snail mail from your Aunt Clarita, and a bill you’d rather ignore, you see it: you’ve been pre-approved for a brand new credit card!

Holy shitballs, what luck! Of all the random folks with mailing addresses, you have been deemed special enough to receive a credit card pre-approval offer! Bring out your finest meats and cheeses, for surely this means you are that most superior of beings: a person worthy of credit! Dance about the maypole and imbibe your most decadent libations!

You should call your bestie, your family, your therapist! Things are looking up now that a credit card company has bestowed upon you a pre-approval offer. Cancel your evening plans, for you need to respond to this with… an application? For… a credit card? For which you’re already… “approved”???

Something’s off. If you receive a credit card pre-approval offer in the mail, shouldn’t that mean you don’t need to apply for it? Especially since you didn’t even ask them to consider pre-approving you.

Today we’re going to teach you what those credit card pre-approval offers are really all about. And we’ll show you exactly what to do with them. It’s easy, it’s fast, and anyone can do it! Read on to learn The Deep Magicke.

What to do with credit-card pre-approval offers

Throw them away.

That’s literally it. Rip ’em up and throw them away. Or if you’re a bleeding heart lib’rul cuck like we are, recycle them. No further action required.

As tempting and celebratory as those credit card pre-approval offers seem, they’re not actually gifts. They’re advertisements. They serve no purpose other than to sell you something. And we’ve told you before about the money-draining power of advertisements. But just in case, here’s a summary of the insidious nature of ads:

  • The average person sees between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements every single fucking day.
  • Clever marketing professionals design ads to make you feel like the only thing standing between you and eternal happiness is their product. Their tricks are sophisticated, even to the point where you’re excited to see the ad (see the scenario in the intro).
  • Even when ads don’t work, they are an unnecessary drain on your time, attention, and processing power.

So you should just fucking throw them away.

Why you get credit card pre-approval offers

Credit card companies send out these pre-approval offers based on a soft credit check. This is a totally benign, non-invasive process that most people don’t even notice. Unlike a hard credit check, it doesn’t affect your credit score in any way. And you don’t even have to consent to it happening.

Credit card companies perform these soft checks as a way of doing market research for their advertisements. They target you as a potential customer, send you the advertisement credit card pre-approval offer, and hope you’re naive enough to take the bait.

Legally speaking, they can’t open an account for you without your consent, and they certainly can’t issue you a credit card unless you formally apply for one. So again, the pre-approval offer is little more than an ad. If you fast forward through the commercials in your favorite podcast (ours, naturally), then why would you waste any time opening an advertisement from a credit card company?

The worst thing about credit-card pre-approval offers

The worst part about these unsolicited credit card pre-approval offers is that they aren’t even real. You can fill out the paperwork and still get declined for the credit card!

CC company: “Here, have a credit card.”

An innocent human, going about their business: “Thanks, that’s so nice of you—”

CC company: “PSYCH! Hahaha! The look on your face! You thought you were actually worthy of credit! Instead we just wasted your time and got your hopes up! That’s fucking hilarious!”

When you get a pre-approval offer, you have to fill out the enclosed application. And that application can be denied based on your actual income and credit score. Even though they tell you you’re “pre-approved.”

It’s the ultimate bait-and-switch. They tell you you’re pre-approved just to trick you into applying for their credit card. And personally, I don’t have time for that shit.

Protect yourself

As much fun as I had finding trash gifs for this article, I have to admit it’s not as simple as just throwing this garbage away. Of course not! [Morphs into angry old man shaking his fist.] They’re intruding on your life and making this all your problem! These bastards have created more work for you! They couldn’t just leave you in peace!

So there’s two things you should do to protect yourself.

1. Rip up the application

If you live in an area where dumpster diving is common, or your worry about identity theft in general, it’s a good idea to just rip up the application that comes with the pre-approval offer. Just in case it contains any personally identifying information.

I’m not an expert on identity theft, but we’ve covered a few ways to defend against it here.

2. Opt out

Our society is backwards in that you have to opt out rather than opt in to mail and phone advertising. And opting out sadly doesn’t always work. But it’s worth the try.

Go to and fill out the form at the bottom of the home page. At the end of this process, you should be exempt from receiving offers from credit card and insurance companies. Any of them that contact you after you’ve opted out are open to ~*litigious consequences*~. is kind of a strange animal, in that it’s run by the major credit reporting bureaus. They’re the ones who grant credit card companies access to your information through soft checks. So there’s some language on the site about the “benefits” of receiving firm offers from credit card issuers. Ignore this nonsense. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to opt-out of their shitty advertising and you absolutely should.

Save a tree. Prevent credit card pre-approval offers from reaching you in the first place.

What if you actually want a credit card?

If you’re actually in the market for a credit card… I still think you should throw credit card pre-approval offers away.

Lemme ‘splain.

You need a new winter coat. I happen to have a coat to give you! It’s a size too big, though. And the color is completely unflattering (it’s a true pastel and honey, you’re an Autumn). Also it’s not waterproof, and you live in Portland. And you were really hoping for something with a hood. But hey, other than all that, it’s exactly what you wanted: a new winter coat!

Should you take the coat I’m conveniently willing to give you right now? Or should you shop around for a coat that actually suits your needs? One that fits you, flatters your complexion, and protects you from the weather in your region?

Obviously, you should decline the coat and keep shopping. You are a savvy and intelligent baby bitch, and you know that with a little research and searching, you can find a coat that suits you perfectly, rather than settling for something that’s right in front of you, but won’t even keep you warm, dry, and fashionable in a Portland winter.

Thus also with credit cards. Just because you get an offer in the mail when you’re searching for a new credit card doesn’t mean that card is right for your lifestyle and finances. You’re far better off ignoring the credit card pre-approval offer and shopping for a card on your own.

The wide and wonderful world of credit cards

Not all credit cards are created equal! In fact, they come with a variety of fees and features. If you just apply for the first credit card to leap into your mailbox, you could end up wasting fucktons of money on annual fees and exorbitant interest rates. And you could miss out on fun perks like cash back and travel rewards points!

If you’re curious about how to weigh the pros and cons of various credit cards, start with our Guide to Baby Bitchling’s First Credit Card by Fisher Price. I promise the advice is easy to follow and not at all stressful. This is less like homework and more like shopping.

And if you spent this whole article going “Yeah but what the hell even is a credit card???” start here:

Now scrunch those pre-approvals into balls or fold them into paper airplanes for aerodynamic purposes and throw them away.

10 thoughts to “Here’s What to Do With Those Credit Card Pre-approval Offers You Get in the Mail”

  1. is chucking it back in the mail with ‘return to sender’ a thing because i’m in for costing them even if it’s only a few cents in postage

    1. I used to write NO!! all over the application in big letters with a black Sharpie and stuff it in the return envelope with all the other papers and send it back. I found it mildly satisfying.
      A lot of them no longer come with return envelopes; if you’re applying there’s a computer code of some kind. So now I shred anything with identifying information and recycle the rest.
      The last two of these I got in the mail had APRs of 25.15% and 29.74%. HOLY CRAP! My Credit Union VISA that I’ve had for years is at 8.4% (and gets paid off every month anyway unless there is a big-ticket emergency that has to be worked off over a couple of months).
      I’m a big fan of credit unions.

  2. I’m with you all as far as big banks being out to steal money, and junk mail being annoying. It’s frustrating because credit card companies *really do* hand out substantial rewards with these offers. I am usually unable to ignore what usually adds up to a $500-$1000/hour wage for “earning” a credit card sign-up bonus…and so I often find myself collecting the offers that arrive in the mail and organizing them for later use so that I can apply for the most lucrative offer. BUT…there is a dark side to all of it, and there are also some lessons that have not sunken in yet for a lot of folks in the finance/FIRE community. For a good run-down on what that dark side looks like, there was a piece in the NYT a couple of years ago about Brian Kelly, aka “The Points Guy,” and the culture behind all of this and the (surprising) impacts of credit card rewards on our society. Even if you don’t read the article or you’re not interested in credit cards, it’s worthwhile to at least learn about what interchange fees are and how they affect people at different income levels in the US. With all of that being said, I’ll make a point of throwing away the next offer that comes through. Unless it’s totally irresistible.

    1. Here’s that NYT article. Fascinating read (with the option to listen):

      I think collecting the offers to weigh against each other is a great way to be intentional about credit card offers. Could be even better than shredding them all and just researching starting from nowhere. Still, your whole comment makes me REALLY want to write about credit card rewards–the good AND the bad.

      1. One of the interesting takeaways for me from that article was that credit card rewards programs (and their associated offers) aren’t even a thing in other countries.

        This is because high interchange fees — the percentages that bank are allowed to charge merchants for every card sale — are illegal everywhere else. These fees are where banks make the lion’s share of their revenue from credit cards. A lot of people think it’s from interest on past-due payments, but that’s not the case…it’s interchange fees.

        It is strange that the people who put the largest shares of their $$ into interchange fees actually don’t even have credit cards. If you pay for something with cash or with a debit card, then that’s great for a bank because then they don’t need to give you cash back or airline miles or anything like that. And who pays for things without credit cards? Folks who with lower incomes of course.

        Also interesting to note that one of the biggest tools that credit card companies use to sell cards is airline miles, because nothing makes people feel rich like jet travel right? So the whole marketing strategy for signing people up for credit cards is burning literally tons of jet fuel.

        Understanding some of this isn’t helping me to break free, but who knows…maybe it’s a start?

  3. OptOutPreScreen works like a gem, just have to make sure when your 5 years is up you re-enroll. Another thing to keep in mind is you’re probably better off applying on your own to a card that suits your needs. As you say, just because they mail it to you doesn’t mean you’re going to get approved!

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