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How to Use Your New Credit Card Before It’s Even Delivered

Some credit cards can be used immediately upon approval, weeks before your physical card arrives in the mail.

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Key takeaways

  • Some issuers offer instant-use credit cards that let you make purchases instantly upon approval.
  • An instant-use card allows you to start earning rewards or building credit without waiting for a physical card.
  • Don’t let the immediate access to a credit card tempt you into overspending before you have time to think through your purchase.

Ever applied for a credit card, then had to wait two weeks before you could make a purchase with it? Those days may be over. Where we once had to wait for a card to arrive in the mail to begin making charges, today’s instant-use credit cards and virtual credit cards can be used immediately without needing a physical card.

Cards you can use instantly make it easier to cover unexpected expenses, especially since many card issuers take up to 10 business days to deliver a card to your home. Here’s how you can access your card without having to wait for it.

What is an instant-use credit card?

Some issuers offer instant-use credit cards that let you make purchases with the card immediately upon approval. These can include retail cards, balance transfer cards and rewards cards. 

Not every issuer offers instant-use credit cards, but some that do include American Express, Capital One and Chase. Depending on the card, these issuers generally give you your card numbers online or via a digital wallet so you can shop in-person or online right after being approved. Some might also offer a virtual card number that masks your financial data, so you won’t risk exposing your physical card’s information before you receive it.

Ways to use your card immediately

Making purchases with an instant-use credit card depends largely on the type of card it is.

For example, American Express offers instant card numbers to eligible card members. Eligibility is based on American Express’ ability to instantly verify your identity, according to the issuer’s terms and conditions. You can add your instant card number to a digital wallet such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay or use your card number online anywhere American Express is accepted.

Capital One may offer members virtual card access through the Capital One app, or through a browser extension called Eno. However, virtual card numbers may not be available for all Capital One cards.

You can use your new Chase credit card instantly upon approval by adding your card to a digital wallet through the Chase mobile app. 

How to add a credit card to your digital wallet

Adding a credit card to your digital wallet will depend on the wallet you’re using, but the process is fairly similar across platforms. With Apple Pay, for example, you’ll take the following steps:

  1. Open Apple Wallet.
  2. Within the app, click the + sign.
  3. Add your credit card information provided by your issuer or download your credit card issuer’s app to select your credit card.

Once you have added a credit card to your mobile wallet, you can use it to make purchases in person, on websites and in mobile apps.

Top cards you can use instantly after approval 

While an instant-use card just means you can use it right away, it’s important to find the right card for your spending habits and financial goals. Some instant-use credit cards are more rewarding than others. Here are a few of CNET’s top-rated cards that also offer instant use:

American Express® Gold Card 

The American Express® Gold Card comes with a steep $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), but new cardholders can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months of card membership. 

The Gold Card is perfect for foodies and globetrotters. You earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.), 4x points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year (then 1x points), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com, and 1x points on other eligible purchases. 

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Apple Card

The Apple Card* doesn’t have any fees, and it automatically gives cardholders 3% cash back at Apple and other select merchants when they use Apple Pay and 2% cash back when using an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay with the card. Other purchases earn 1% cash back. You can apply for the Apple Card directly from your iPhone, and it’s automatically added to your Apple Wallet upon approval. However, you need to have an iPhone or an Apple Watch to be able to use this card. 

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express earns 6% cash back on groceries at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% after. The 6% cash back category also applies to select U.S. streaming subscriptions. You can earn 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, including taxis, rideshares, parking and more. Other purchases earn 1% cash back. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. The card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 (see rates and fees).

If you get approved for the Blue Cash Preferred Card -- and you’re eligible -- you can use your new card immediately with an instant card number.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®

This co-branded credit card from Walmart offers 5% cash back on Walmart.com purchases, including pickup and delivery, with no annual fee required. The Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard* also earns 2% cash back at Walmart stores and restaurants, as well as on travel. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. Plus, you can earn 5% back at physical Walmart stores for the first 12 months when you use your credit card to pay with Walmart Pay.

CNET’S PICK
American Express® Gold Card
Learn More

American Express® Gold Card

7.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
See Rates & Fees Terms apply
Intro Offer
60,000 Membership Rewards® Points Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
Annual fee
$250
APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
3x – 4x Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.; Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).; Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Apple Card
Learn More

Apple Card

5.4/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
No current offer
Annual fee
$0
APR
19.24% to 29.49% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
2% – 3% Apple Card gives you unlimited 3% Daily Cash back on everything you buy at Apple; With every purchase you make using your Apple Card with Apple Pay, you get 2% Daily Cash back
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Learn More

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

8.1/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
See Rates & Fees Terms apply
Intro Offer
Earn $250 Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.
Annual fee
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
APR
19.24% – 29.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% on purchases for 12 months
Rewards rate
1% – 6% 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%); 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more; 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations; 1% Cash Back on other purchases

Which card issuers don’t offer instant-use cards?

Most of the major card issuers offer instant-use credit cards for some, but not all, of their credit cards. This is true for American Express, Capital One, Chase, Bank of America and U.S. Bank.

Smaller banks and credit unions may be less likely to offer instant-use cards.

How long does it take for your physical card to arrive? 

While many credit cards offer a way to use a new credit card before the physical card arrives in the mail, you may have to wait to get your hands on a credit card. It can typically take anywhere from seven to 10 business days for your new card to arrive in the mail.

If you need your physical card quickly, there are instances where card issuers will expedite premium credit cards to get them to new customers sooner. Some card issuers, including Capital One and Wells Fargo, may also be willing to send your new card via priority mail upon request. If you need your new credit card quickly and your issuer doesn’t offer instant access, this might come in handy.

What to consider before applying for an instant-use credit card

If you’re interested in a credit card you can use right away, look for one that offers the rewards or credit-building perks you want. If the card has an annual fee, check to see if you can get enough value out of it to offset an annual charge. Here are some other factors to consider before applying for a credit card you can use right away:

  • Check your credit score. Knowing your credit score before you apply for a new credit card can give you an idea of how likely you are to be approved. We recommend knowing the factors that impact credit and checking your score before you move forward with a credit card application.
  • Consider why you need an instant line of credit. If you need to finance a purchase right away, make sure you can pay it off before your due date -- otherwise an instant-use card might lead you to accumulate debt. If you plan to carry a balance, you’ll accrue high interest charges and potentially late fees if you can’t make the minimum payment on time.
  • See if you’re preapproved. Some instant-use credit cards let you see if you’re preapproved online before you fill out a full application. This lets you gauge your approval odds without a hard inquiry on your credit reports.

Is it a good idea to use a credit card before it arrives in the mail?

Instant-use credit cards can help you access your line of credit before your physical card arrives. But there are downsides to consider. 

For example, an instant-use card can make it easy to purchase items outside of your budget before you have time to think it through. These cards can also make it easier to rack up a large balance that takes time to pay back, especially with credit card interest rates averaging well over 20%, according to Bankrate, CNET’s sister site.

Whether you use your card number immediately or after it arrives, we recommend only charging purchases you can afford to pay back in full each month. Don’t let the ease of an instant credit line entice you to overspend.

The bottom line

If you need access to a line of credit right away, there’s a range of instant approval credit cards and virtual credit cards to choose from. Just remember that card issuers may not offer instant-use options to everyone who applies, and not all cards, even ones from the same issuer, include this feature.

Also, remember that racking up debt with instant-use cards is never a good idea. The bill for instant-use purchases will eventually come due -- even if you don’t see your physical card for weeks after you apply. 

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, click here

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, click here

*All information about the Apple Card and the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Holly Johnson is a credit card expert and writer who covers rewards and loyalty programs, budgeting, and all things personal finance. In addition to writing for publications like Bankrate, CreditCards.com, Forbes Advisor and Investopedia, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of "Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You'll Love."
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