Fortune Recommends™ is editorially independent. We may earn affiliate revenue from links in this content.

What is an instant-access credit card?

January 12, 2023, 5:06 PM UTC
Updated January 23, 2023, 7:06 PM UTC
Photo illustration of a person making a purchase by tapping their credit card on the reader.
Having immediate access to your card number could help you start racking up those rewards or benefiting from that sign-up bonus sooner rather than later.
Photo illustration by Fortune; Original photo by Getty Images

Sometimes the hardest part of a credit card application can be waiting to receive your new card in the mail after you’ve been approved. But more and more issuers now offer instant-access credit cards that give consumers access to their line of credit without having to wait five to seven business days. 

What is an instant-access credit card?  

Instant access cards allow you to immediately use a line of credit once you’ve been approved for the credit card. You can access it via a digital credit card number that can be used on your phone or online. 

“If you’re approved, [you’re] able to immediately use your credit card either with the credit card number or with push provisioning, so you can add it to your Apple wallet or your Google Wallet and use it right there in that moment,” says Michael Spelfogel, cofounder and president of Cardless, a fintech company that offers co-branded, digital-first rewards credit cards.  

Instant approval is not the same as instant access. Some card offers may advertise themselves as instant approvals, but you may still have to wait for your physical card to arrive in the mail even if you’ve been approved online. 

A few popular card options that offer consumers instant access cards include: 

  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Your eligibility for an instant card number will depend on Amex’s ability to verify your identity. If it can’t authenticate your identity, you’ll need to wait for a physical card to be mailed to you, which typically happens within three to five days of account approval.
  • Apple Card: Once you’ve applied for the Apple Card, you can receive a virtual card number and add it to your Apple wallet right away. If you prefer to use a physical card, you can request one via your Apple wallet; this typically takes six to eight business days to arrive, according to Apple. 
  • Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®: Eligible cardholders can use their Capital One credit card instantly by creating an account and verifying their identity on Capital One’s site or mobile application, according to Capital One. The Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Mastercard® also offers instant access to credit through the Walmart app for online and in-store purchases.

Pros and cons of instant-access cards 

Instant-access cards offer a number of benefits for consumers, although there are some cons, particularly for card issuers. 

Pros

  • There’s no waiting for a physical card. Some consumers may be looking to add a new card to their wallet to help them build credit, but others may be relying on a new credit card to cover an immediate expense. Having instant access to a card number could be a huge benefit for a consumer who is in a pinch and needs a quick solution.
  • You can start earning rewards and benefit from any introductory offers. Your introductory offer and ability to earn rewards are typically active the moment you’re approved for your card, not when it arrives in the mail. Having immediate access to your card number could help you start racking up those rewards or benefiting from that sign-up bonus sooner rather than later. 

Cons:

  • It could remove the pain of paying. One of the drawbacks of a digital-first approach is that it removes the physical notion of handing over a card at checkout. It’s a lot easier to lose track of what you’re spending and throw your budget off track when you’ve auto-filled your payment info with your card number and don’t actually have to input your info or pay with a physical card. 
  • You may only get access to a fraction of your credit limit. Cardholders should be mindful that when they receive their instant access card, they may only have access to a percentage of their line of credit, as the bank runs a proper background check and mails out the physical card. Once you have the actual credit card, you’ll have access to your entire credit line.

The takeaway 

Instant-access cards are becoming more common in our shifting, digital-first society, and consumers stand to benefit the most. “It’s a form of liquidity,” says Spelfogel. “There are a lot of Americans that are not just getting credit cards right now for the rewards…they're doing it because they want to borrow money too. And that's why credit and credit cards are so valuable. We view ourselves as a way to increase access to credit, especially during the holiday season.”

Follow Fortune Recommends on Facebook and Twitter.

EDITORIAL DISCLOSURE: The advice, opinions, or rankings contained in this article are solely those of the Fortune Recommends editorial team. This content has not been reviewed or endorsed by any of our affiliate partners or other third parties.