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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®
Best for cash back referral bonus
- This card is best for: Someone who wants to grow their credit score and earn a reward for getting their friends to join in. You can get up to 6% cash back with enough referrals (starts at 1%, then an extra 1% for an entire year per referral).
- This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who prefers a more straightforward way to earn cash back without jumping through the hoops of a referral bonus.
- What makes this card unique? The referral-based cash back bonus provides lots of short-term opportunity to maximize your earnings and the card’s value.
- Is the Jasper Cash Back Mastercard worth it? For those who are good at networking and eager to grow their credit score, this card is an intriguing choice.
Read our full Jasper Cash Back Mastercard review.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for flat-rate cash back
- This card is best for: Those looking to earn simple, straightforward cash back as they build their credit. You can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone with specialized spending. If your spending habits are geared toward certain purchases (dining, gas, grocery stores, etc.), a cash back card with higher-rate tiered categories could bring you extra earnings.
- What makes this card unique? With just six months of on-time payments, you’ll automatically be considered for a higher credit line — a major help to your credit utilization and credit score.
- Is the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards worth it? Although it does come with a $39 annual fee, this card also brings credit-building features and unlimited cash back opportunities. If you can keep your balance at zero to avoid the 26.99% (variable) APR, this card could help you take your credit score to the next level.
Read our full Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Best for no annual fee
- This card is best for: Anyone specifically looking for a card with no annual fee and less stringent application requirements.
- This card is not a great choice for: People interested in rewards and bonuses. This card doesn’t earn cash back or offer a sign-up bonus.
- What makes this card unique? You’ll have access to CreditWise from Capital One®, which offers credit score monitoring plus tracking the Dark Web for signs of fraud.
- Is the Capital One Platinum Credit Card worth it? If you’re not interested in bonuses or rewards, this card can be a practical, affordable tool to grow your credit score.
Read our full Capital One Platinum Credit Card review.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
Best for rebuilding credit
- This card is best for: Those looking to earn a little cash back as they rebuild their credit score.
- This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who wants to avoid an annual fee or complicated terms and conditions. This card comes with a $75 fee in the first year, then a $99 annual fee afterward. When it comes to cash back rewards, you won’t know your eligibility until you’re already approved for the card.
- What makes this card unique? As a basic Visa card, this option comes with several perks, such as travel accident insurance, pay-per-use 24/7 roadside dispatch and zero fraud liability.
- Is the Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit worth it? With free online access to your credit score and other credit-building features, this card could be a worthwhile choice. However, its annual fee may be enough to push someone in another direction.
Read our full Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit review.
Avant Credit Card
Best for no penalty APR
- This card is best for: Aspiring credit-builders want the assurance of no penalty APR in case they carry a balance on their card, which we don’t recommend if at all possible. (Despite the card’s lack of penalty APR, the penalty fee for late payments is up to $39 — and payment history factors heavily into your credit score.)
- This card is not a great choice for: Those who can qualify for a card that earns rewards and offers better perks.
- What makes this card unique? It doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Cards for people who have less than perfect credit frequently include less visible fees, like an extra charge for international purchases.
- Is the Avant Credit Card worth it? It comes with an annual fee of $39, but those with limited credit card options could take advantage of its credit-building perks. Just don’t assume that no penalty APR means no consequences for not staying on top of your monthly balance.
Read our full Avant Credit Card review.
Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards
Best for low interest and low cost
- This card is best for: Those looking for an innovative way to improve their credit, along with 1.5% unlimited cash back and a chance at a low APR (8.99% – 29.99% variable), all for no annual fee.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants a traditional credit card. This hybrid option combines elements of personal loans and credit cards.
- What makes this card unique? When you sign up for a card, you’ll be assigned a line of credit, APR and installment terms of 12 to 60 months, based on your credit. You can still use the card to make purchases, but at the end of each month your charges are automatically put into a plan with fixed, equal monthly payments. Your 1.5% cash back earnings are applied each time you make a payment.
- Is the Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards worth it? The key features make this card an intriguing option for someone who wants the convenience of a credit card and the stable payment schedule of a loan.
Read our full Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards review.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Best for rotating cash back categories
- This card is best for: Students with fair credit who are willing to do a little work to earn extra cash back while improving their credit score.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to be hands-off about earning cash back. Staying on top of bonus categories, activating every quarter and spending in specialized categories isn’t for everyone.
- What makes this card unique? The cash back calendar typically covers a lot of everyday spending categories, and you’ll get plenty of advance notice when the categories rotate each quarter.
- Is the Discover it Student Cash Back worth it? For students who commit to strategizing and diligently paying their balance, the bonus categories could deliver a cash back bonanza.
Read our full Discover it Student Cash Back review.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
Best for bankruptcy forgiveness
- This card is best for: Those looking for an opportunity to turn their credit score around, even if their credit history includes bankruptcy.
- This card is not a great choice for: People with stronger credit histories who could qualify for a card that offers a rewards program and more benefits. There’s no cash back, welcome offer or intro APR offer with this card.
- What makes this card unique? Bankruptcy won’t automatically disqualify you from applying for this card, which could be a game-changer if you’ve declared bankruptcy in the past. Also, there’s a 0% fee on cash advances in the first year.
- Is the Indigo Platinum Mastercard worth it? If you face a particularly challenging effort to rebuild your credit score, using this card responsibly could help you get a good start.
Read our full Indigo Platinum Mastercard review.
Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
Best for limited credit history
- This card is best for: Anyone who believes having a thin credit profile shouldn’t make it harder to apply for a credit card, much less one that has no fees and earns cash back on eligible purchases.
- This card is not a great choice for: People who want a better than average cash back rate right off the bat. This card starts at 1% cash back, and the rate could increase to 1.5% after you make 12 on-time monthly payments.
- What makes this card unique? In addition to the everyday cash back program, this card also earns 2% – 10% cash back on offers from select merchants.
- Is the Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card worth it? By removing some of the usual hurdles in the application process and taking a no-fee approach, the Petal 2 could be an affordable and easily obtainable way to build your credit.
Read our full Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card review.
Milestone® Gold Mastercard®
Best for fraud protection
- This card is best for: Aspiring credit-builders who want reassurance that they have plenty of protection from fraudulent charges. This card offers zero liability fraud protection for any unauthorized purchases on a lost or stolen card.
- This card is not a great choice for: Those looking for rewards programs or sign-up bonuses.
- What makes this card unique? Optional Credit Protection provides a safeguard against events that could affect your ability to pay your credit card statement, including job loss and hospitalization. It requires a monthly fee of $1.49 per $100 of your billing statement balance.
- Is the Milestone Gold Mastercard worth it? Unless you’re specifically looking for extra peace of mind, you’re likely to find a more affordable option. The card has an annual fee of $35-$99 and 24.90% APR.
Read our full Milestone Gold Mastercard 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.