Getting approved for a credit card depends heavily on your FICO credit score, a three-digit number that represents how you’ve handled borrowed money. Other factors, like your income, debt levels and employment status also play a role, but your credit can make or break the deal.
What’s more, it’s important to apply only for cards you’re likely to get approved for; otherwise you could end up with a bunch of hard inquiries on your credit report – with no plastic to show for them.
With that in mind, here are the Nerds’ favorite credit cards for every FICO score range:
Excellent credit (720+): Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
When you have excellent credit, you’re probably going to get approved for nearly any credit card you apply for, so it’s important to sort through all your options. But one terrific pick for travelers is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. With it, you’ll earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels and resorts, and 1 Starpoint per dollar spent elsewhere.
That might not sound like much, but NerdWallet values Starpoints at 2.3 cents apiece when redeemed for Starwood hotel stays. That’s more than double the industry’s standard value of 1 cent per point, so you’re doing well to choose this card for all your daily swipes.
Although you’ll get the best value per point by redeeming at Starwood properties, you can use your points for travel in other ways. For example, you can transfer them to participating frequent flyer programs; if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints at a time, Starwood will throw in an additional 5,000. Or, you can use Starpoints to book a flight directly with more than 150 airlines.
To get you started, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express comes with a sign-up bonus: Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95.
Good credit (690-719): Chase Freedom®
The Chase Freedom® is one of the Nerds’ favorite cash-back credit cards, and the good news is that you don’t have to have excellent credit to qualify for it. As long as your FICO score falls in the “good” range, you could be earning 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter) and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The Chase Freedom® is also a smart pick for people looking for a 0% APR deal. You’ll get 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24%-23.24% Variable.
Finally, it comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. At an annual fee of $0, the Chase Freedom® is a real standout.
Average credit (630-689): Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
People with FICO scores that fall below the “good” threshold will have a hard time qualifying for most rewards credit cards. But there are a few options out there, including the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. With it, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. Rewards are unlimited and can be redeemed at any time, in any amount.
Unlike many other cash-back cards, this one charges an annual fee of $39. It also doesn’t come with any type of sign-on promotion.
But the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card comes free of foreign transaction fees, and, again, is one of the few cards out there for people with average credit that offers any type of rewards. Use it responsibly, and your FICO score will climb as you rack up cash back, and eventually, you’ll be able to opt for a card with flashier features.
Poor credit (629 and below): Capital One® Secured MasterCard®
Having a poor FICO score is drag for many reasons, not the least of which is that you’ll be unable to qualify for an unsecured credit card. That’s why we recommend checking out secured cards; you’ll have to put down a cash deposit for collateral, but using this type of card consistently and responsibly will help build your FICO score over time.
Many banks issue secured credit cards, but we particularly like the Capital One® Secured MasterCard®. You can get a credit line of up to $3,000, your account activity will be reported to all three credit bureaus, and it charges an annual fee of $0. These are important features if you’re trying to build or rebuild your FICO score, and you get them all in one card with the Capital One® Secured MasterCard®.
Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lkonsko.
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