Best credit cards for fair and average credit – CNET

Trying to find the right credit card can be challenging — particularly if you have a less-than-stellar credit score. Although FICO and the various credit reporting bureaus use slightly different nomenclature, if your credit score is less than 670, you may be designated as having “fair” or “average” credit. (A score under 580 will drop you down into the “poor” credit score range; if you’re there, here are some tips on how to rebuild your credit.) If you’re in one of these categories, you may not have access to all of the top-tier cards — but there are still plenty of worthwhile credit cards designed for you. Some of them can even help boost your credit score and earn you cash back and other rewards.

We’ve rounded up the best credit cards for people with lower credit scores, focusing on low fees, worthy reward rates and reasonable credit requirements. Here are our top picks.

Best credit card for fair credit overall

Annual fee: $0
Reward rates: 1% cash back on eligible purchases; up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments (and 2% to 10% at select merchants)
Welcome bonus: N/A
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 12.99% to 26.99% (variable)

Our top choice for people with fair credit, the Petal 2 Visa Card*, issued by WebBank Member FDIC, is distinctive among the field for having no annual fee, no late fees, no returned payment fees and no international fees. Credit limits run from $500 to $10,000. And it’s a good pick for anyone worried about eligibility, because Petal may use its own proprietary Cash Score — which analyzes your income and expenses — in addition to weighing your credit score. (Yes, you’ll have to provide some financial data.)

We’re also big fans of the 1% flat cash back cardholders earn on all eligible purchases — which increases to 1.25% cash back on eligible purchases after making six on-time monthly payments in a row, and 1.5% after 12 consecutive on-time monthly payments. Cardholders can also earn 2% to 10% bonus cash back on purchases at select merchants. Though the Petal 2 doesn’t offer a welcome bonus, the credit requirements and absence of fees make it a solid choice.

Best cash-back rewards (fair credit)

Annual fee: $39
Reward rates: 1.5% cash back
Welcome bonus: N/A 
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A 
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 26.99% (variable)

Our top choice for a flat cash-back rewards card, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card* offers a competitive cash back rate of 1.5%, which is especially noteworthy if you have some blemishes in your credit file. This cash back rate is on par with the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Good Credit*, designed for those with good credit** and the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards* card, targeted to those with excellent credit***. Also, if you make on-time payments for six months, you may be eligible for a higher credit line.

There is a $39 annual fee and there are no frills such as an intro APR or welcome bonus, but you don’t have to reach a minimum amount to redeem your rewards points, and there’s no limit to how much you can earn in a given year. 

**Capital One defines an applicant as having good credit if they have not declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan in the past five years. They also have a credit card or loan and have not been more than 30 days late on any payment in the last year.
***Capital One defines an applicant as having excellent credit if they’ve never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan, they haven’t been more than 60 days late on any credit card, medical bill, or loan in the last year and they’ve had a loan or credit card for three years or more with a credit limit above $5,000. Note: These are guidelines to help narrow your selection. Additional factors from your application and credit history will also be considered.

Best travel perks credit card (fair credit)

Annual fee: $0
Reward rates: N/A
Welcome bonus: N/A
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A
Credit requirement: Fair 
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 26.99% (variable)

If you’re less interested in cash back rewards and looking for specific travel incentives, the Capital One Platinum Credit Card* is a solid option. Those with a fair credit score are eligible and you may get an automatic credit line increase after six months if you make on-time payments.

While there are no rewards or introductory bonuses, the card’s appeal lies in its travel benefits. Card holders won’t get dinged with a foreign transaction fee when traveling internationally, plus car rental insurance and travel assistance are available through the card. Beyond travel perks, the card features extended warranty coverage for some items and price protection, which offers reimbursements for most items purchased if you find them at a lower price within 60 days of the initial purchase date.

Best card for building credit (fair credit)

Annual fee: $0 to $59 
Reward rates: N/A
Welcome bonus: N/A 
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A 
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 24.99% to 29.99% (variable)

Issued by WebBank, the Avant Credit Card* is a no-frills card that doesn’t offer many perks. There are no rewards, no welcome bonus and no option to make a balance transfer. However, you can get prequalified online without impacting your credit score. It’s an option worth considering if you are looking for a barebones card for making headway toward improving your credit.

With a credit limit of $300 to $1,000, this card won’t give you access to a large line of credit — but that might be a benefit if you’re worried about racking up credit card debt. If you fall behind on payments, a penalty APR — which is higher than your standard APR — won’t kick in. But you will get dinged with up to a $39 late payment charge.

If you don’t want to pay for a secured card — which requires an initial deposit — and you don’t mind paying an annual fee of up to $59, the Avant Credit Card is a worthy one to consider.

Best card for building credit, runner-up (fair credit)

Annual fee: $0
Reward rates: N/A
Welcome bonus: N/A
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A
Credit requirement: Fair 
Intro APR: N/A
APR for purchases: 26.99% (variable)

The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One features a simple way to rebuild credit: no annual fee and an initial security deposit of either $49, $99 or $200. Plus, for those who want to avoid making further moves that ding their credit, they can get preapproved online without a hard inquiry.

With other secured cards, the credit limit matches the security deposit. But holders of the Secured Mastercard from Capital One start with an initial credit line of $200 with a minimum deposit of $49. Deposit more and your initial credit line gets bumped up. While other secured cards offer higher initial credit limits, you may be eligible for an automatic increase after six months. The interest rate is on the high end, but this is a strong choice for people who make small purchases and pay their card off in full each cycle. 

Best for students (fair credit)

Annual fee: $0
Reward rates: 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories upon activation (on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%), 1% on all other purchases
Welcome bonus: Cashback Match: Discover will automatically match all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year
Welcome bonus value: N/A
Bonus redemption threshold: N/A
Credit requirement: Fair
Intro Purchase APR: 0% intro APR for first 6 months
APR for purchases: 12.99% to 21.99% (variable) 

With its attractive no annual fee and multiple ways to earn cash back, the Discover it® Student Cash Back* is our top contender in the student credit card category. Students who are building their credit can check their FICO scores for free. Plus, Discover does look beyond credit scores for those applying for student credit cards.

The Discover it Student Cash Back offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories upon activation (on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter, then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, for the first 12 months after opening an account, cardholders get a dollar-for-dollar match on all cash back rewards, a benefit that can essentially double your cash-back rewards at the end of the first year in the form of a statement credit. Students with a 3.0 GPA or higher also receive a $20 statement credit each year for the first five years.

Best credit cards for fair/average credit, compared

Best overall (fair credit) Best cash-back rewards (fair credit) Best travel perks (fair credit) Best card for building credit (fair credit) Best card for building credit, runner up (fair credit) Best for students (fair credit)
Card name Petal 2 Visa Credit Card Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Capital One Platinum Credit Card Avant Credit Card Secured Mastercard® from Capital One . Discover it® Student Cash Back 
Annual fee $0 $39 $0 $0 to $59 $0 $0
Reward rates 1% cash back on eligible purchases – up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments (2% to 10% at select merchants) 1.5% cash back N/A N/A N/A 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%) upon activation, 1% on all other purchases
Credit requirement Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair
Intro APR for purchases N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 0% intro for first 6 months
Standard APR for purchases 12.99% to 26.99% (variable) 26.99% (variable) 26.99% (variable) 24.99% to 29.99% (variable) 26.99% (variable) 12.99% to 21.99% (variable

What credit score is considered fair?

According to Experian, a credit score that hovers between a 580 to 669 FICO score is considered “fair.” This sits between what’s considered a “poor” score, which ranges between 300 to 579, and a “good” score, which is anything between 670 and 739. Once you hit the threshold for a good credit score on your credit report, you’ll gain access to more credit card options with better rates and terms. 

Ways to improve your credit score

The best way to improve your credit score depends on why it’s lower in the first place, explains John Ulzheimer, a consumer credit expert and formerly of Equifax and FICO. “There is more than one path to a lower score, which means there is more than one path to a higher score,” he says. For example, if your score is low because you have limited credit history, using credit responsibly on a regular basis can help boost your score.

In general, to improve your score, you should:

  • Pay all your bills on time
  • Keep lower amounts of credit card debt
  • Pay your card balance in full each month if possible
  • Avoid excessively applying for credit
  • Review your credit. You can order a free credit score every week from AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Monitor your credit. Some credit cards offer free credit monitoring or free credit scores
  • Set credit card alerts. This can help you stick to a spending limit and get alerts about fishy activity

Benefits of a high credit score

Having strong credit that falls in the good to exceptional range (670 to 850 FICO) comes with a number of advantages: more favorable rates and terms, higher credit limits, more perks and more options. You’ll also have an easier time finding a credit card that’s best suited to your needs and preferences.

What kind of credit card can you get with a fair credit score?

You can get the same types of cards that people with good or excellent credit can get: travel cards, cash-back rewards cards, student cards and ones with no annual fees, to name a few. However, the APRs might be higher if you have fair or average credit, or the credit limits may be modest. 

What’s the minimum score needed to get approved for a credit card?

Typically, the minimum credit score needed to get approved for a credit card depends on the particular credit card and the type of card. Each card has different lending criteria. However, if you have a credit score below 600, you might have a tough time getting approved for a credit card. In this case, you’ll want to search credit cards that either don’t require a FICO score, those that look at other factors to determine creditworthiness or secured cards.

What are the easiest cards to get approved for?

Retail store cards and subprime cards are the easiest to get because they’re structured for people who are considered a higher risk for lenders, says Ulzheimer. 

“These aren’t really the cards you want to rely on for any extended period of time because the rates are punitive,” adds Ulzheimer.

A secured credit card might also be easier to get and is designed for people who are rebuilding their credit. With a secured credit card, you need to offer an initial security deposit that usually gets refunded. Credit limits tend to be low and usually match the amount of your security deposit. 

Cards researched

  • Aspire Platinum Mastercard®
  • Avant Credit Card  
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • Capital One Platinum Credit Card
  • Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card 
  • Citi Simplicity® Card  
  • Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students 
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back 
  • Discover it® Student chrome 
  • Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
  • Jasper® Cash Back Mastercard® 
  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
  • Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card 
  • Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card
  • Secured Mastercard® from Capital One 

More credit card recommendations

*All information about the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card, Capital One Platinum Credit Card, Avant Credit Card, Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Good Credit, Capital One Quicksilver Rewards, Secured Mastercard from Capital One and the Discover it Student Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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