Best of

Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit of July 2019

Kenley YoungJuly 1, 2019

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

NerdWallet's Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit of July 2019

Our pick for

Flat-rate cash back

Capital One QuicksilverOne Credit Card

on Capital One's website

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$39

Regular APR

26.96% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Pros

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a solid ongoing rewards rate with no need to keep track of bonus categories. You simply earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Make your first five monthly payments on time, and you may get access to a higher credit line.

Cons

There's a $39 annual fee. You would need to spend $2,600 per year on the card to make that back. And unlike some other cash-back cards, it doesn't allow you to boost your rewards earnings with bonus categories.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app

Our pick for

Flexibility

Capital One Platinum Credit Card Credit Card

on Capital One's website

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

26.96% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Pros

The annual fee is $0. If you make your first five monthly payments on time, Capital One may give you access to a higher credit line. You can choose your own due date, which lets you schedule payment for the time of the month that best suits your cash flow. If you do make a late payment, the card doesn't impose a penalty APR. And the card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

Cons

There are no rewards. Plus, the ongoing APR is on the high end at 26.96% Variable APR. That's not an issue if you pay in full every month, but look elsewhere if you expect to carry debt from month to month.
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use

Our pick for

College students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

on Deserve's website

on Deserve's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

20.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Pros

Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases. Mastercards are widely accepted around the world. This card includes complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600. The annual fee is $0.

Cons

There is no introductory APR period, sign-up bonus or chance for elevated rewards in bonus categories.
  • No SSN required for International students.
  • Available to students (enrollment verification is required).
  • Amazon Prime Student on us (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59).
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases.
  • Credit limits up to $5,000.
  • $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees.
  • No security deposit or co-signer required.
  • Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence.
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted.
  • Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Roadside Assistance, Travel Assistance Services, Price Protection, Extended Warranty and ID Theft Protection.
  • Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600.

Our pick for

Small business

Capital One Spark Classic Business Credit Card

on Capital One's website

on Capital One's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

25.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Pros

Business credit cards typically come with higher credit lines than personal credit cards, giving your business access to more capital. There's no foreign transaction fee with this card, in case you travel internationally for your business. You'll earn 1% cash back on every purchase and receive business benefits, including year-end summaries and free employee cards. The annual fee is $0.

Cons

Unlike some other top business credit cards, this card doesn't offer any bonus categories. The high 25.24% Variable APR could also be costly for your business if you carry a balance.
  • Enjoy no annual fee
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase
  • Build business credit with responsible use
  • Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Enjoy business benefits including Year-End Summaries, employee cards at no extra cost and experienced small business customer service

Our pick for

Bonus rewards + 0% intro APR

ABOC Platinum Rewards

on Amalgamated Bank of Chicago's website

on Amalgamated Bank of Chicago's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

15.15% - 25.15% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% Intro APR for 12 months on Purchase and Balance Transfers

recommended credit score

Pros

You earn 5 points per $1 spent on up to $1,500 in combined spending in categories that change each quarter, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. The card offers 0% Intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.15% - 25.15% Variable APR. Sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening.

Cons

While rotating-bonus-category cards can help you amass rewards quickly, they require more work than typical flat-rate cash-back cards. You'll have to remember to keep track of the categories each quarter.
  • 0% Intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months; after that the variable APR will be 15.15% - 25.15%, based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn 5x rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories such as dining, groceries, travel, and automotive
  • Earn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening
  • No upper limit on the points you can accumulate, and since points never expire, you can save up for a big award!
  • Earn Points on Every Purchase! It’s simple: $1 = 1 Point
  • No Annual Fee
  • Select Your Rewards Your Way

What is considered fair credit?

Fair credit, sometimes called "average" credit, is a step up from bad credit but a notch below good credit. It typically means your credit scores fall somewhere between 630 to 689, on a range of 300 to 850.

Credit type FICO credit score range
Bad credit 300-629
Fair/average credit 630-689
Good credit 690-719
Excellent credit 720-850

Credit scores indicate your level of risk to potential lenders and are based on several factors, including your payment history, the amount of available credit that you’re using, how long you’ve had credit, and more.

There are good credit cards designed for people with fair credit, but you're unlikely to get approved for the best credit cards until you can improve your credit.

Get your credit score for free

You can see and track your credit score for free through NerdWallet. Get started with your free credit score.

» MORE: Credit cards 101: Understanding the basics

How a credit card helps you improve fair credit

Credit cards for fair credit can help you move up to good or excellent credit when you use them responsibly. The card issuer reports details about your account to the major credit bureaus, which compile the credit reports that form the basis of your credit scores. This reporting affects key elements of your scores:

  • Payment history. Payment history is the single biggest factor in your credit score, so it's essential to pay your bill on time every month. Doing so also avoids costly late fees. If possible, pay off your balance in full each month. When you pay in full, you don't get charged interest — and cards for fair credit tend to have high interest rates.
  • Credit utilization. The second-largest factor in your scores, credit utilization is the the amount you owe as a percentage of your available credit. (For example, if you have a $500 credit limit and a $200 balance, then your credit utilization is 40%.) The lower your utilization, the better; 30% or below is a good benchmark. Paying in full every month also helps keep utilization in check.
  • Credit mix. Credit scoring formulas tend to reward people who show that they can handle different kinds of credit. Ideally, you’ll have both installment loans (loans that require a specific number of equal payments, like a mortgage or auto loan), as well as revolving accounts (where the balance goes up and down, like with credit cards).
  • Length of credit history. Credit scores also take into account how long you've been using credit, so the sooner you can find the right card, the better. And if you already have a long-serving credit account, keep it open and active.

What to know before applying for a credit card

Apply for the right card for your score

Before applying for a credit card, it’s important to know your credit score. You increase your odds of approval when you apply for a card tailored for your score range. (You can see and track your score for free through NerdWallet.) A fair credit score won’t be enough to qualify for some cards, and a rejection letter can hurt more than just your feelings.

A credit card application usually triggers a hard inquiry on your credit report. A single "hard pull" can cause a temporary dip in your scores, but if you're continually applying for the wrong cards and being rejected, the damage can be much worse. You want your scores to go up, not down.

Rejection stings, but you can learn from it

If you’re rejected for a credit card, the first thing to do is determine why. Banks are required to notify you if you were denied because of information in your credit report. Review that notice, then review your credit report to make sure there are no inaccuracies, and then do the same for the card application you submitted. At that point, you’ll probably have a good sense of why you were rejected.

If you feel you have a case, you can contact the issuer and ask for reconsideration. If you still aren’t approved, it may be a sign you need to work on your credit scores before applying again. Six months is a good rule of thumb.

Once you’ve zeroed in on a credit card for fair credit, make sure you understand any fees it might charge: annual fees, balance transfer fees, foreign transaction fees, late-payment fees, etc. Many fees are avoidable, especially if you use the card responsibly.

» MORE: 11 things you should know before getting your first credit card

How to choose a credit card for fair credit

When comparing credit cards for fair credit, look for some or all of these features:

  • Reports to the major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the three major bureaus that compile the credit reports that inform your credit scores. Make sure the card you’re considering reports to at least one but ideally all three of these companies. This ensures that your on-time payments and other responsible credit habits will be recorded.
  • Low or no fees: An annual fee can make sense if the card offers enough rewards and benefits to outstrip the cost of carrying it. The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, charges an annual fee of $39. But it also earns rewards, gives you a tool to monitor your credit profile, and offers the possibility of a higher credit line after making your first five monthly on-time payments. If your credit is at least fair, you can find cards that charge no annual fee at all.
  • Free credit score: As you work to push your scores into the good-to-excellent range, it’s important that you’re able to track how you’re doing. Many major issuers offer free access to your scores, available once you sign in to your account, along with other budgeting and education tools.
  • Rewards: Rewards aren’t necessarily a must for fair credit credit cards, but they are within reach at this range. Some rewards-earning options are listed above. If you can find a card that pays rewards while also providing a steppingstone to good or excellent credit, it’s a win-win.
  • An eventual upgrade path: Ideally, you won’t be stuck in the “fair credit score” range forever, so look for a card that offers a route to improved terms. With the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you’ll have the potential to gain access to a higher credit line. The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students card offers the possibility of an upgrade to the Deserve® Pro Mastercard, which offers better rewards. Or you can plan to request a product change from your issuer on your own eventually. With a product change, you’re not applying for a new account; you’re seeking an upgrade to the one you’ve already got. Therefore, you typically don’t have to worry about a hard pull on your credit report. You’ll also usually keep the same account, often with the same card number, so there’s no loss of credit history length.

What to avoid with credit cards for fair credit

  • Try not to carry a balance: Interest rates on credit cards for fair credit tend to be on the high side. You’ll want pay your bill in full each month to avoid paying interest, which can get expensive and will eat into any rewards your card might earn. Making only the minimum payment keeps you in debt longer and could ultimately drag down your credit scores.
  • Don’t pay late: Make at least the minimum payment, and do so on time each month. If you’re a few days late, you’ll likely owe a late fee. If you’re more than 30 days late, it can start to affect your credit scores.
  • Don’t settle: With fair credit, you won’t be eligible for the highest-end credit cards — but good cards are still available at this level. Some offer rewards, perks, upgrade paths and even 0% introductory APR periods.

Last updated on July 1, 2019

Methodology

NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best credit cards for fair credit based on overall value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as suitability for specific kinds of consumers. Factors in our evaluation include annual and other fees, interest rates, whether a card offers upgrade options, the availability of free credit scores and other credit education and tools, reporting to credit bureaus, and other noteworthy features such as a rewards program.