Difference between being pre-qualified and pre-approved

Understanding the distinction between being pre-qualified and pre-approved is important in various financial contexts, beyond just mortgages. Whether you’re seeking a credit card, a personal loan, or financing for a major purchase, knowing the difference can help streamline the application process and improve your financial planning.

Key Takeaways

  1. Process Difference: Pre-qualification is a quick, informal estimate based on self-reported information, while pre-approval is a detailed, formal evaluation involving a credit check.
  2. Accuracy and Commitment: Pre-qualification provides a rough estimate of borrowing capacity without commitment. Pre-approval offers a precise assessment and indicates a formal commitment from the lender.
  3. Credit Impact: Pre-qualification usually involves a soft inquiry, not affecting your credit score. Pre-approval involves a hard inquiry, which can impact your credit score.
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*Representative example: Estimated repayments of a loan of R30,000 over 36 months at a maximum interest rate including fees of 27,5% APR would be R1,232.82 per month.

Loan amount R100 - R250,000. Repayment terms can range from 3 - 72 months. Minimum APR is 5% and maximum APR is 60%.


Pre-qualification indicates that the lender has conducted basic research into your creditworthiness to see if you might be approved for a loan or credit card. Consumers initiate this process by filling out a pre-qualification application. The requirements for pre-qualification can vary depending on the situation.

You might need to share basic information about your financial situation, such as your annual income, monthly housing payment, and savings. Being pre-qualified does not guarantee approval. However, it’s usually a wise step if you can apply for pre-qualification with a soft inquiry. If you are rejected at this stage, you can avoid the hard inquiry and move on.

  • Quick and Easy: The process is fast and can often be completed online or over the phone in a matter of minutes.
  • No Impact on Credit Score: Since pre-qualification typically involves a soft inquiry, it does not affect your credit score.
  • Initial Financial Insight: Provides a rough estimate of how much you might be able to borrow, helping you set realistic expectations.
  • Non-Binding: There is no obligation to proceed with the loan, giving you the flexibility to explore various options without commitment.
  • Less Accurate: The estimate is based on self-reported information, which may not be entirely accurate.
  • Limited Use: Sellers and real estate agents might not take pre-qualification as seriously as pre-approval, which can affect your bargaining power.
  • No Guarantee: Pre-qualification does not guarantee loan approval; it’s merely an initial assessment.

How Does Pre-Qualification Work?

Pre-qualification is an initial step in the lending process where potential borrowers provide information about their financial situation to a lender, who then gives an estimate of how much they might be able to borrow. This process is less formal than pre-approval and typically does not involve a detailed verification of the applicant’s financial history.

The pre-qualification process usually begins with the borrower contacting a lender and providing basic financial information. This may include details such as:

  • Income
  • Employment status
  • Existing debts
  • Assets
  • Estimated credit score

This information can often be given online, over the phone, or in person and does not require supporting documentation at this stage.

Using the provided information, the lender performs a preliminary evaluation to determine the borrower’s financial standing. This assessment is typically based on general lending guidelines and the lender’s internal criteria. Since this stage does not involve a detailed check, it is sometimes referred to as a “soft inquiry,” meaning it does not affect the borrower’s credit score.

Based on the initial assessment, the lender gives the borrower an estimate of the loan amount they might qualify for, along with potential interest rates and terms. This estimate helps the borrower understand their borrowing power and sets expectations for what they can afford.

It’s important to note that pre-qualification is non-binding for both the borrower and the lender. It does not guarantee loan approval and does not obligate the borrower to take out the loan. Instead, it serves as an informative tool to help the borrower plan their finances and gauge their eligibility for different loan products.

Understanding your credit rating is essential for getting pre-approved for a loan. Your credit rating can influence the terms and interest rates offered by lenders. Make sure you know where you stand to secure the best deal possible.

Getting pre-approved


Getting pre-approved can often be a better indicator of approval for a loan or credit card, depending on the process. For instance, if you are pre-approved for a credit card online, pre-approval and pre-qualification might mean the same thing. You might also receive pre-approval offers for loans or credit cards via mail, phone, or email. These prescreened offers typically mean you received a formal credit offer because you were on a list of clients who meet a creditor’s criteria, maintained by a credit reporting agency. Even if you applied or received an offer stating you were pre-approved, it still does not guarantee acceptance.

  • Higher Accuracy: Provides a more accurate and reliable estimate of your borrowing capacity, based on verified financial information.
  • Increased Credibility: Shows sellers and real estate agents that you are a serious buyer with a solid financial standing, enhancing your negotiating power.
  • Formal Commitment: Indicates a formal commitment from the lender, subject to final approval conditions being met.
  • Helps in Planning: With a clearer picture of your borrowing limits, you can make more informed decisions regarding your purchase.
  • Time-Consuming: The process is more detailed and can take several days to weeks to complete.
  • Credit Score Impact: Usually involves a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can temporarily lower your credit score.
  • Potential Fees: Some lenders may charge fees for the pre-approval process, adding to the overall cost.
  • No Absolute Guarantee: Although it’s a strong indication, pre-approval is not a guarantee of final loan approval. Changes in your financial situation or additional findings during the final review can still affect the outcome.

How Does Pre-Approval Work?

Pre-approval is a preliminary check by lenders to assess if you’re a suitable candidate for a loan or credit card. They review your financial situation without diving deep into the details. Depending on the loan type, this can involve either a soft inquiry or a hard inquiry on your credit report.

For example, you might get pre-approved for a credit card without even applying, and it won’t affect your credit score. On the other hand, pre-approval for a mortgage usually involves a hard inquiry, which can impact your credit score.

Pre-approval generally includes a few key features:

  • An estimated interest rate offer
  • A maximum principal amount

Once you’re pre-approved for a loan or credit card, you’ll need to complete the official credit application. At this point, the lender will conduct a hard inquiry on your credit report (if not already done) and evaluate your employment history, debt-to-income ratio, and other financial details to determine your eligibility.

It’s important to note that pre-approval does not guarantee final approval. The lender may uncover information during the approval process that wasn’t visible during pre-approval, which could disqualify you. Additionally, the final approval might include a different loan amount or interest rate than initially offered.

Ready to get pre-approved? Make sure you check your credit score for free first. Knowing your credit score gives you a clear picture of your financial health and helps you understand what loan offers you might qualify for.

Easily secure your loan with Arcadia Finance, where the process is straightforward and hassle-free. Enjoy the benefit of no application fees and the flexibility to choose from 10 reputable lenders. Each lender adheres strictly to South Africa’s National Credit Regulator standards, ensuring a secure and reliable borrowing experience.

Pre-Qualified vs. Pre-Approved: Comparison Overview

DefinitionAn initial assessment of eligibility based on self-reported information.A thorough evaluation resulting in a formal commitment from the lender.
PurposeTo give a rough estimate of what you might qualify for.To confirm your eligibility and the specific amount you can borrow.
Required InformationBasic financial details such as income, debt, and employment status.Comprehensive financial documents including income verification, credit history, and assets.
Credit CheckSoft inquiry (does not impact credit score).Can be a soft inquiry for initial pre-approval (credit cards and some personal loans) or a hard inquiry for final approval (mortgages and auto loans).
Level of DetailGeneral overview with broad estimates.Detailed analysis providing precise figures.
AccuracyProvides an approximate estimate of eligibility.Offers a more accurate and reliable assessment.
Time RequiredQuick process, often completed within minutes.Longer process, may take several days to a week.
Commitment LevelNon-binding and preliminary.Binding, indicating a formal commitment from the lender.
ValidityShort-term and subject to change.Usually valid for a specific period, often 60-90 days.
Use CaseEarly stages of financial planning or exploring options.When you are ready to make a serious financial commitment or purchase.
Negotiation PowerLimited, as it’s only an estimate.Stronger, as it indicates a confirmed amount you can borrow.
CostsTypically free of charge.May involve fees for processing the application.    

For additional financial planning resources, the South African Revenue Service provides extensive guidelines and tools.


Are Pre-Qualifications and Pre-Approvals the Same Thing?

So, Are Pre-Qualifications and Pre-Approvals the Same Thing?

While lenders often use pre-qualification and pre-approval interchangeably, there are nuanced differences between the two processes. Both terms generally signify that a lender has assessed your financial situation and determined that you meet some of their requirements for loan approval. However, pre-qualification is typically a quicker and less detailed process, while pre-approval involves a more comprehensive assessment and takes longer.

Receiving a pre-qualification or pre-approval letter doesn’t guarantee loan approval from the lender. However, it can serve as evidence to a seller that you’re capable of securing financing for your purchase. Whether it’s for mortgages or auto loans, being pre-qualified helps you understand your borrowing capacity, enabling you to focus on properties or vehicles within your financial means.

Do Pre-Qualifications and Pre-Approvals Affect Your Credit Score?

Soft inquiries are commonly used in basic credit checks, such as those resulting in pre-qualified or pre-approved credit offers, and they have no impact on your credit score. When you apply in response to an offer, a hard inquiry is made, which will affect your score. Facilities like ClearScore offer a full credit profile, including inquiries made and active credit attached to your profile.

Your eligibility for the offer will be determined by the results of the credit check. If you are approved, the issuer must provide you with the same terms as those in the initial pre-qualified or pre-approved offer. Your eligibility can change if your credit information changes between the pre-selection process and when you apply for the credit facility. This might happen, for instance, if there are significant changes to your employment, income, or debt.

How to Apply for a Loan with Arcadia Finance

Applying for a loan at Arcadia Finance is straightforward and accessible. Start your application by visiting our website, where our dedicated and experienced team is available to assist you with any inquiries you might have throughout the process. We will require some basic information from you, including details about your income and expenses, as well as your desired loan amount and preferred repayment term. After submitting your application, our team will promptly review the details and respond with a decision as soon as possible.


Understanding the distinctions between pre-qualification and pre-approval is essential in the loan application process. Pre-qualification offers an initial, informal assessment of your financial status, giving a broad sense of your borrowing capacity without affecting your credit score. On the other hand, pre-approval involves a more thorough and formal evaluation, including a hard credit inquiry, providing a clearer picture of your loan eligibility. Being pre-approved carries weight in competitive markets, boosting your credibility as a buyer. Both pre-qualification and pre-approval are invaluable tools in financial planning, guiding you confidently toward securing a loan.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s better: pre-qualification or pre-approval?

Both pre-qualification and pre-approval involve a lender reviewing your financial history, bringing you closer to obtaining credit or a loan. Neither is inherently better, but pre-approval is often a more thorough, longer process. For mortgages and car loans, pre-qualification is usually an initial step, while pre-approval is a stronger indication to sellers of your ability to secure financing.

How does pre-qualification work?

Pre-qualification is a quick, often informal process where you provide financial information to a lender, who then gives you an estimate of how much you might be able to borrow. This step usually involves a soft credit inquiry, which does not affect your credit score. It’s a good way to get an idea of your borrowing power without any obligation.

How long does pre-approval take?

Pre-approval can take several days to a few weeks, depending on the lender and the complexity of your financial situation. During this time, the lender will conduct a hard credit inquiry, verify your financial details, and possibly ask for additional documentation. The more prepared you are with your financial documents, the quicker the process can be.

Does pre-approval guarantee a loan?

No, pre-approval does not guarantee you will receive the loan. It means that, based on the initial information you provided, you are likely to qualify. However, the lender will conduct a more detailed review during the final approval process, which could reveal information that changes their decision.

Can I get pre-approved with a low credit score?

Yes, you can get pre-approved with a low credit score, but your options may be more limited, and the interest rates offered might be higher. Lenders consider various factors, such as your debt-to-income ratio and employment history, in addition to your credit score. It’s beneficial to work on improving your credit score to get better loan terms.