What is a Credit Limit: Definition + How to Get an Increase

5 min read

Credit reports and ratings along with factors like income-to-debt ratio and on-time payment history help define your preset credit limits. Other qualifiers to receive a higher credit limit include your credit utilization, tangible net worth, and overall credit management.

Credit Card Limit

This represents the maximum balance cardholders can carry in a month on new purchases or balance transfers. Hard card limits differ from available balances which are the amount of credit you can still spend before reaching your maximum card limit.


Your total liabilities include all purchases and cash advances, along with annual fees, and the amount of interest you have to repay. Keep in mind that some purchases may only appear after a business calculates their days’ sales outstanding, which can affect when it appears on your credit card statement.

Approval Limits

After carefully examining a customer’s net worth, other sources of income, debt, and credit history, lenders will assess your risk management to find out which credit limits work best. To gauge your potential credit risk, additional borrower information, such as bank references or personal financial statements related to prior bankruptcies or defaulted payments might be required. Business owners may also need to have their working capital balance sheet or business bank account data reviewed to get approved for a higher amount.

Based on your annual income, a credit card issuer might initially set a lending cap that includes the combined limits from all of your other credit cards, loans, and miscellaneous debts. Based on the income-to-debt ratio a traditional bank may issue you a credit card limit between $2,000 and $10,000 based on you having a $30,000 combined credit limit.

If a thorough review demonstrates a history of poor credit management, unpaid debts, or a need for credit repair, your credit application may only net you a $250-$500 starter line of credit.

Limit Calculations

Lenders calculate how much you can borrow by having use either pre-set limits, credit-based limits or customized limits. The type of card you choose to apply for will also determine how much credit you can receive.

Preset Credit Limits

This is when your credit card company places a fixed limit on spending amounts, which the majority of credit cards have. Consequently, your preset credit limit will restrict the maximum value of new purchases and balance transfers allowed on your card.

This type of credit control is calculated in set increments with first-time users maybe only receiving a limit of $500-$1000. On the contrary, clients with a strong relationship with their lender or net 30 vendors and a good credit score can receive a premium limit of approximately $20,000 or more. If you exceed this credit limit, your transaction is likely to be denied, rather than going into overdraft.

If your preset credit limit is too low, you can further ask your provider to re-evaluate your past performance. New cardholders might get up to 20% more; however, with extended use and never having a late payment, you could receive a 100% limit increase.

Credit-Based Limit

The status of your consumer credit report and trade references are important factors that lenders consider when setting credit limits. Your credit history reflects your financial strength and how proactively you have been paying down your debt.

Having high credit scores can raise your credit limit along with help you qualify for lower interest rates. Credit issuers will further consider spending habits, a client’s employment status, and average household income. Cardholders with solid payment history, credit mix, and usage are also more likely to receive a higher credit-based limit.

Customized Credit Limit

Banks, alternative lenders, and net 30 businesses will rely on your credit rating, bankruptcy score, and other payment indicators when deciding the maximum amount of credit you will receive. A custom credit limit check may also require looking into your debt-to-income ratio, maximum card limits, as well as, total limits of all your credit lines combined.

This type of credit policy approval provides a ranking system for creditors to manage and compare how likely you are to default on future payments. The less borrower risk involved, the more flexibility the credit department will have to boost a customer’s credit limit.

Limit Increase

You can boost your overall creditworthiness by not leveraging all of your available funds and lowering your credit-usage rating. As your limits increase and credit card balances decrease, you will incremental gains in your credit scores. Based on your usage rating, some lenders might also offer you new cards with an even higher credit limit.

By Request

If you’ve been making timely payments, paying above the minimum amount, and using your card responsibly for 4-6+ months, you could qualify for an increased credit limit. Typically, you would call customer service or the credit department to inquire about increasing your limit. Requests via an online contact form might also be available.

The key to getting approval is to change for the better. If your financial situation or credit scores have improved or your annual income has increased, these are all good reasons to request approval for a higher limit. If the opposite is true, however, applicant refusal is more likely.

By Waiting

Every creditor handles changing limits differently through periodic reviews, but showcasing financial restraint through good spending habits and timely payments will usually get noticed. Credit limit increase offers usually come via mail and tend to coincide with reviews of your personal credit reports.

Over Limit

In the past, many credit card companies accepted transaction amounts that exceeded the borrower’s maximum limit. Once you were in overdraft, interest was typically charged daily and an extra charge was added for being in overdraft.

If your balance was over the limit often enough, some banks might have then decreased your available credit or closed your credit account entirely. Today, however, this practice has mostly been abandoned, and you can expect transactions that exceed your credit limit to be outright refused.

Spending Limits

Cardholders must remember that maxing out their cards will lower their credit ratings. FICO scores in particular are heavily weighted by available credit and income-to-debt ratios. Generally, you never want to carry a balance beyond your statement due date of more than 30% of your maximum credit limit, which also includes the total amount of available credit across all of your accounts.