Key takeaways

  • The average credit score for Americans is 717 according to FICO, while a fair credit score ranges from 580 to 669.
  • Having a fair credit score can limit your financial opportunities, like getting approved for the best credit cards and loan terms.
  • Fair credit can be caused by factors such as late payments, credit report errors and high credit utilization.
  • Having fair credit may cost you more over time than good or excellent credit, so improving your credit score may save you money in the long run.

If you recently checked your credit score and found it to be in the “fair credit” range — that is a 580 to 669 FICO score — you might be asking yourself, “What is a fair credit score?” and whether it’s a bad thing. Luckily, having fair credit is better than having poor credit, but there’s still some work to do since it still limits your financial opportunities. If you build your credit score toward the good or excellent levels, you’ll gain access to better credit cards, lower interest rates and even lower monthly payments on other loans.

Fair credit isn’t good or bad — it’s somewhere in between. Discover how having a fair credit score may impact your financial life and how to boost your score from fair up into the good range.

What is a fair credit score?

As of October 2023, the average credit score for Americans is 717, according to a 2024 FICO report. While the average credit score lands firmly in the good credit score range, a fair credit score starts almost 50 points below that — ranging from 580 to 669. So even though fair credit is often referred to as “average credit,” it’s far from the average American credit score. Out of about 225,000 Bankrate users who requested credit card matches on the site in 2023, just over 21 percent fall into the fair credit score range.

Having a fair credit score often means you won’t qualify for the best credit cards and loans since lenders view people with fair scores as riskier borrowers than those with good or excellent credit. There certainly are credit cards for people with fair credit and you can even qualify for some loans, but you’ll want to improve your credit score for the best cards and loan terms. Everyone’s credit history is different, but if you have a fair credit score, you’re likely dealing with one or more of these factors:

  • A late or missing payment
  • An account in collections
  • Credit report errors
  • Limited credit accounts
  • High credit utilization
  • Excessive hard inquiries
  • Shorter credit history

Without reviewing your credit report, it’ll be hard to diagnose exactly what’s affecting your credit score, but tackling these issues to the extent you can could help boost your score.

What is the range of credit scores?

The credit score range you’re in is based on what’s recorded in your credit history. FICO, the most commonly used credit scoring model, ranks your credit score within one of five credit score ranges: Excellent (sometimes called “Exceptional”), Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. The following are the ranges for the FICO credit scoring system:

  • Exceptional: 800-850
  • Very Good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor: 300-579

Fair vs. good credit

Fair credit and good credit are next to each other on the credit score scale, but your financial opportunities get significantly better once you pass the threshold of a 670 score. The difference between fair credit and good credit goes beyond which score range you’re in — it affects your approval odds for credit cards and loans, how much you’ll pay in interest and even what your monthly payment is on certain debts.

For example, if you were planning to buy a new car for $30,000 with a 36-month auto loan in California, you’d pay significantly more for the same loan with a fair credit score of 600 than with a good credit score of 700. Let’s take a look at the difference:

Good Credit (700) Fair Credit (600)
Source: MyFICO Loan Savings Calculator
Monthly payment $949 $1,050
APR 8.36 percent 15.67 percent
Total interest paid $4,161 $7,798

If you had a fair credit score of 600, you would pay $101 more each month and a total of $3,637 more in interest over the three-year loan term. Bumping your credit score up by 100 points and into the “good” credit category brings your interest rate down from an estimated 15.67 percent to 8.36 percent, according to the interest rates available on March 28, 2024.

On the same note, credit cards for people with good credit typically offer higher rewards, lower interest rates and better perks. With good credit, you’ll also have access to more credit card options.

Data point

Bankrate users in 2023 who applied for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express with fair credit saw an approval rate of just over 16 percent while Bankrate users with good credit had an approval rate of nearly 29 percent.

If you’re in the fair credit range, you’re already better off financially than those with poor credit, but you shouldn’t stop there. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take steps to improve your credit as quickly as possible.

What cards can I apply for with fair credit?

Many of today’s best rewards credit cards are only available to people with good or excellent credit. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your score is in the fair range. There are numerous cards for people with fair credit that still provide worthwhile benefits and perks. For example, here are two cards we recommend:

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card image

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Discover it® Secured Credit Card image

Discover It Secured Credit Card

Don’t want to run endless hard credit inquiries to find a credit card for fair credit? Use Bankrate’s CardMatch tool to prequalify for a card that fits your needs without affecting your credit score.

How to improve fair credit

Even though you’re a step up from poor credit, there’s still room for improvement if you have a fair credit score. Take these steps if you want to improve your credit:

  • Make all of your credit card payments on time. The largest factor impacting your credit score is your payment history, accounting for 35 percent of your FICO score, so avoid late payments whenever possible. If you accidentally miss a payment, try to pay it off before it becomes 30 days past due. Catching up quickly will keep your late payment from being reported to the three credit bureaus.
  • Keep your balances as low as possible. Your credit score is also largely based on your credit utilization — the amount of credit you’re using compared to the amount of credit available to you — as this makes up 30 percent of your FICO score. By keeping your balances low or paying them off in full, you’ll decrease your credit utilization ratio and increase your credit score.
  • Increase your available credit. Believe it or not, you can boost your credit score by requesting a credit limit increase or applying for a new credit card. If you have more credit available to you — and if you avoid turning that new credit into new debt — your credit utilization ratio will go down and your credit score should go up.
  • Check your credit reports for errors. As of January 2021, over one third of Americans reported finding at least one error on their credit report according to a study from Consumer Reports — and inaccurate information could be dragging your credit score down. Check your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports regularly and dispute any errors you find.

As you continue to use credit responsibly — by making on-time payments every month and paying off your balances as quickly as possible — you should see your credit score improve over time. In fact, depending on where you are in your credit-building journey, you could see significant improvement in just a few months. Improving your credit will give you access to better credit cards and lower interest rates, and your credit options will only continue to expand as your credit score continues to grow.

The bottom line

A fair credit score isn’t bad credit, but it isn’t good credit either. You’ll have fewer options when it comes to loans and credit cards because lenders see fair credit as a higher risk than good credit. You might even pay more for the financial products you’re approved for under a fair credit score. However, it’s not the end of the line since there are solid credit card options available for people with fair credit. Meanwhile, you can take the time and effort needed to raise your credit score and expand your options.