How to stop getting credit-card applications. (Insurance ones, too.)

It’s always fun to go through the mail after you return from a long trip. True, a lot of what’s piled up is junk mail and charitable solicitations, but you always hope for some good stuff.

Two months’ worth of envelopes were waiting when I got back from Alaska in mid-July. I did find a $39 check from Mr. Rebates (yay, cash-back shopping!) and a couple of paychecks from my Get Rich Slowly gig. But the haul was mostly, well, junk mail and charitable solicitations.

And credit card applications. Ten of them.

That startled me. True, I’d been getting one or two a week for quite some time – and for quite some time I’d been thinking, “Isn’t there a way to stop getting these things?” I’d vow to look it up, shred the apps and then instantly forget. They don’t call it mental-pause for nothing.

But 10 in a bunch got my attention. The sight of that stack of wasted paper pushed me to call the opt-out number, 1-888-567-8688. I could also have gone to www.optoutprescreen.com.

Both venues are run by the major credit reporting companies. That’s the least they can do, since they’re the ones responsible for all these prescreened/preapproved letters we keep getting from both credit card and insurance companies.

What, you thought this was random? Nope. According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit and insurance companies contact the credit bureaus to identify people who match their criteria.

All that prescreening/preapproving doesn’t hurt your credit, incidentally. But it can clog up your mailbox.

Can you opt out forever?

You can opt out for five years or for good. If you change your mind about either, it’s easy enough to reverse the process  by using the resources noted above.

Perhaps out of superstition, I chose the five-year plan. Although my credit is good and I have all the plastic I need, a part of me still worries that I might some day need a card and be unable to get one.

Chalk that up to having grown up in the 1970s, when women had trouble getting credit and loans in their own names. As a single mom in Philadelphia I somehow managed to get a credit card from the late, great John Wanamaker. The place was pricey but it had a bargain basement – which really was in the basement – that sometimes had super-cheap clothes.

A year or so later I got married. As a dutiful South Jersey wife, I applied for an auxiliary card for my husband. The next bill we got was addressed not to me, or to the both of us, but to him. Grrrr.

Quit asking me!

Opting out through the toll-free number or website above doesn’t guarantee you’ll never again be bothered with unwanted credit or insurance apps. Religious and charitable groups, professional and alumni associations, local merchants and companies with whom you’re already affiliated may continue to contact you. To get rid of those queries, you’ll have to deal with each company directly.

Thus the company that handles my renter’s insurance will probably keep suggesting that I add car insurance, even though I gave away my car two years ago. Although I’d love to say I’ll handle each one as it comes up, time I get unwanted mail, I’m afraid that some may fall through the cracks the way the opt-out idea did.

It will take up to two months for the offers to stop coming, according to the recorded message on that 888 number. That’s frankly a little annoying. Having waited so long to do this, I want it to go away right now.

Too late. I got three more applications in the mail today.


16 Comments

  1. Holly Samlan

    Sorry, I LIKE getting these offers because they = FREE kitty litter at least 2x/month. I shred all of them + extra unneeded pages of bank statements and credit card bills to get myself some free litter.

    NOTE: got this idea a LONG time ago from someone on a frugal/saving discussion board. Don’t remember who, where or when.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: Or, if “Mythbusters” is to be believed, junk mail armor!

  2. jestjack

    I LIKE the junk mail. I shred it, bag it up and use it to heat my home in winter…it’s wonderful. Before shredding I pick out the paper that has a blank side to use for printing coupons on the computer. I also save the envelopes to use when writing notes to tenants. Nope ….I like the junk mail….now telephone solicitors….not so much.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jestjack: I reuse the envelopes to make to-do lists, and either print out on blank sides or cut it up to use as scratch paper. The actual credit-card apps get shredded; the miscellaneous, unused paper gets recycled. If I had a wood stove I’d use it for kindling.

  3. ImJuniperNow

    Donna: Thank you! This is one of the greatest things anyone’s ever done for me! I’m tired of having to dispose of offers from American Express, sent to me because I have a stellar credit history, that “only” charge a $175 annual fee (“Waived for the first year if you reply now!”).

    I opted out at my home address, my PO Box and even did a request for my LLC.

    Sorry, Snoopy, you and MetLife’ll have to look elsewhere.

  4. bagelgirl

    Donna, you brought back memories of my divorce in 1976. I had been the bill payer and responsibility adult in a marriage, but when I left I had zero, zip in credit that went with me because I was the woman.

    I had to start completely over with a silly little department store card that I believe had a credit limit of something like $300. In fact it wasn’t even a plastic card. It was some paper that required me to spend $50 at a time.

    I had forgotten how much things have changed.

  5. There are loopholes to the opt out rules though. A company that you already do business with like airlines frequent flier cards, magazines, or affiliates from your mortgage company or even your current credit card can keep sending you stuff unless you specifically ask them one by one to stop.

    • Donna Freedman

      @First Gen: I did point that out in the piece. But it bears repeating.

  6. I get a ton too. I’m always worried that someone will steal one and get a credit card in my name. Thanks for the number!

  7. Thanks for the info! I went to that optout site and requested that I be removed from their mailing list. I also keep getting offers for car insurance even though I don’t have a car. I even directly contacted one of the insurance companies who sent me stuff every month to request that they take me off their mailing list; they finally did. It’s definitely annoying to get mailings that I never asked for.

  8. This couldn’t have come at a better time! My husband and I get 5-8 credit card applications a week, at least! We also get tons of insurance applications as well. It drives us absolutely insane! Thanks for the tip

  9. Michele

    We kept receiving one CC application in which they mixed together my name and one of my relative’s names together. After countless calls, we finally got through to a customer service rep through an option to get the card started and explained that this person did not exist and to remove the name from their mailing list. What a pain.

  10. Thanks for this! I keep getting more offers even though I’m on a DMP for 3+ more years and can’t apply for credit until then. At first I took the offers as a sign my credit is improving, but now they’re just annoying.

  11. Maybe this is petty and I know it doesn’t make a huge difference, but when I get an offer with a paid envelope- I send it, along with any other junk in the original mail (but not the actual application-that gets shredded!). It’s nice to think that maybe I’m annoying someone there the way it annoys me.

  12. You can always reverse your decision to opt out permanently. Also I always suggest opting out of the DMA (direct mailing association) otherwise you’ll still get a lot of mailings.

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