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Credit cards for consumers with fair or average credit
With a fair credit score, you might have trouble qualifying for top-rated rewards credit cards and the most competitive interest rates. The good news is that many credit card issuers offer cards specifically designed for people who don’t have outstanding credit scores.
Used correctly, a credit card for fair or average credit could help you build up your score and improve your chances at getting better cards, lower interest rates and more. A better credit score could even make it easier to qualify for car loans, mortgages and other types of credit.
The more you know…
The pandemic has resulted in financial challenges for many Americans. According to our study
, 33% of cardholders did something that could hurt their credit score during COVID-19.
In this guide:
Compare our best cards for fair/average credit
A closer look at Bankrate’s top cards for fair credit
Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®
Why it’s best for cash back referral bonus
If you have a fair credit score and a fair amount of creditworthy friends, the Jasper Cash Back Mastercard’s referral bonus could pay off. The minimum cash back rate on eligible purchases is 1 percent, but you can increase that rate to 3 percent for a full year for the first two friends you successfully refer. With two referrals, your rate could go as high as 3 percent based on your credit limit. After making three on-time payments, you’ll receive cash back automatically as a statement credit every month
Read our Jasper Cash Back Mastercard review.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it’s best for flat-rate cash back
The QuicksilverOne earns unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, a competitive rate for a fair-credit option. With consideration for a higher credit limit possible in as little as 6 months with on-time payments, the card also provides extra incentive for responsible use. Keep in mind the high standard APR (26.99% variable) and the $39 annual fee. With the right approach, though, this card could hold the key to building credit while earning substantial cash back rewards.
Read our Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Why it’s best for no annual fee
On top of avoiding an annual fee, Capital One Platinum cardholders are eligible for a credit limit increase in as little as 6 months if they use the card responsibly. This card doesn’t earn cash back, points or travel miles, but it does offer fraud coverage for lost or stolen cards and other benefits. If you have fair to good credit (580-740 FICO Score), this no-annual-fee unsecured card could help you improve your credit standing.
Read our Capital One Platinum Credit Card review.
Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa for Rebuilding Credit
Why it’s best for rebuilding credit
This unsecured card offers free online access to your credit score, protection against unauthorized charges and periodic reviews of your credit line. You could be approved for 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases based on your creditworthiness, although the rules of the rewards program are anything but straightforward. The card has an annual fee ranging from $0 to $99, which is also determined by your creditworthiness.
Read our Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa for Rebuilding Credit review.
Avant Credit Card
Why it’s best for no penalty APR
Although the card’s regular APR is a bit high at 25.99% (variable), the lack of penalty APR could provide some cushion against higher interest rates for late payments (which you should avoid whenever possible). The Avant Credit Card doesn’t have hidden fees or foreign transaction fees, but the annual fee is $39. The card reports to the major credit bureaus and offers an initial credit limit of up to $1,000).
Read our Avant Credit Card review.
Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards
Why it’s best for low interest and low cost
Depending on your creditworthiness, you could qualify for an APR as low as 8.99% (the full APR range is 8.99% – 29.99%). The Upgrade Visa card comes with no annual fee and combines elements of a credit card and a personal loan to offer predictable, fixed monthly payments. The card also features 1.5 percent unlimited cash back, earned every time you make a payment. All in all, it’s an intriguing option for a low-interest, low-cost card.
Read our Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards review.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Why it’s best for rotating cash back categories
This version of the Discover it cash back card earns 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in rotating category purchases each quarter and then 1 percent (activation required). You’ll have to pay attention to the cash back calendar and activate the bonus categories each quarter to get the full benefit of the rewards program. With diligence and responsible use on your part, this no-annual-fee card has a lot of upside.
Read our Discover it Student Cash Back review.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
Why it’s best for bankruptcy forgiveness
The Indigo Platinum Mastercard is recommended for bad to fair credit scores (300-670), and a previous bankruptcy won’t disqualify you. Pre-qualification with no credit check means you can estimate your chances of approval without hurting your credit score. The card will report your payment activity to the three major credit bureaus. Be sure to take into account the $0-$99 annual fee, regular APR of 24.90% and late payment fee of up to $40 before applying.
Read our Indigo Platinum Mastercard review.
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card
Why it’s the best student card for fair credit
There’s no credit history required with the Petal 2, so many students have a chance to explore its cash back and credit-building incentives. The standard cash back rate is 1 percent, but that rate could increase to 1.25 percent after 6 months of on-time payments and ultimately to 1.5 percent after 12 months of on-time payments. The no-annual-fee card also reports your payments to the three major credit bureaus monthly, so you have added motivation to keep your balance in order.
Read our Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card review.
Milestone® Gold Mastercard®
Why it’s best for fraud protection
The Milestone Gold Mastercard offers zero liability fraud protection for any unauthorized purchases on a lost or stolen card, a feature sure to provide reassurance. The card also creates credit-building opportunities by reporting payment activity to the three major credit bureaus. Pre-qualification gives you an idea of your approval odds without affecting your credit score. The downsides include a $35-$99 annual fee, 24.90% fixed APR and no rewards program.
Read our Milestone Gold Mastercard review.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Why it’s the best secured card for rewards
The Discover it Secured Credit Card, minimum $200 deposit, offers a rare opportunity among secured cards. This no-annual-fee card earns 2 percent cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases (on up to $1,000 per quarter in combined purchases, then 1 percent) and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. After eight months of responsible payment behavior, Discover could upgrade you to one of their unsecured cards.
Read our Discover it Secured Credit Card review.
What does it mean to have fair or average credit?
When you have a fair credit score, it means that your credit is one level below good but one level above bad or very poor. Credit score typically refers to your FICO® Score, a three-digit number that ranges from 300 to 850 using a scoring model developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. If your score is between 580 and 669, you land in the range considered fair.
FICO score ranges
300-579 = Very Poor
580-669 = Fair
670-739 = Good
740-799 = Very Good
800-850 = Exceptional
How your credit score is calculated
The three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — assign credit scores based on a combination of factors. Each one counts for a specific percentage of your credit score.
Your payment history — 35 percent
This record indicates how often you make your payments on time vs. how often you may have missed or skipped payments. In the eyes of credit card issuers and other lenders, paying on time helps establish you as a reliable person to do business with.
How much of your available credit you’re using — 30 percent
The term credit utilization ratio sounds complicated, but it’s simply a percentage that measures how much credit you’re currently using in relation to how much credit you have available to you. As a general rule, experts recommend using no more than 30 percent of your available credit.
Length of credit history — 15 percent
If you just opened your first credit card a month ago, your credit score won’t be as strong as someone who’s had a credit card for several years and has built up a solid history of paying their bills on time.
New credit — 10 percent
Applications for new lines of credit account for a small part of your credit scores. Just remember that any application involving a hard credit check can put a small, temporary dent in your credit score. Applying for multiple cards in a short period of time might even give potential lenders the impression that you’re trying to borrow more than you can afford to repay.
The types of credit you have — 10 percent
Part of your credit score is determined by your credit mix, which can include credit cards, car loans, student loans and mortgages. Credit mix counts for just 10 percent, so you’ll want to avoid aggressively opening new lines of credit just to expand it.
Five ways you can improve your credit score
If your credit is just fair, your goal should be to improve your overall credit standing. Here are some good credit habits to keep in mind as you work toward raising your credit score.
- Pay your bills in full and on time. Any missed or late payments will hurt your score. If you do have unpaid balances from time to time, keep them as low as possible.
- Try to keep your credit utilization under 30 percent. In other words, don’t use more than 30 percent of the total credit available to you.
- Look for pre-qualified offers on credit cards, loans and other types of credit. A pre-qualification check won’t affect your credit score like a hard inquiry.
- Check your credit report and be prepared to correct errors. Incorrect information on your credit report — even something as simple as a misspelling of your name — could be keeping your credit score lower than it should be. Check your report and find out how to dispute errors.
- Be careful about canceling older credit accounts. A credit card that you’ve had for a long time adds to your length of credit history. Even if you don’t regularly use the old card anymore, keeping your account open and occasionally active could benefit your score. Consider setting up autopay for a small recurring charge — like a streaming service — on your old card so you won’t worry about cluttering up your wallet.
Don’t expect your credit score to go from fair to good overnight. In fact, it could take months to see it improve significantly. Think of it as a long-term project that will pay off in the long run.
Why a higher credit score matters
The reason why pursuing good credit is a worthy goal is that the people with good credit tend to get more opportunities and better offers.
Having a higher credit score typically makes you a more attractive candidate for a credit card, car loan, mortgage or other type of credit account. If your credit is just average or fair, you’ll likely pay higher interest rates even if you’re approved.
For example, if you have a fair credit score of 660 and you apply for a credit card with a variable APR range of 15% – 24%, you may be approved for the card with 22% APR. But someone with a good credit score of 700 may get approved for that same card with 18% APR.
Better credit can save you money. When it comes to longer-term loans, like that on a mortgage, getting a better interest rate can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
Four things to consider before you apply
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you shop around for a credit card.
- Know the score. It’s important to have a general idea of which cards you might qualify for based on credit score. Check your credit score before you go card-shopping and look for recommended credit scores in each card’s marketing details.
- Look for lower APR. Annual percentage rate (APR) represents the total cost, including interest, charged by credit card issuers and other lenders. If you typically carry a balance on your credit card, APR will come into play. The lower the APR, the less you might have to pay for an unpaid balance.
- Get a sense of the fees. With every card you’re interested in, check for annual fee, late fee, foreign transaction fee and other charges. A card that’s less expensive to own could provide more value.
- Keep an eye out for pre-qualification. Online tools like CardMatch™ help you compare pre-qualified offers without hurting your credit score.
How we evaluate credit cards for fair credit
As someone with fair credit, you should focus on maximum value and potential to build your credit score. While Bankrate uses a 5-star scoring system to rate a card’s overall quality, cards in the fair credit category receive particular attention in the areas of:
An affordable APR could save you money if you ever have to carry an unpaid balance from one month to another.
Continuing the focus on affordability, our top-rated cards for fair credit often charge no annual fee or have an annual fee in the $29-$99 range.
Our top recommendations include cards that increase your credit line if you make the required number of on-time payments.
Many of the cards on our list offer pre-qualification, which means you can get an idea of how likely you are to get approval without a hard credit inquiry that takes a small bite out of your credit score.
More information on credit cards and credit scores
If you’re looking for options with fair credit or ways to build your credit score, check out some Bankrate resources:
Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.