Having fair credit doesn’t mean you’re ineligible for great credit cards. We’ve rounded up the top credit cards with the best offers in a range of different categories that you’re still likely to be approved for, even with fair credit. These credit cards can help you build credit as long as you use them wisely. In this guide, we’ll show you the best credit cards for fair credit scores as well as how to use them to boost your credit score even higher.
Here are some of the products we will be discussing today:
Check If You’re Pre-qualified
Before applying for any credit card it’s helpful to check if you’re pre-qualified from a variety of institutions. The soft credit check the institutions perform does not harm your credit score and allows you to compare credit options. Sites such as CreditCards.com provide good tools that can match you to offers from multiple credit card companies without impacting your credit score. You can read our complete guide to getting pre-qualified for a credit card here.
Build Credit with Secured Cards
A great approach to rebuilding credit is to get a secured credit card. In order to get the card, you will have to deposit money that will be your line of credit. To effectively rebuild your credit, you must use the card, and we recommend not charging more than 20% of your credit line. For example, if you have a $500 credit line, you should not charge more than $100. Then, pay off your balance in full every single month. You can even build credit with $10 a month on a secured card and see your credit score rise.
After you’ve consistently managed your secured card well over a period of time, you may be able to increase your credit line beyond your initial deposit or migrate to an unsecured credit card.
We’ve reviewed the best secured cards in the market and found our top pick — the Discover it® Secured Card. This card has no annual fee, a reasonable security deposit and offers an easy transition to an unsecured card. In addition, Discover offers a rewards program and free access to your FICO score.
- Annual fee
- Minimum Deposit
- 23.99% APR
Magnify Glass Pros
- Bankruptcies May Be OK If you have a Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your credit report, it won’t automatically disqualify you from getting approved for a Discover it® Secured card. However, there are no guaranteed approvals. This is a positive if you’ve had trouble getting a credit card in the past.
- Helps You Rebuild Your Credit This is a great way to improve your credit when you don’t qualify for other cards. Discover reports to the major credit bureaus, which means your good behavior will be rewarded.
- Free FICO Score Each month you will receive your free FICO Score. This is a great tool for you to monitor your credit score. If you practice proper credit behavior, you will see your score increase.
- Offers a Rewards Program Not only can you improve your credit, but you’ll also earn rewards points as you do so. This is a great feature that many secured cards don’t offer and is a reason why we consider Discover number one. Earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus 1% cash back on all other credit card purchases. During your first year, Discover will also match your cash back.
- Easy to Transition to an Unsecured Card Some companies will make it difficult to transition from a secured to unsecured card. Not Discover. They start automated monthly reviews at month eight. This helps facilitate you from a secured to unsecured card.
- Rewards LimitedThe higher 2% reward tier is limited to the first $1,000 you spend at restaurants and gas stations each quarter. Regardless, that’s $20 back, which is a great reward when your goal is to increase your credit score.
- Be Careful Not to OverspendAs with the other cards in this review, you have to be careful that the rewards program doesn’t entice you to overspend. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging your credit score. Make sure that your primary goal, to raise your credit score, precedes the urge to spend too much money in order to get rewards.
Best for Cash Back
If you have fair credit and want a cash back card the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Rewards credit card is a good option. As a consumer with fair credit you may not qualify for all cash back cards, but you may qualify for the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Rewards credit card since it is made for those with fair credit. With this card you will earn unlimited cash back, with no changing categories, and the rewards never expire.
However, this card comes with a high APR and annual fee. To earn enough cash back rewards to pay for the card itself each year you’ll need to spend $2,600 annually ($217 per month). To net a cash back of $50 you need to spend $5,933 in a year ($494 per month). This card may be an option for you if you want to earn more than 1% cash back.
on Capital One’s secure website
- Annual fee
- Cashback Rate
- Unlimited 1.5%
Magnify Glass Pros
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back If you’ve got fair credit, this is the highest cash back rate that you’ll see. By spending $225 per month on the credit card, you’ll earn more in rewards than you pay in annual fees. If you spend at least $650 per month on the credit card, you’ll beat out the 1% rewards rate that some secured credit cards offer.
- Access to your credit score Free access to your credit score is great for those looking to rebuild their credit. You will be able to monitor your credit score using CreditWise as well as take advantage of tools to help you practice good credit behavior.
- Annual fee This card comes with an annual fee, unlike other cash back rewards card we mentioned. This is important to consider when deciding what credit card is best for you. Plus, you may not be stuck with the fee forever. Capital One has shown willingness to upgrade users to fee-free accounts when their credit scores improve. You will need to call to ask for the upgrade though.
- High interest rate This card has a high APR that is similar to most credit cards for people with fair credit. Make sure you pay your bills on time and in full every month to avoid high interest charges. By doing this you will be able to benefit from the cash back rewards.
Best Low Ongoing APR
No one wants to carry a balance on their credit cards, but if you must, it’s best to get a card with a low ongoing APR. Many lenders charge high APRs around 25%, but you can potentially qualify for a variable APR as low as 8.90%. This card will charge you less money on your debt than the typical credit card, which can save you big dollars in the long run.
- Intro BT APR
- Balance Transfer Fee
- $5 or 2% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater
- 6 months
Magnify Glass Pros
- 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 6 months If you need to make a big purchase and can pay it off within the next 6 months, this card will save you a ton of money in interest charges. Your balance won’t accrue any interest, whether it’s from a purchase or a balance transfer during the 6-month introductory period.
- Low ongoing APR At an APR as low as 8.90% and topping off at 18%, this card rivals many personal loans for having the lowest interest rate, especially if you don’t have excellent credit. This is a major benefit if you can’t afford to pay your statement in full each month, as other cards charge high APRs around 25%.
- No annual fee You won’t pay anything to keep this card in your back pocket, making it especially good to keep for emergencies. This card has no fee in addition to the low APR, increasing your benefit of having it for unexpected purchases. Even if you only use it on occasion, it is at no harm to you since it’s fee-free.
- High credit limits Don’t worry if a big emergency pops up; you’ll likely be able to cover it with this card. Aspire boasts generous credit limits on their product information page, which is a benefit, especially if you have fair credit as you may struggle to be approved for a high credit limit from other cards.
- 1% foreign transaction fee This is a great card to have for emergencies — as long as you’re at home. The 1% foreign transaction fee isn’t as high as other cards that charge 3%, though you can find cards with no fee.
- No rewards program You might also take note that the Aspire Platinum MasterCard does not include any rewards program. This is what allows them to charge low fees. Aspire offers the Platinum Rewards MasterCard and World Rewards MasterCard as rewards card options, but they both require a good to excellent credit score.
Best for Small Business Owners
Running a business is hard. Small business credit cards can make it a bit easier for you by giving you rewards for everyday purchases. Nevertheless, be aware: Business credit cards forego certain protections that personal credit cards have under the Credit CARD Act. For example, card issuers can change the payment due date or interest rate without giving you prior notice.
Still, small business cards can be a great option for you to build your credit and save money, even if you don’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar business. You can apply for these cards with just a DBA or even your own name, if you’re a freelancer.
- Annual fee
- Cashback Rate
- 1% on all spend
Magnify Glass Pros
- No annual fee You won’t pay anything for using this card — assuming you pay off your purchases each month to avoid interest charges, of course. This is a great feature of the Spark card since many other cards charge yearly fees.
- No foreign transaction fees This card is perfect for jet-setting business travelers because it won’t slap you with a foreign transaction fee (typically 3% of the purchase). Whether you travel frequently or on occasion, this card has you covered.
- 1% cash back on all purchases Make your business essentially 1% cheaper to run. You earn unlimited cash back on all purchases with no expiration and no minimum to redeem. This is a great way for your business to save money while making everyday purchases.
- Free cards for employees You won’t have to pay any fees to ensure your employees have the ability to buy the things needed to run your business. You don’t have to worry about reimbursing employees for purchases they’ve made on their personal card, since employee cards are convenient and free.
- High APR If you carry a balance from month to month, you’ll pay a hefty interest rate more commonly found among people with poor credit. This is very high and can rack up debt if you aren’t careful with your spending and payments. Be sure to create a budget to make sure you and your employees don’t spend more than you can pay off at the end of the month, which will help you avoid paying interest.
Best for Students
You may have a fair credit score because you are a student. Student cards provide a great way for you to build your credit score and establish good credit history. The Discover it® for Students card is made with students in mind and offers ways to help you build credit and also earn rewards.
- Annual fee
- Cashback Rate
- up to 5%
Magnify Glass Pros
- Free FICO score Keep tabs on your FICO score while you work to raise it. As a student, you’re new to credit and will want to start developing good credit history. Checking your FICO score on a monthly basis will help you develop good habits to monitor your score.
- High-earning cash back potential Earn 5% cash back rewards at different places and 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you take advantage of the rotating places, you will be able to earn the most cash back and take advantage of the high 5% cash back rate. Keep tabs on the cash back calendar to see what the categories are for a given quarter.
- Cash back rewards match for your first year At the end of your first year, Discover will double the amount of cash back rewards you’ve earned. This is a great bonus that increases your cash back in year one. Make sure you don’t overspend and get into debt to get a greater reward, because you’ll damage your credit score.
- Cash back for good grades Discover will give you a bonus $20 cash back at the end of each school year if you have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. You can earn the cash back for up to five years by submitting the Good Grade Reward request at the end of the school year (September-August). This is a great added bonus for students with superb GPAs.
- Must opt in to 5% rewards categories Discover requires you to opt in for the quarterly rotating places in order to get the 5% cash back. Set a reminder for yourself at the beginning of each quarter to log in to your account and activate the rewards places. Otherwise, you’ll just earn a flat 1% cash back. This is key to remember in order for you to maximize the cash back you’ll receive.
- High interest rates Discover has a high interest rates to be aware of. You want to make sure that you pay your bill in full every month to avoid being charged interest as well as a late payment fee (which is waived the first time). Use the waiver as a reminder to set up autopay or alerts to pay your bill on time going forward.
There’s a lot of math that goes into computing your credit scores, but at the end of the day, a fair credit score is defined as being between 649 and 699. Here’s how a fair credit score sits in relation to other credit scoring classes:
- Excellent: Above 760
- Good: 700-759
- Fair/Average: 649-699
- Poor: 600-648
- Very Poor: Under 599
Having a good or excellent credit score unlocks a lot of advantages, such as lower interest rates and better approval odds for high-value credit cards and other financial products. These advantages will result in more dollars in your wallet at the end of the day. For example, having a high credit score can save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments over your lifetime, especially for big-ticket loans like a home mortgage.
But if you have a fair credit score, don’t fret! There is a reason that your score is less than optimal, and thus there are real, concrete steps you can take to boost your credit score into the good and excellent range.
If you play your cards right, you can even join the exclusive 800+ credit score club (unfortunately, it’s not an official club, and you don’t get a shower of balloons and confetti once you reach it — but you will get access to some of the most exclusive financial products).
There can be many reasons why your credit score is below 700. Here are some of the most common ones:
- You have late payments on your credit report. Having even just one late payment on your credit report can seriously harm it because payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. Unfortunately, unless it’s an error, you’ll just need to wait for it to drop off of your credit report in seven years. To prevent this from happening, make sure all of your debt payments are set up on autopay. That way, you won’t have to worry about it.
- You have a lot of credit card debt. Credit utilization ratio is one of the biggest factors in calculating your credit score — it affects 30% of the final score. It’s simply how much you owe relative to how much you are allowed to spend. For example, let’s say you have two credit cards with a $5,000 limit each, and you owe $2,000. Your credit utilization ratio is 20% because you owe $2,000 out of a possible $10,000. Luckily, this is one of the easiest factors to correct that will boost your credit score big time in the short run: Pay off your balance, and your score will bump up immediately.
- You don’t have a long credit history. Although credit history doesn’t factor into the calculation of your credit score as much as the credit utilization ratio and payment history, it still makes up a sizable chunk at 15%. There’s not much you can do about this one: Simply wait for your accounts to age.
- You have a lot of credit inquiries. Banks don’t like to see you applying for credit like an out-of-control spender in Las Vegas. Each time you apply for credit or a loan, it’s recorded on your credit report as a credit inquiry, and it stays there for two years. To minimize the number of credit inquiries you have, always shop around and make sure creditors use a soft pull credit check unless you’re absolutely ready to apply for the line of credit. This factor makes up just 10% of your credit score, but it’s an easy one you can affect as long as you’re careful about applying for credit.
- You don’t have a wide variety of account types. You may be an ace at handling your student loans, but creditors also want to know you can handle other types of credit like mortgages and credit card debt, too. The more types of credit accounts you have on file, the better. However, we don’t recommend taking out a loan just for the sake of boosting your credit score — that costs money, and you’ll only receive a modest benefit from it because credit mix only makes up 10% of your credit score.
As you can see, you do have a lot of options when it comes to fine-tuning your credit score into the good or excellent category. We recommend the helpful credit score simulator at Chase Credit Journey to check your current score and see how these adjustments can potentially change your credit level. It’s available whether you’re a Chase customer or not. Give it a try!
Applying for a credit card is easy. You’ll need some basic information like name, address, and Social Security number. You’ll also need employment and income information. Simply enter it into the online form on the credit card company’s website, visit a branch of the bank (if they have one), or call the credit card company directly. You’ll usually receive instant notification if you’ve been approved or not.
There are many ways for you to increase your credit score. Ultimately practicing responsible credit behavior is the best way to see your score rise. Here are a few ways you can increase your credit score:
- Have someone add you as an authorized user: If you have a willing (and very trusting) friend or family member with better credit, you can ask them to add you as an authorized user onto one or more of their credit cards. Their credit will not be harmed by this (as long as you don’t rack up charges or missed payments), and the credit card will show up on your credit report just as if you had applied for it — boosting your credit utilization ratio, number of accounts, and account age if you keep it for a long time.
- Increase your credit history length: Unfortunately, you can’t go back in time, but you can still affect your credit history length. Your credit score is partially based off of average credit history length, and the more old accounts you have, the better. If you already have credit cards open, consider keeping them open so your average credit history won’t decrease and ding your credit. Each new credit card you get will drop your average account age, and it’ll take longer to boost this portion of your score.
- Maintain a low credit utilization: Credit utilization (the percentage of available credit you’re using) is one of the biggest factors in calculating your credit score. The lower, the better. To decrease your utilization ratio, simply pay off your credit card. You can also request a credit limit increase from your credit card issuer to lower your credit utilization ratio — just make sure not to rack up a balance again with that extra credit or you’ll be back to square one.
Missing a payment can single-handedly cause your credit score to drop by 100 points or more. To avoid this, simply set up your credit card on autopay for the minimum amount due — that way you’ll never have to worry about missing a payment.
You can always apply for a personal loan if you need some cash right now for something. You can use this tool to shop around for the best interest rates without hurting your credit score. It’s smart to avoid hard inquiries until you’re ready to actually apply for a personal loan so that your credit isn’t dinged with multiple inquiries.
Each credit card is different, so you’ll need to check the fine print. Usually, though, you’ll need to both charge a purchase and pay off your bill before you’re eligible for those cash back rewards. Then, they’ll tally up this amount and periodically either send you a check, or offer a statement credit.
If you’re running a small business, it’s often easy to mix your personal and business accounts, especially if you’re self-employed. This creates an accounting nightmare to sort through, so it’s recommended (but not required) that you have a separate business banking account and credit card, if you need one.