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When someone has a fair credit score, it indicates they aren’t the most desirable borrowers from the perspective of lending and credit companies. According to Experian, around 20% of people fall into the fair credit category.
When you have fair credit, you may not be able to qualify for the best credit cards. This can sometimes feel like a catch-22: You need to have a credit card to use and pay off in order to improve your credit score, but you can’t do that until you have credit in the first place.
There are numerous ways you can build or improve your credit score, but one of the easiest methods is by signing up for a credit card that’s available even if you have fair credit—then using it responsibly for a year or so before trying to upgrade. Some of these cards won’t have much to offer in terms of rewards, and others may have perks such as cash back. Either way, you need to make responsible use and building your credit your main objective. Here are four good credit cards you may be able to qualify for with fair credit.
Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit
Best for Credit of 650 or Higher: Discover it Cash Back
- Annual Fee: $0
- APR: 0% for 14 months; 14.24% – 25.24% after that
- Rewards: 5% back on quarterly bonus categories; 1% back on everything else
- Sign-Up Bonus: Double your cash back at the end of your first year
The Discover it Cash Back card is a cash rewards credit card that offers a generous 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories, including grocery stores, Amazon.com, gas stations, and restaurants, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You’ll earn 1% back on all other purchases, and Discover’s Cashback Match feature doubles all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
Rewards can be redeemed in any amount and at any time, and cash back never expires.
The card also comes with a 0% APR period of 14 months, so you can finance a large purchase or pay down a balance you’ve transferred from another card.
It’s worth noting that the Discover it Cash Back card is generally meant for people with good credit. However we included it on this ranking because it’s a great card, and some users have reported being approved with fair credit. For example, a myFICO user reported getting the card with a score of 648. If your score is below this, you should consider other cards on this list such as the Discover it Student Cash Back card. But if your credit score is on the higher end of the fair credit range, this card might be a good option.
APRs & Fees
- No annual fee
- 0% APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers
- After the intro APR period 14.24% to 25.24% variable APR
- 3% balance transfer fee before September 10, 2019; 5% after that
- No penalty for your first late payment, then $39
If your credit score is at least 650, the Discover it is a solid cash back credit card.
Best for Balance Transfers: Chase Slate
- Annual Fee: $0
- APR: 0% for 15 months; 17.24% – 25.99% after that
- Rewards: None
- Sign-Up Bonus: 0% balance transfer rate for 15 months
The Chase Slate credit card is a good option for someone who wants to make a balance transfer or build their credit. The card features a 0% intro APR for the 15 months your account is open. This means you could transfer a high-interest debt to the card for absolutely no fees and pay it down interest-free.
However, the card doesn’t offer any cash back rewards.
APRs & Fees
- No annual fee
- 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers from account opening
- After the introductory APR period, a variable APR of 17.24% to 25.99%
- Balance transfer fee of 3%
- Late payment fee of $39
The Chase Slate is a good card for fair credit and for someone interested in a lengthy introductory APR period and a 0% balance transfer fee. It doesn’t offer any perks or rewards, however, so the card is really only good for paying down debt and building credit.
QuicksilverOne from Capital One
- Annual Fee: $39
- APR: 26.99% (variable)
- Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- Sign-Up Bonus: None
The QuicksilverOne card is tailored specifically for people with average credit, but the card still features a solid rewards rate: unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, at all times. Rewards don’t expire for the life of the account and can be redeemed at any time and in any amount. Cardholders can redeem for cash, or they can use their rewards like cash back to cover a purchase on their card.
Plus, cardholders can get access to a higher credit line with the Credit Steps program from Capital One if they make their first five payments on time, and they’ll get free access to changes in their credit score through Capital One’s CreditWise mobile app.
The card does have an annual fee, however.
APRs & Fees
- $39 annual fee
- No introductory APR, just a standard variable APR of 26.99%
- No balance transfer fee
- Up to $39 for a late payment fee
For a cardholder who’s okay with a low annual fee, the QuicksilverOne card can be a good option for fair credit. It includes unlimited rewards that will make up for the annual fee after just $2,600, and you’ll profit after that. However, there isn’t an introductory APR, and the purchase rate APR is relatively high.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa®
- Annual Fee: $0 – $99
- APR: 20.24% – 26.24% (variable)
- Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases
- Sign-Up Bonus: None
The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® is geared toward people with fair credit or no credit at all. The credit card offers introductory credit lines between $300 and $3,000 based on your creditworthiness. The card also features 1% cash back on all eligible purchases and flexible payment dates so cardholders can choose what works for them.
APRs & Fees
- The annual fee ranges from $0 to $99 a year.
- No introductory APR
- APR ranges from 20.24% to 26.24% based on creditworthiness
- Some accounts are billed the Annual Fee into 12 divided portions, and some accounts will pay annually.
- Up to $39 for a late payment
- 3% foreign transaction fees
The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® can often lead to approval for credit scores on the lower side of the fair credit range, and there is still a cash back component. Even so, the annual fee is high, and there are no guarantees of how much of a fee you’ll pay. A $99 annual fee, could be a lot for a card with limited perks and relatively low spending limits.
What Is a Fair Credit Score?
While it can vary depending on the company, most credit card companies will consider a fair credit score to be a FICO score ranging from 580 to 669. The full range of FICO scores is 300 to 850, and score ranges can be grouped into poor, fair, good, very good and excellent categories.
While Experian gives a fair credit score range as being between 580 and 669, other financial institutions define it as being between 630 and 689, which is quite a bit higher.
Before you apply for any credit card, it’s a good idea to run a free credit report. This will give you a better idea of what your score is so that you’ll avoid applying for cards that you definitely won’t qualify for. When you apply for credit cards, it can show up as a hard credit inquiry, which can temporarily lower your credit score.
Some cards will allow applicants to see if they pre-qualify before a hard pull is done on their credit.
How Can I Improve My Credit Score?
Before looking at specific ways to improve your credit score, it’s valuable to have an idea of what factors play a role in your score in the first place. Most credit card issuers use the FICO model to decide not only whether to approve credit applications, but also what the interest rate will be.
FICO scores are based on credit reports that are calculated by credit bureaus. The three major credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. The data from the credit bureaus is then compiled and calculated into a credit score ranging from 300 to 850.
There are five main factors that play a role in credit scores. These are:
- Payment History: This accounts for about 35% of a person’s total credit score, making it the most important factor. FICO scores not only look at on-time payments but missed payments and how often those occur. Payment history includes both revolving loans, which is what credit cards are considered, and installment loans like car loans or mortgages.
- Credit Utilization: This is a measure of how much of your available credit is in use. This makes up around 30% of your total credit score. If you regularly max out credit cards, even while making payments, it can significantly impact your credit score in a negative way. The people with the highest credit scores tend to have a credit utilization ratio of around 6%.
- Length of Credit History: One of the reasons people with limited credit profiles tend to have a hard time being approved for the most attractive credit cards is their short credit history. How long each of your accounts has been opened amounts to around 15 of your total credit score.
- New Credit: Some people think they can improve their credit score by opening multiple cards simultaneously, but in reality, this can lower your credit score. It can be a red flag to lenders that someone is having financial difficulties if they’re trying to gain access to a lot of credit all at once. Instead, it’s good to slowly open a few credit accounts over several years and keep them in good standing.
- Credit Mix: Credit mix makes up around 10% of a person’s total score, and ideally lenders want to see a combination of installment and revolving credit.
Other Tips for Improving Credit
- Monitor your credit score. Make sure that you always stay on top of your score and regularly access your reports from the three major bureaus. While everyone is entitled to an annual credit report for free, most of the cards named above include credit monitoring services as part of the perks of having an account.
- Always look out for errors. Errors on credit reports happen more than most people realize.
- Pay your balance in full. Responsible card use is the single biggest step you can take to improve your score. If you do regularly use a credit card, pay the full balance off by your monthly due date each month, rather than just making minimum monthly payments.
What If My Credit Card Application Was Denied?
If your card application was denied, the credit card company will send you a letter explaining why. This can give you specific areas to target as you work on improving your credit. It will also give you an opportunity to evaluate your credit report and make sure there aren’t any errors.
If the primary reason your application was denied is that your score was too low, you should spend a few months trying to improve your score before applying for anything else. After a few months have passed, consider a secured credit card. Secured cards are for people who can’t qualify for other types of cards. They don’t usually offer many perks, and they always require a small refundable security deposit to guarantee your credit limit, but they can be a great tool for building your credit.
Bottom Line: Choose the Fair Credit Card That Works for You
If you have fair or average credit, there are some good card options available that you may qualify for. However you may have to sacrifice in some areas as compared to a borrower with excellent credit. Along with choosing cards you are most likely to qualify for, make a plan to improve your credit score over time and regularly check your report for errors.
Author: Ashley Sutphin
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