How To Activate a Credit Card

Various options make it quick and easy

Woman with a credit card in one hand, looking at her cell phone in another, sitting on a chair in a casual setting
•••

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

Before you can use a new or replacement credit card, you'll have to activate it. Activating your card lets your card issuer know you've received it. Activation is generally the same no matter which credit card you have and only takes a few minutes. Instant credit cards—which some card issuers provide for use before your physical credit card arrives—have some slightly different steps but they're fairly straightforward to figure out.

How To Activate a Credit Card

Your new credit card will likely come with a sticker that notes activation instructions. Most credit card issuers give you a few options for activating your credit card: by phone, online, or through your credit card issuer's mobile app. At a minimum, you'll need your credit card number—which you can find on the physical credit card—and the security code from the back of the credit card (or the front of the card for American Express).

The exact process to activate your credit card varies depending on your credit card issuer.

Online

Most credit card issuers allow you to activate your credit card online. Visit the credit card issuer's website and follow the prompts to activate your credit card. You may have to enroll in online banking to activate your credit card, depending on the card issuer, even if you’re not going to have a bank account with the issuer. 

To protect your card information, avoid using a shared computer or public Wi-Fi to activate your credit card.

App

If your credit card issuer offers a mobile app, you may be able to download the app and activate your credit card through it. Most issuers send activation instructions, including how to download and set up their app and activate a new card upon sign-up.

By Phone

Your credit card issuer will give a toll-free number you can call to activate your credit card. Once you call the number, follow the prompts and your credit card will be activated and ready to use.

Instant and Virtual Credit Cards

Some new credit cards can be used even before your physical credit card arrives. You may be given an instant credit card number that you can use in a digital wallet like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay before your card arrives. Once you enter the credit card number in the wallet, you may need to go through some steps before your bank will verify the card is yours and you can use it in the wallet. 

One benefit of adding an instant credit card number to a digital wallet is that it will allow you to start making purchases sooner. That head start may be valuable if you’re working toward a rewards card signup bonus that requires you to spend thousands of dollars on the card within a limited amount of time. Many store and co-branded cards provide a virtual credit card number to use online or in the app the day you open your account. Similarly, you can typically use a store credit card for in-store purchases the day you open your account.

Activation Process for Major Credit Card Issuers

Most large banks that issue credit cards give you several different ways to activate your new card. Here are some methods offered by the largest card companies:

American Express

Bank of America

  • Visit bankofamerica.com/activate to log in to your existing online banking account at the Bank of America website or enroll in a new account if you don’t already have one. Then you can activate your card. 
  • Log in to your account on the Bank of America mobile banking app and activate from there, or download the app and enroll your account to activate your new card.
  • Call the credit card activation line at 800-276-9939.

Barclays

  • Log in or create a new account at barclaycardus.com/activate and then activate the card.
  • Call the credit card activation line at 877-408-8866.
  • Activate through the Barclays mobile app.

Capital One

  • Visit capitalone.com/activate to log in to your Capital One account or to enroll in a new account, where you can activate your card.
  • Text “Mobile” to 80101 from a mobile device for an activation link. Call 1-800-227-4825 and follow the prompts.

Chase

  • Call the toll-free number as noted on the card’s activation sticker instructions and follow the automated voice prompts; there may also be a specific URL for online activation.
  • Log in or create a Chase account at chase.com/personal/credit-cards/verify-credit-card to verify your card online.

Citi

Discover

USAA

U.S. Bank

  • Log in to your online account at usbank.com, or enroll in online banking and then activate your card.
  • Log in or download the U.S. Bank Mobile App, then select the option to manage cards and activate your new card.
  • Call 1-888-200-9959.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I don’t activate a credit card?

Activating your credit card is a way to let the card issuer know you've received the card. You may not be able to use a card that hasn't been activated. If you don't activate your credit card after a certain amount of time, you may have to request a new card from the credit card issuer. You can still be charged an annual fee if your card has one. Failing to pay the annual fee could lead to a missed payment, late fee, and credit score damage. Finally, the account may eventually be closed for inactivity.

How long after activating a credit card can you use it?

You can typically start using your credit card immediately after you activate it. If you've been given a temporary or instant credit card number, you can use it to make purchases before your physical credit card arrives.

What information do you need to activate a credit card?

At a minimum, you'll need your credit card number and the three- or four-digit security code from your credit card. Depending on the card issuer, you may also need to provide your date of birth, last four digits of your Social Security number, and the card's expiration date.