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How do people with bad credit get approved for so many credit cards?

Stephanie Holmes Winton for

Q: On debt-focused TV shows, I see couples giving the experts about 16 credit cards…how do they get so many? Isn't their credit worthiness checked before cards are given to applicants - especially as most of the couples hardly ever pay their bills or even open their mail?

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A: What a good question. I think there are several ways these massive collections of credit cards build up. For one, there are generally two people on these shows (a couple), so let's assume they each have 8 cards - still bad but not as staggering. Also, it is likely that the credit card collection consists of two or three major cards each, plus a serious assortment of specialty store credit cards (which many people apply for on the spot to get the "discount" or "special deal" of the day). Furthermore, many no-payment, no-interest deals are actually credit cards, too.

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As the individuals rack these cards up (especially if there are a few with no payments at first), it generally takes until they reach the point of a significantly large minimum payment before they stop paying. By that time, it's too late: the credit has already been extended and used based on the facts at the time of the application, and not the cumulative disaster in the end.

The number of times that you apply for new credit in any given year does affect your credit score, but if you already have a few cards, you could easily collect a few more.

Also keep in mind that television almost always involves at least a touch of "over the top" drama to keep our attention!

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For more debt expertise (and how to get out of it), visit Stephanie's profile page on is a free personal finance and education site for women.

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