A high credit score makes it easier to qualify for the best credit cards. But you don’t need a great score to qualify for a solid card.
Ready to apply for a credit card but worried that your three-digit credit score is too low?
Don’t. It’s true that you’ll need a higher credit score to qualify for cards that come with generous rewards programs and low interest rates, but even if your score is less than stellar, you can still qualify for a credit card.
Juan Carlos Cruz, founder of Britewater Financial Group in Brooklyn, New York, explained that the relationship between credit cards and credit scores isn’t a mysterious one.
“The higher your credit score, the more favorable credit cards you’ll receive,” says Cruz. “If you have missed payments or you are using most of the credit available to you already, those are signs that you are not using your trade lines responsibly. You won’t qualify for the better cards because of that.”
Here’s a look at the credit scores you’ll need to qualify for everything from no-frills basic credit cards to those offering big sign-up bonuses and hefty cash back bonuses.
What credit score is needed for a credit card?
Tom Giancola, chief credit risk officer at Mercury Financial, says that consumers typically need a FICO score in the low 600s to qualify for a basic, no-frills credit card. For a basic rewards card, you’d need a score in the mid 600s to the low 700s.
And to qualify for the premium cards with the most valuable rewards programs? According to Giancola, that usually requires a FICO score of 740 or higher.
“Those rewards are expensive,” says Giancola. “The banks can’t tolerate high loss levels if they are paying out that much in rewards expense. So they reserve these cards for the safest of applicants.”
How to improve your score for better cards
FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with scores between 800 and 850 considered “exceptional” by lenders. The two newest VantageScore credit scores (3.0 and 4.0) use a 300 to 850 range, the same as FICO. For those models, VantageScore defines 750 to 850 as its excellent range.
If you want to improve your credit score, take two main steps. First, pay your credit card bills and any other loans you might have on time each month.
Next, if you have credit card debt, pay off as much as you can. Using less of your credit limit will boost your score. Just be sure not to close credit cards that you pay off, since that will give you less available credit and hurt your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio.
Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings expert in Bakersfield, California, says that another key to improving your credit score is to eliminate the negative spending habits that contribute to credit card debt. “Identifying and eliminating triggers that lead to impulse buys is key to keeping your credit in tip-top shape,” says Woroch.
Woroch recommends that those who struggle with impulse buying should delete deal apps from their phones and unsubscribe from store newsletters to help eliminate the temptation to overspend.
What credit card can I get with bad credit?
Credit bureau Experian defines a very poor FICO score as being in the 300 to 579 range. If your score falls into this range of bad credit, you’ll most often qualify for secured credit cards. These operate just like traditional credit cards, except their credit limits are tied to a deposit you make when applying for the card. For example, you might deposit $500 with the card issuer and then receive a secured credit card with a maximum credit limit of $500.
It’s easier to qualify for these cards because banks are protected. If you fail to make your payments, the bank can pay them off using your deposit.
A good option is the Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card, which charges no annual fee or interest and requires no security deposit. This is still a secured card, but it was created to be paired with the Chime Spending Account. You first open a spending account and then transfer money from that account to your Credit Builder credit card. That money you’ve transferred over acts as your credit limit.
You can qualify for other credit cards even if your credit is bad, including the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® or the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. Just be aware that these cards usually come with annual fees.
The Discover It® Secured Credit Card is one of the few secured credit cards that offers rewards. You can earn 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter) and 1 percent back on all other purchases. You won’t pay an annual fee, but you will need to make a security deposit.
What credit card can I get with fair credit?
Experian defines a fair FICO credit score as ranging from 580 to 669. If your credit score is in the fair range, you’ll qualify for a greater number of credit cards, including those that don’t charge annual fees or require security deposits.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a good option if your credit score falls at the lower end of the fair range. This is a basic card that doesn’t offer any rewards. However, it also doesn’t charge an annual fee, meaning you can easily use it to help build your credit.
An option if your score is on the higher end of the fair range is the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit*. It offers a rewards program that gives you 1 percent back on purchases for eligible gas, groceries and mobile phone/internet/cable/satellite tv services. However, you’ll pay an annual fee of $75 the first year and then $99 ($8.25 per month) each year.
What credit card can I get with good or excellent credit?
If your FICO score is higher than 670, you’re in the good credit category. And if it’s 740 to 799, it falls into the very good slot. Finally, Experian says that any score of 800 or more is considered exceptional. With scores like these, you can qualify for nearly any credit card on the market.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a good example. With it, you’ll earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent) and on select U.S. streaming services. You’ll also earn 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and for taxis, rideshare services, parking, trains, tolls and buses. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on other purchases, plus a $350 statement credit after you spend $3,000 within the first 6 months.
The Discover it® Cash Back is another strong card. It gives you 5 percent cash back on bonus categories that rotate each quarter after you activate (on up to $1,500 in combined quarterly spending, then it’s 1 percent), as well as 1 percent cash back on general purchases.
How to get a credit card with no credit
Some people don’t have good or bad credit because they simply don’t have enough credit history to have any credit score at all. It can be difficult for those who don’t have loans or credit cards to build a credit history. And those with no credit scores might struggle to qualify for most credit cards.
A good option for those with no credit history is a secured credit card. Similarly, if you have a poor credit score, banks are more likely to approve you for a secured card because there is less risk to the bank thanks to that security deposit you put down.
“The bank already has your money,” says Cruz. “There’s no reason, then, for them to feel at risk. They will not be hurt financially if you don’t pay.”
Once you get that secured card, use it each month. As you pay off your bill in full with on-time payments each month, you’ll slowly build a solid credit score.
Giancola recommends that consumers who need to build a credit history consider private-label cards, too. These are issued by department stores, wholesale clubs and other retailers and they can only be used at one specific store; in addition, they rarely come with generous perks.
But Giancola says that it is easier to qualify for these cards because they aren’t as risky as traditional credit cards. And if consumers use them properly — charging what they can afford to pay off in full each month and paying their bills on time — they can build up a solid credit history that will allow them to qualify for more traditional credit cards in the future.
For those with no credit score, Giancola also recommends signing up as an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account to help build a credit history. When you do this, you’re added as a user on someone else’s credit card account.
The account’s primary cardholder is responsible for paying the bill each month, but the payment is reported to the credit bureaus in both that person’s name and your name, which helps you build a positive credit history. Just be careful to only use the card as agreed upon with the primary cardholder so you don’t ruin your relationship with that person.
Whether it’s a secured card or a top-tier rewards or travel card, you can find the right card for your credit score. If you’re starting with a low (or no) credit score, you can build your credit history through responsible use to eventually qualify for the credit cards you want.
*All information about the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit and the Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.