When is the best time to apply for a credit card?

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If you’re looking to apply for a credit card, you may wonder if there’s a best time to submit an application. There are always limited-time bonus offers that may tempt you to apply, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best time to sign up.

Before you apply for a credit card, you should take a moment to consider why you want a new one. Are you opening a new card in order to take advantage of an introductory financing offer? Or are you just tempted by the promise of a lot of rewards if you spend a certain amount of money within a certain time frame. Welcome bonuses are great, as long as you have the means to pay off the card in full at the end of your billing cycle.

Beyond the motives for why you want a new card, you should also consider how you’ll use it. That can help you choose the best card for your needs.

Below, CNBC Select takes a look at the best times to apply for a credit card.

When you turn 18

Financial experts recommend young people start building credit as soon as possible. A good time to apply for a credit card is when you turn 18, since that’s the minimum age requirement for opening your first card.

College student credit cards are a smart choice for students looking to establish credit. Some cards even offer incentives for students to maintain good grades. The Discover it® Student Cash Back provides a $20 Good Grade Reward when you maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA during the school year (for up to five consecutive years).

To build or rebuild credit

If you have less than stellar credit, it’s a good idea to work on improving your credit score. Applying for a secured card is a good way to establish credit and help raise your credit score. These cards are geared toward people with less than stellar credit scores and can provide better qualification chances than other cards.

To get out of debt

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, you may want to consider a balance transfer. You can transfer high-interest debt to a balance transfer credit card offering no interest for up to 21 months. This allows you plenty of time to pay off debt without expensive interest charges.

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card is our top pick for a no-fee balance transfer card, offering a 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR) and no balance transfer fee. (See rates and fees.)

If you want more time to pay off debt, the Citi Simplicity® Card offers a 0% APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers (then 16.24% to 26.24% variable APR). This card does come with one of the steeper balance transfer fees: 5% (minimum $5). But this can be worthwhile if you’re paying high interest charges.

When you plan on making a big-ticket purchase

If you have a large purchase coming up, it can be beneficial to open a credit card offering no interest for over a year. This allows you to pay off the balance over time without incurring interest.

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 15.74% to 25.74% variable APR). If you make a big ticket purchase (or purchases), such as new furniture or appliances, during the intro period, you can save a great deal on interest charges.

For example, if you use the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card to charge $1,500 at card opening, then make $100 monthly payments, you’d pay off debt in 15 months with no interest. That’s roughly $197 in savings compared to using a card with no intro 0% APR period (assuming the average 16.97% APR, according to the Fed).

When there’s a great welcome bonus

Credit cards often boast limited-time welcome bonuses or exclusive offers that can add up to enhanced rewards during the first few months after account opening. To maximize the amount of rewards you can earn, you first have meet the spending requirements.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening — which is worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Avoid opening a card solely for the welcome bonus. While it’s a nice perk, consider the other rewards and fees before applying to make sure the card is a good fit and that you can easily afford any spending requirements.

You’re pre-qualified for a card

Many card issuers provide pre-qualification forms, which allow you to gauge your chances of qualifying for a credit card. Filling out a pre-qualification form does not hurt your credit, so it’s a great way to shop around for the best offers. Sometimes these forms will come with targeted welcome offers, giving you an opportunity to earn more rewards.

Once you submit an actual application, you give the card issuer permission to check your credit, which is called a hard inquiry (or “hard pull”). This can temporarily lower your credit score a few points, but it’ll bounce back in a few months.

If you pre-qualify for a card, that does not guarantee you’ll be approved, since issuers take more factors into consideration, such as your monthly housing payment and employment status, with an official application.

Information about the Amex EveryDay®, Citi Simplicity®, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards, and Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

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