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How to score a rewards card without good credit

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Rewards credit cards are hugely popular. Who wouldn’t want to earn cash back or points on every purchase? Unfortunately, the best rewards cards typically require good or excellent credit, so you’ll need to be strategic before you apply. Each application will trigger a hard inquiry on your credit report, which is why it’s best to minimize rejected applications.

Read on to learn what you can do to prepare for a rewards card without good credit, plus some cards you might be able to get approved for right away.

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. Instead of cash, some cards reward spending with points you can redeem for airline miles or hotel stays.

Because rewards credit cards are premium cards, they are typically geared to consumers with good to excellent credit, which typically means a FICO score of 670 or higher. This may leave you feeling somewhat limited 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, but you’ll never know unless you check.

Best rewards credit cards for fair credit

If you have a fair credit score, any FICO score from 580 to 669, there are several rewards cards you may be able to get approved for right away.

Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards

The Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards is another card made for people with fair credit, and it’s a smart option to consider if you want to avoid annual fees. Cardholders earn a flat 1.5 percent cash back on everything they buy.  This card also reports your payments to the three credit bureaus, so it can help you build credit over time.

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 come with a $39 annual fee. You can redeem your rewards for cash back, statement credits or gift cards.

Best rewards credit cards for bad credit

If you’re looking for a rewards card and you have bad credit, you’ll probably have to go with a secured credit card that requires a cash deposit as collateral. Consider these secured cards that let you earn rewards for your spending.

Discover it Secured Credit Card

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card 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 on 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.

Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card comes with a minimum security deposit requirement of just $200, and cardholders get to earn 1.5 percent cash back for each dollar they spend. There is no annual fee to worry about, and you can qualify for an automatic credit line review in as little as six months.

Best rewards credit cards for no credit

Finally, a handful of rewards credit cards may be available to you if you have no credit at all. By applying now and using your card responsibly, you can begin building the credit you’ll need later in life.

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

If you are trying to get a credit card with no credit history, the Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card can help. The Petal 2 doesn’t charge an annual fee or any hidden fees, but you get the chance to build credit with a credit limit of up to $10,000. You also earn 1 percent in cash back on eligible purchases right away, up to 1.25 percent in cash back in eligible purchases after six months of on-time payments and up to 1.5 percent cash in eligible purchases 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, and you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases—boosted to 1.25 percent for the month when the card is paid on time. Cardholders also earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, terms apply.

How to get a rewards card without good credit

It is possible to 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.

Level your expectations

You need to be prepared for the fact that you won’t qualify for the best rewards cards without good or excellent credit. You can, however, qualify for some lower-tier rewards credit cards that will let you earn something. They’ll likely offer fewer perks and cardholder benefits, but they’re a good starting point.

Be flexible about the type of rewards

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. Rewards credit cards for fair credit or bad credit may only let you earn cash back, which is certainly better than nothing.

Choose a card you can qualify for

You may need to consider different types of credit cards, some of which may seem less than ideal. If your credit score is considered poor according to FICO 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 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 Chase or American Express.

Build your credit to earn better rewards

If you want access to the top rewards credit cards, it’s worth spending some time building your credit score before you apply. Some steps you can take to build credit:

  • Become an authorized user on a family member’s credit card — as long as they have good credit and a strong credit history already.
  • Use Experian Boost to build credit using rent and utility payments.
  • Apply for a secured credit card or store card to begin building a credit history.
  • Make sure all your bills are paid on time or early to improve your payment history.
  • Pay down debt in order to lower your credit utilization rate.
  • Monitor your credit reports from all three bureaus for errors, which you can do for free using AnnualCreditReport.com.

The 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 — including the best rewards cards.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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