Editorial Policy

When should you ask for a credit limit increase?

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

April 14, 2014

QHi Eva,

I got my first credit card with a $2,000 limit. I know that having a higher credit limit can help my credit scores. But should I apply for multiple cards? Or should I try to get a credit limit increase on my existing card? And, if I do that, how long do I have to use the card before it's safe to ask my bank for an increase? –Mitzi

ADear Mitzi,

To build an excellent credit score, as you rightly assume, it is best to have higher credit limits, and not just on one card, but with two to four credit cards. This way, you get high points on several components of FICO scores; it shows that you are able to handle a variety of credit lines responsibly.Ask Eva

I assume you pay your bills on time and keep the card balances low, ideally 10 to 20 percent of your credit limits. With this simple strategy, within a year or two, you'll be well on your way to establishing an excellent credit score.

But move slowly. If you ask for too much credit too fast, it could backfire, as credit scoring models tend to punish too many credit inquiries. To get started, follow these steps:

1. Check your credit score. With a high credit score, new credit inquiries are less likely to hurt you than if you have a low credit score.

A $2,000 credit limit on a new card is not bad when you're building credit, so chances are that your credit is fairly good.  You can estimate your FICO score using this credit score calculator from Bankrate.com. Or for $19.95, you can download your FICO score from one of the three leading credit rating agencies at myFICO.com.

2. Apply for one or two additional credit cards. If your credit score is good, which usually means a FICO score above 680, chances are that you could get accepted for one or two more credit cards. You can look for credit cards for people with good credit online, or, if your score is above 720, check out the cards for excellent credit. Keep in mind that when you apply for credit cards your credit score will dip slightly, but it will likely recover within six to 12 months.

If your credit score isn't that great, (below 680), wait until it improves before applying for more credit. Use your existing card regularly, keep balances low, and pay credit card bills in full each month, and your score will increase over time.

3. Ask your bank for a credit limit increase once a year. Most banks will consider a limit increase after at least a year of regular use. So, once you've built a history of regular and timely payments on your card, you can ask if it's possible to have your credit limit increased.

In some cases, the bank will give you a reply without pulling your credit report.  If they do pull your credit report, they will ask for your permission.

4. Take your time. While credit inquiries typically shave less than five points off a person's credit score, inquiries have a greater impact on people with few credit accounts and a short credit history, according to myFICO.com. When you're just starting out, keep credit inquiries to one to two a year.

Once you have two to four credit cards, grow your credit limits by asking your bank for credit limit increases once a year.  Pay bills on time and keep balances low across all your cards, and within a few years, you will build a great credit score and have easy access to all the credit you need.

Got a question for Eva? Send her an email.