How to score a rewards card without good credit

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If you’re in the market for a credit card you have plenty of different types of cards to consider. Those paying high interest rates on their debts can consider a balance transfer credit card that may help them pay off debt at a lower APR, for example, while those looking to build credit or pay off a large purchase over time will also find credit cards geared to those needs.

A hugely popular type of credit card is a rewards credit card, mostly because they allow you to earn points or miles based on how much you spend. If you’re considering a credit card and you want one that gives you something in return, rewards credit cards offer an intriguing opportunity. However, the best rewards cards typically require good or excellent credit. It’s still possible to earn rewards on a card without having a good credit score, but it’s important to know what to expect.

What is a rewards credit card?

A rewards credit card is a type of credit card that gives you points, cash back or other types of rewards for each dollar you charge to your card. For example, a typical cash back credit card might offer 2 percent back on all your spending, or $2 in rewards for every $100 you charge to your credit card. However, you will also come across rewards credit cards that let you earn rewards “points” you can redeem in more than one way, or even airline miles or points that only work within specific hotel loyalty programs.

Because rewards credit cards are premium cards, they are typically geared to consumers with very good or excellent credit, which typically means a FICO score of 740 or higher. This may leave you feeling somewhat limited in terms of your options if your credit score isn’t that great. Still, it can make sense to check your credit score to see where you stand before you apply. You may find that your credit score is better than you thought it would be, but you’ll never know unless you check.

How to get a rewards card without good credit

Either way, you can get a rewards credit card without stellar credit. You just need to keep your mind open and know what to look for. The following tips can help you find and qualify for a card that will let you earn points or miles for each dollar you spend.

Adjust your expectations

First, you should know that you won’t qualify for the best rewards and travel credit cards on the market today if you don’t have good or excellent credit. You can, however, qualify for some lower tier rewards credit cards that will let you earn cash back or points. Rewards credit cards for fair credit or bad credit also tend to offer fewer perks and cardholder benefits, and they may come with higher fees.

Be flexible in terms of the rewards you earn

If your credit is fair or poor, you’ll also need to be flexible in terms of the type of rewards you earn. You may not get to earn airline miles in the exact frequent flyer program you wanted, or you might not get to earn points in a top rewards program like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. Most rewards credit cards for bad credit or OK credit only let you earn cash back, which is certainly better than nothing.

Choose a card you can qualify for

Also keep in mind that you may need to consider different types of credit cards, some of which may not be ideal. If your credit score is considered poor according to myFICO standards (579 or below), then you may need to consider a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral. Meanwhile, you can also consider store credit cards that only let you rack up rewards with a specific retailer.

Both secured credit cards and store credit cards tend to be considerably easier to qualify for when compared to traditional unsecured credit cards from issuers like Discover or American Express.

Build your credit to earn better rewards

If you want access to the top rewards credit cards available, you may also want to spend some time building your credit score before you apply for a rewards credit card. Some steps you can take to build credit include:

  • Becoming an authorized user on a family member’s credit card when they have good credit and a strong credit history already
  • Using a program like Experian Boost to build credit using rent and utility payments
  • Picking up a secured credit card or store card to begin building a credit history
  • Making sure all your bills are paid early or on time in order to improve your payment history
  • Paying down debt in order to lower your credit utilization rate
  • Monitoring your credit reports from all three bureaus for errors, which you can do for free using AnnualCreditReport.com

These steps and others can help you build the type of credit you need to qualify for the best rewards credit cards. In the meantime, here are some of the best rewards credit cards you may be able to qualify for today, based on where your credit score falls:

Best rewards credit cards for fair credit

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Geared to consumers with fair credit, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card lets you earn 1.5 percent unlimited cash back for each dollar you spend. This card does require a $39 annual fee, but you can redeem your rewards for cash back, statement credits or gift cards.

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit

Earn 1 percent back for each dollar you spend and get the chance to choose your own payment due date. An annual fee may or may not apply depending on your creditworthiness.

Best rewards credit cards for bad credit

Discover it® Secured

The Discover it® Secured requires a cash deposit as collateral, but you’ll get the chance to earn rewards without an annual fee. Specifically, you can rack up 2 percent back at up to $1,000 in combined spending at restaurants and gas stations each quarter (then 1 percent) and 1 percent back on all other purchases. Discover will also match all the rewards you earn after the first year.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card

The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card lets consumers with bad credit build their scores while earning cash back. A security deposit is required, but you’ll earn 3 percent back in a category of your choosing among gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings, 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1 percent back on other purchases. Note that rewards in 3 percent and 2 percent categories are capped on the first $2,500 spent in those combined categories each quarter, after which you’ll earn 1 percent back. This card also comes with no annual fee.

The information about the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Best rewards credit cards for no credit

Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card

If you are trying to build credit with no credit history, the Petal 2 can help. This card doesn’t charge an annual fee or any hidden fees, but you get the chance to build credit with a credit limit up to $10,000. You also earn 1 percent in cash back right away, 1.25 percent in cash back after six months of on-time payments and 1.5 percent cash back after you’ve made 12 on-time monthly payments on your credit card.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Students without any credit history should consider the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One. This card doesn’t charge an annual fee, but you’ll earn 1.25 percent cash back on all purchases when you pay your credit card bill on time (1 percent back otherwise).

Bottom line

You can earn credit card rewards if your credit score needs some work, but you’ll need to be flexible in terms of the type of rewards you earn and the card you apply for. Your best bet is settling on a card you like and using it responsibly so you can build credit over time. With enough on-time credit card payments and the passage of time, you may be able to qualify for any credit card you want.