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What kind of plastic can you get with fair credit?

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Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Opening Credits,
I have a 614 credit score with Transunion, 610 with Equifax and 567 with Experian. I have 10 hard inquires. Would I will able to open up a new credit card? If yes, with whom? I appreciate any information you would be able to give me. -- James 

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear James,
Normally when someone comes to me asking what credit card they should pursue, I direct them to first find out their scores. With those in hand, they can pinpoint the type of card for which they will most likely qualify. This way they can avoid a bunch of needless rejections. Each inquiry does wind up on the reports, and too many will negatively affect FICO scores.

However, you jumped ahead and have them from each of your reports, and that's great!

You may be wondering why there are differences between those scores, and the most probable reason is that the information on each of your reports is slightly different. Although TransUnion, Equifax and Experian all do the same thing (compile credit information), they are separate, private companies. They charge the institutions who send them data -- called subscribers -- a fee, so some subscribers may decide to only work with one or two of the bureaus. Credit scores, such as the FICO, are generated just from the financial portion of the files, so if the files aren't identical, the numbers won't be either. Another possibility is that you got them at different times. Credit reports are snapshots in time, so the information on them changes from month to month.

Now, what do your scores say about you and what kind of credit card you can get with them?

FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers being better, since they indicate less lending risk. At this point, an excellent score is one that's at least in the mid-700s. Your scores are considered "fair." That doesn't mean that qualifying for credit will be impossible -- just that your options are more limited than they would be if your scores were fantastic. Also, the cards that are available to you may have higher interest rates and not come with premium programs like super-duper rewards plans. That's OK, though. You can work up to that.

Because of those inquiries on your reports, it looks like you've been doing some credit shopping. While such hard pulls are a scoring factor, they are less crucial than other activity, such as the way you make your payments and how much you owe compared to the amount you can borrow. But if you have no such actions because you don't have a card or loans now, a large number of credit applications will hold greater weight when it comes to scoring.

Of course, the only way to get a card is by applying, but you should do so in a directed way. Take a look at these cards for people with fair credit for current offers being extended to people with scores such as yours. There are plenty to choose from, so read them carefully and identify one that you like. Then complete the application and wait for a response. Chances are, you'll be approved because you're focusing on the right product.

If by chance you are not approved, take a deep breath, sit back and wait a few months before you try again. Repeated applications signal to lenders that you may be desperate, so letting some time build up between applications is a good thing.

Once you are approved for a card, you can improve your FICO scores by not applying for another until you establish a positive history of borrowing and repaying on time and as agreed. Select a necessary and affordable expense to charge (groceries is a good one) and then pay on time and in full every billing cycle. In as little as a year you'll increase your scores dramatically. At that point, you may want to add another card to your wallet -- one that does come with special perks -- or just stick with what you have.

See related: FICO's 5 factors: The components of a FICO credit score

Erica Sandberg is a nationally renowned personal finance authority. She’s host of several financial web shows, and a frequent guest for media outlets such as Fox, Forbes, Nightly Business Report and NPR. Erica previously was affiliated with Consumer Credit Counseling Service and was KRON-TV’s on-air credit expert. Her book, "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families," was published in 2008 by Kaplan Press.

Send your question to Erica.

Published: December 4, 2013


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