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Credit Cards for Fair/Average Credit

Written by: Joey Robinson | Edited by: Nouri Zarrugh | Reviewed by: Jason Steele

January 30, 2024

Best Credit Cards for Fair/Average Credit

Additional Options:

  • Mission Lane Cash Back Visa® Credit Card – Best for building credit + earning rewards
  • Zolve Azpire Credit Builder Card + Checking Account: Best for credit accessibility
  • Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa® – Best for long-term financing
  • Indigo® Mastercard® – Best for rebuilding after bankruptcy
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back – Best for fair/average credit for college students
  • Milestone Mastercard® – $700 Credit Limit – Best for rebuilding credit
  • Credit One Bank® Platinum X5 Visa® – Best for rewards
  • Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card – Best for no annual fee
  • Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card – Best for earning rewards + avoiding fees
  • Chase Freedom® Student credit card – Best for no credit history
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:3.9 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Annual fee
Balance transfer intro APR
Regular APR
30.74% variable
Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®
Our rating:4.2 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

Earn 5% cash back on Walmart.com purchases, including pickup and delivery
Earn 2% cash back on purchases in Walmart® stores, Murphy USA and Walmart® fuel stations
2% cash back on restaurants and travel purchases
1% cash back on all other purchases everywhere else Mastercard® is accepted

At A Glance

Annual fee
Balance transfer intro APR
Regular APR
19.48% or 29.99% (Variable)
Credit One Bank Wander® Card
Our rating:2.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
Earn 1x points on all other purchases

At A Glance

Annual fee
Balance transfer intro APR
Regular APR
29.74% variable
Avant Credit Card
Our rating:2.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

Card without rewards
This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Annual fee
Balance transfer intro APR
Regular APR
35.99% variable
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All information about the Indigo® Mastercard®, Chase Freedom Student credit card and Journey Student Rewards from Capital One has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One is no longer available.

Comparing the best credit cards for fair credit

Best ForCredit CardAnnual Fee
Building CreditCapital One Platinum Credit Card$0 (See Rates and Fees)
Flat-Rate RewardsCapital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card$39 (See Rates and Fees)
Walmart purchasesCapital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®$0 (See Rates and Fees)
TravelCredit One Bank Wander® Card$95
No foreign transaction feeAvant Credit Card$59
Earning rewards + avoiding feesPetal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card$0
Building credit + earning rewardsMission Lane Cash Back Visa® Credit Card$0
Credit accessibilityZolve Azpire Credit Builder Card + Checking Account$0
Long-term financingUpgrade Cash Rewards Visa®$0
Rebuilding after bankruptcyIndigo® Mastercard®$0-$99
College Students
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Rebuilding creditMilestone Mastercard® - $700 Credit LimitSee terms*
RewardsCredit One Bank® Platinum X5 Visa®$95
No Annual FeePetal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card$0
No Credit HistoryChase Freedom® Student credit card$0

Editor’s picks: the best credit cards for people with fair credit

Capital One Platinum Credit Card: Best for building credit

  • Best features: You can get a credit limit increase after as little as six months of responsible card use, something not often seen with credit-builder cards. The Platinum also has no annual fee (See Rates and Fees), making it an excellent choice for a first card.
  • Biggest drawbacks: This card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus or ongoing rewards and carries a high variable APR, which could cause trouble if you need to carry a balance long term.
  • Alternatives: If you’re looking for a low-interest credit card or are more concerned about earning rewards than building credit, this card will likely disappoint. The Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card has a more generous APR.
  • Bottom line: This is a great card for anyone hoping to avoid an annual fee (See Rates and Fees) or a security deposit while working their way up from average credit.

Read our Capital One Platinum Credit Card review or jump back to offer details.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate rewards

  • Best features: Earning unlimited cash back rewards while strengthening your credit makes this our pick for the best credit card for fair/average credit with flat-rate rewards. You’ll earn consistent 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with no need to juggle rotating rewards categories or track spending. Plus, with responsible use, you will be considered for a credit limit increase after your first 6 months of on-time payments.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The $39 annual fee (See Rates and Fees) will cut into your cash back earnings, and the card’s APR is very high, making it a risky choice should you need to carry a balance.
  • Alternatives: For those who would rather skip an annual fee, the Mission Lane Cash Back Visa earns up to 1.5% cash back on all purchases as well.
  • Bottom line: This card is ideal for those with so-so credit hoping to earn a decent rewards rate on everyday spending.

Read our Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to offer details.

Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®: Best for Walmart purchases

  • Best features: If you’re a frequent Walmart shopper, this card makes it easy to earn rewards. You’ll earn 5% cash back on Walmart.com purchases, including grocery pickup and delivery, making this potentially one of the most lucrative grocery rewards cards out there.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The ongoing 5% rewards rate only applies to Walmart.com purchases, not in-store purchases. If you prefer to do your shopping in person, you might find the card less valuable after your first year.
  • Alternatives: This card won’t be of much use unless you do a good bit of shopping at Walmart (specifically on Walmart.com, which offers the highest long-term rewards rate). The Credit One Bank Wander Card offers a high rewards rate in several of the Walmart card’s other bonus categories, earning 5X rewards on travel, dining and gas.
  • Bottom Line: If you have a fair credit score and Walmart is your go-to store, this could be one of the most lucrative rewards cards out there.

Read our Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard® review or jump back to offer details.

Credit One Bank Wander® Card: Best for travel

  • Best features: The Wander card is one of the only travel rewards cards open to people with fair credit and features a number of perks not typically found with credit-builder cards, like multiple redemption options and travel accident insurance.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The annual fee is higher than the fee you’ll find on a number of top credit cards for people with fair credit and could be hard to offset unless you’re a frequent traveler.
  • Alternatives: Occasional travelers may find more value in the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It not only charges a much lower annual fee than the Wander card ($39 – See Rates and Fees) but also earns 1.5% back on general purchases and 5% back on hotels booked through Capital One.
  • Bottom line: Credit builders who want to earn rewards for their eligible travel, dining and gas purchases even as they’re working their way up to good credit.

Read our Credit One Bank Wander® Card review or jump back to offer details.

Avant Credit Card: Best for no foreign transaction fee

  • Best features: The Avant Credit Card offers a $300 credit limit, requires no security deposit and allows potential applicants to check if they’re preapproved without dinging their credit. The application process is quick and applicants generally receive a decision in minutes.
  • Biggest drawbacks: This card offers no rewards and is generally short on perks beyond its lack of a foreign transaction fee.
  • Alternatives: If you don’t mind paying more for better perks, the Credit One Bank Platinum X5 Visa may be worth it thanks to its higher starting credit limit of $500 and cash back on gas, groceries, cell phone services, internet, and cable or satellite TV service purchases.
  • Bottom line: This card could be a match for credit-builders looking to boost their score without putting cash down for a security deposit. Travelers will like its lack of foreign transaction fees.

Read our Avant Credit Card review or jump back to offer details.

Mission Lane Cash Back Visa® Credit Card: Best for building credit + earning rewards

  • Best features: It’s one of the only unsecured credit-building cards that earns unlimited cash back on all purchases while charging no annual fee. And if you’re in good standing, you’ll be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as seven months.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Your starting credit limit may only be $300. And if you don’t pay off your balance each month, you’ll get stuck paying a high variable interest rate.
  • Alternatives: This isn’t the card for you if you tend to carry a balance from month to month. If that’s the case, you’ll be better off with a credit card with a lower APR. The Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa offers a fair APR range and also earns cash back with no annual fee.
  • Bottom line: If you’re looking to earn rewards while working to improve your credit score, you should consider this card, especially if you’d rather not tie up funds in a secured credit card.

Read our Mission Lane Cash Back Visa review.

Zolve Azpire Credit Builder Card + Checking Account: Best for Credit accessibility

  • Best features: A credit check is not required to access this card and there are very few fees. You can also apply for the card with a valid passport or an ITIN if you don’t have an SSN.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card functions a bit like a secured credit card, since you’ll only be able to spend what you deposit into your Zolve credit account. The card also does not report a credit limit or credit utilization, so it may be a slower journey to building up your score over time.
  • Alternatives: The Capital One Platinum credit card gives you the chance to build your score faster while skipping a security deposit entirely. You’ll get all the benefits of a traditional credit card and the chance to increase your credit limit fairly quickly with responsible use.
  • Bottom line: If you’re not quite ready to bear the full weight of a traditional credit card, but still want the chance to start building credit, the Zolve Azpire offers a unique middle ground.

Read our Zolve Azpire Credit Builder Card + Checking Account review.

Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®: Best for long-term financing

  • Best features: This card automatically puts your balance into an installment plan with a fixed monthly payment, which could help you stay on track with financing purchases — especially if you need a lot of time to chip away at expenses. It’s also light on fees, charging no annual or foreign transaction fees. Plus, you can earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases every time you make a payment.
  • Biggest drawbacks: There’s no introductory 0% APR offer on purchases or balance transfers. That said, the regular APR can start low if you qualify.
  • Alternatives: Though the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard is most rewarding at Walmart stores, cardholders can still earn 2% cash back on restaurants and travel purchases with no foreign transaction fees (See Rates and Fees).
  • Bottom line: Someone who struggles to keep up with payments may find this card’s reward incentive to be a useful motivator.

Read our Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa® review.

Indigo® Mastercard®: Best for rebuilding after bankruptcy

  • Best features: If you’ve struggled to get a credit card after bankruptcy, this card could give you some peace of mind. In addition to welcoming people who have gone through bankruptcy, it lets you prequalify to see how likely you are to be approved without any impact on your credit score. And since it’s an unsecured card, you won’t have to put down any money upfront.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card doesn’t earn rewards, and the credit limit only goes up to $300. There are also a number of fees that do little to help people with fair credit improve their score. This includes an annual fee that can get as high as $99, a late or returned payment fee of up to $40 and a penalty APR. Plus, Indigo doesn’t specify when or if you can qualify for a higher credit limit.
  • Alternatives: Anyone looking to build their credit can benefit from the Capital One Platinum Credit Card thanks to low fees and a relatively short account review period.
  • Bottom line: If you haven’t been able to get approved for a credit card due to past bankruptcy, the Indigo card could give you a chance to get back on track and rebuild your credit.

Read our Indigo® Mastercard® review.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for college students

  • Best features: You’ll be raking in the rewards while building credit thanks to this card’s terrific rewards rate and low fees. Even better, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. If you need time to pay off purchases, there’s also an intro APR on new purchases that could help.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card needs upkeep: You must enroll in the rotating bonus category every quarter to earn the high cash back rate.
  • Alternatives: If you want a card that doesn’t tempt you to spend too much, consider the Chase Freedom Student credit card. It keeps things simple by earning a flat 1% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025).
  • Bottom line: For anyone new to the world of credit, this Discover card’s consumer-friendly terms, lucrative first-year bonus and rotating cash back categories make for an excellent start.

Read our Discover it® Student Cash Back review.

Milestone Mastercard® – $700 Credit Limit: Best for rebuilding credit

  • Best Features: Thanks to no required security deposit and a prequalification process that won’t hurt your credit score, this card provides ways for cardholders to build back their credit history. This card offers identity theft protection and a competitive foreign transaction fee of 1%.
  • Biggest Drawbacks: The card comes up short for some, with its see terms annual fee, a high regular APR and the lack of additional perks.
  • Alternatives: Even among cards for people with bad credit, this card’s hefty fees and high APR are off-putting. The Avant Credit Card may be a better choice with its lack of fees and lower annual fee of $59.
  • Bottom Line: This card’s low entry barrier makes it an attractive option for those with a history of bankruptcy or bad credit.

Read our Milestone Mastercard® – $700 Credit Limit review

Credit One Bank® Platinum X5 Visa®: Best for rewards

  • Best features: This card offers a simple and straightforward structure that gives people with less-than-perfect credit the opportunity to earn generous cash back rewards in popular everyday spending categories, including gas, grocery, internet, cable, satellite TV, and mobile phone service purchases.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The regular APR is one of the highest around, and there is no welcome bonus. The card’s high annual fee also puts a dent in any rewards you earn.
  • Alternatives: If you don’t plan to spend enough in this card’s bonus categories to justify the annual fee, a flat-rate rewards card, like the Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa or Capital One QuicksilverOne, may be a better choice overall.
  • Bottom line: This card is a strong choice for anyone with fair credit hoping to rack up cash back rewards.

Read our Credit One Bank® Platinum X5 Visa review.

Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card: Best for earning rewards + avoiding fees

  • Best features: This unsecured credit card earns generous cash back and comes with no annual fee, late payment fee, foreign transaction fee or penalty APR, making it a potentially lucrative and low-cost credit-building option.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Your credit limit can be as low as $300. With a limit that low, it may be difficult to keep your credit utilization low (a key credit scoring factor). After all, a balance of just $100 would push your utilization ratio to 30% if you had a $300 limit.
  • Alternatives: If you have a history of missed payments or delinquency, your chances of Petal card approval drop. You’ll likely have more luck applying for a credit card available with bad credit.
  • Bottom line: If you’re looking for a card that can help you build credit while avoiding fees and earning rewards, the Petal 2 is a great choice.

Read our Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card review.

Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

  • Best features: In addition to no foreign transaction fee, a rarity for cards that accept fair or average credit, this card also charges no annual fee. You can also get a credit limit of up to $5,000 with no refundable deposit required.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The regular APR is sky high on this card, and there’s no sign-up bonus offer or ongoing rewards.
  • Alternatives: Though the Petal 2 card’s 1% to 1.5% flat cash back rate is lower than the Petal 1 card’s 2% to 10% back at select merchants, you may earn more overall since it rewards all your purchases, not just those in certain categories. Plus, it keeps the Petal 1 card’s low fees.
  • Bottom line: This card is a good fit for anyone with a limited or so-so credit history hoping to build up their score without paying an annual fee or security deposit.

Read our Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card review.

Chase Freedom® Student credit card: Best for no credit history

  • Best features: Along with 1% cash back on every purchase, Chase’s first credit card for students rewards responsible spending: For the first five years, cardholders receive a $20 bonus after each account anniversary year if their account is in good standing (meaning their minimum payments are being made on time). Plus, there’s no annual fee.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Depending on your spending habits, you could earn more with a different student card. For instance, the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One offers 1% cash back on general purchases but also lets cardholders earn a 25% bonus when they pay on time (an overall rate of 1.25% for that month).
  • Alternatives: You may earn more with a card that carries a higher rewards rate in specific spending categories. The Discover it® Student Cash Back earns a high cash back rate in a variety of rotating categories, making it easy to earn rewards wherever you shop.
  • Bottom line: This card’s great credit-building tools and college-friendly rewards opportunities make it an ideal starter card for students.

Read our Chase Freedom® Student credit card review.

What is fair credit?

Fair credit (or average credit) can vary based on different credit scoring models. FICO and VantageScore are the two major credit scores in the United States. Both have a credit score range from 300 to 850. FICO was the creator of the first credit score and is still the most widely used score today. For FICO credit scores, fair credit ranges between 580 and 669 (based on the standard FICO Score 8 model). For VantageScore, fair credit can range from 601 to 660 (standard VantageScore 3.0 model).

Fair is a below-average score for both FICO and VantageScore. Since credit offers are based on creditworthiness, people with fair credit get below-average offers.

But if you have fair credit, you’re in a good position to rebuild. While lenders typically prefer credit scores to fall in the good-to-excellent range, people with fair credit scores are still considered viable applicants for many loans. And with some persistence and responsible credit usage, you can improve your credit score to one of the upper ranges.

FICO score ranges

300-579Very poor
740-799Very good

VantageScore ranges

300-499Very poor

Pros and cons of cards for fair credit

Pros of a credit card for fair credit

  • Builds your credit score. If you’re someone with their sights set on improving their credit score, many of the cards here have perks designed to do so. With a card for fair credit, you can regularly track your score, have chances to increase your credit line, have your good habits reported to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and more.
  • Earns worthwhile rewards. Although cards for fair credit are often geared to help boost credit scores, you can still find options providing valuable cash back. That way, you’ll earn a little money back as you make the payments needed to increase your score.
  • Low cost to enter. Many cards for fair credit come with no annual fee, and those that do are generally low. Plus, you can often find cards that offer prequalification to avoid a hit to your credit score, and most cards are generous in who they approve.

Cons of a credit card for fair credit

  • Less-than-friendly terms. To hedge their risk in accepting lesser credit scores, issuers will often add high APRs and penalizing fees to cards for people with fair credit. As a new cardholder, it’s essential to pay off as much of your balance as possible to avoid the slippery slope of interest payments and extra charges.
  • Lack of welcome offers. Though you can find cards that come with a sign-up bonus or a 0% intro APR window, most of the cards here don’t feature any sort of bonus incentives to apply.
  • Low credit limits. Some cards for average credit will take a bit of time to trust you with a high credit limit. This may hurt your spending power and your credit utilization ratio, but most card providers will give you a longer leash after displaying the right habits for a bit.

How to choose a card for fair credit

Who should get a credit card for fair credit

  • The credit builder. If you’re someone with average credit who could benefit from improving your score, a card for fair credit can be a great choice. With options that let you prequalify and features that are designed to help boost your credit, you may avoid things like hard inquiries and take advantage of built-in assistance like regular reporting to the major credit bureaus.
  • The simple rewards earner. Many cards for fair credit come with easy-to-understand rewards structures, featuring strong cash back across all categories and other worthwhile incentives. Some choices here may require a little extra legwork, but you can even find cash back rates as high as 5% to 10% on select purchases with the right credit card for average credit.
  • The credit newcomer. Someone brand new to credit cards, students looking to get started and other credit rookies can be a good fit for cards for fair credit. Many of the choices here will give you a good idea of whether you’ll be approved ahead of time and have perks specifically designed to help students and other new users get acclimated to their card.

Who should skip a credit card for fair credit

  • The rewards chaser. Cardholders on the hunt for lucrative rates and uncapped rewards should look elsewhere if your credit score allows it. Our best rewards cards come with some exciting offers, and while a fair credit score may not be sufficient, one of the cards here might be the best way to make a top option a future possibility.
  • The debt consolidator. If you’re someone with outstanding credit card debt that you’re ready to tackle, a new card can be a great choice. Unfortunately, most cards for fair credit won’t offer the features you need in order to consolidate debt. Instead, a balance transfer credit card gives those in debt a long window with 0% intro APR so they can transfer balances and pay them down while avoiding interest.
  • The traveler. There aren’t any travel redemption options here, so frequent flyers and road trippers looking for award flights, hotel stays and other travel perks should look to travel credit cards. If your credit score doesn’t yet allow you to obtain a travel card, a card for fair credit might be item one on the itinerary.

How to make the most of a credit card for fair credit

When applying for a fair or average credit card, it is important to keep the goal of improving your credit in mind. Here are some tips on how someone with fair credit can get the most value out of their credit card:

  • Use your card to build credit. The most important aspect of using a card that requires fair or average credit is that you can build your credit with it, which will grant you access to better lending products.
  • Keep your utilization ratio low. People with fair credit tend to have cards with low credit limits. To keep your balances low and avoid increasing your credit utilization ratio, make small, multiple payments throughout the month.
  • Look for a card without an annual fee. By taking out a card with no annual fee, you minimize the costs incurred with card membership.
  • Practice with rewards. Cards for fair or average cards will sometimes have rewards, such as 1% back on all purchases. This is a good way to practice for getting a rewards card down the road. Make sure you don’t carry a balance because interest charges will negate your rewards.
  • Look to increase your credit limit. After you’ve established a several-month trend of paying on time and in full, you could contact your carrier and negotiate a longer credit limit. Some providers will review your account for an increase automatically, so pay attention to your card’s fine print.
  • Don’t close your old card. Once your credit score has risen to the point that you can apply for a better card, don’t close or stop using your card for fair credit. By continuing to use it, at least for small charges, you keep the account active, continuing to build credit with it, and you increase your available credit.

Check for and report errors on your credit reports

Unfortunately, credit reports do include the occasional error, but the bright side is there are ways to dispute credit report errors that pop up. Routinely checking your report is a good way to prevent long-term impact from a mistake.

Breaches are a top cause for the need to check those credit reports. With several instances in just the past few years, protecting yourself against data breaches is as important as ever.

What should you do? Besides varying your passwords, regularly check your credit files for mistakes. Notify the credit bureaus of any errors you find, no matter how small, because even a little one can be a sign that you’re a victim of fraud, and that can ultimately impact your score.

Are there credit cards for fair/average credit with instant approval?

Yes, there are cards that offer instant approval, even if you have fair/average credit. Instant approval cards can be a great way to learn within minutes if you are conditionally accepted as a cardmember. Just keep in mind that instant approval isn’t a guarantee that you will be granted the card – a more thorough check of your file will be conducted if you are allowed conditional approval. Plus, whether you can get approved or denied right away is based on if the company can verify your identity. In the case that your identity cannot be easily identified, the application process could take a few days. Focusing on cards that fit within your credit range is crucial to your financial health, and using the card responsibly is the key to strengthening your credit. Check out our list of the top instant approval cards to see if any are a good option for you.

What do I do if I’m rejected for a credit card?

If your hopes of landing a credit card of your dreams have been dashed, we can help. By taking the right steps, you can recover and get the card you want and need.

1. Have your application reconsidered

It’s no surefire solution, but you should contact the card issuer to see if they’d review your application again. If you’re able to argue your case, you might be able to get your foot in the door. Some card providers might be more willing to accept you as a cardholder after you’ve shown extra initiative.

2. Get the explanation from the issuer

Issuers are required to explain to you why you were rejected. You might find out online, by phone or by mail – no matter which way, read the issuer’s feedback, then try to fix the situation.

3. Check your credit score and credit reports

In general, it’s a good idea to check your credit reports several times a year. You can check them for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’ve been rejected by a card issuer, make a point of checking your credit files to make sure there are no errors or omissions.

4. Look at a credit-builder loan with your credit union

If your credit files are too weak for even a basic secured card, talk to your local credit union about getting a credit-builder loan. These loans are designed for improving your credit rather than getting money for a home improvement or car.

5. Catch up on your bills

Payment history has the biggest impact on your credit score. If you are behind on any bills, you should call the creditor and arrange to pay the past due amounts. After making your payments, you can request that the creditor rescind any reported delinquencies so they will no longer show up on your credit report. While this may be the slowest step, it is essential to improving your credit score. Finally, your more recent activity weighs more heavily, so those on-time payments are priceless.

6. Don’t close accounts

If you already have cards, don’t close them. Instead, pay them down and keep using them. Why? Because your payment history remains on your credit files for several years, good or bad, so you aren’t protecting your credit just by closing the account. In fact, the available credit on your cards helps your file, as does continuing to pay on time.

7 . Wait several months

Wait several months before applying for a card again. Too many card applications too close together can mean desperation to a lender. Also, this gives your score a chance to improve.

8. Apply for a card you are reasonably sure you will get

In this case, don’t reach for the stars. Instead, choose a card to apply for that you are pretty sure you can get. If you are unable to qualify for an unsecured card, try a secured card to help build your credit.

What impacts your credit score?

Especially with this year’s economic uncertainties, understanding what does and doesn’t affect your credit score is more important than ever if you have fair credit. Almost half (47%) of the surveyed cardholders whose incomes were harmed since March did something to potentially damage their score, according to a July 2020 Bankrate survey.

  • 17% added to their debt. Additionally, 8% carried a balance, thinking it would help their score.
    Could hurt your: credit utilization ratio (and wallet)
  • 12% paid a bill late, and 6% didn’t pay a bill at all.
    Could hurt your: payment history
  • 3% cancelled a credit card, thinking it would help their score.
    Could hurt your: credit history

When you boil down the noise about what factors are and aren’t considered by FICO, we’ve found late payments, keeping your card balances full and bankruptcies have the biggest impact on your score.

There are many misjudgments around credit scores. According to VantageScore’s 2020 Survey, nearly half of Americans (48%) wrongfully believe that a person’s age impacts their credit score. Additionally, that same study found that only 33% knew that a credit score is meant to represent the risk of not repaying a loan, with 14% even thinking that it represents one’s knowledge of consumer credit. While that isn’t the case, improving your knowledge of credit scores is a great step in the right direction.

So what actually impacts your credit? What goes into a FICO score can be broken down into 5 different factors, along with the percentage of importance to your score:

  1. Payment history: 35 percent – If you make a payment 30 days past the due date or later, it will most likely appear on your credit report. The later the payment, the worse the impact on your credit score.
  2. Amounts owed: 30 percent – The less available credit you are using, the higher your credit score will be.
  3. Length of credit history: 15 percent – This refers to the average account age of your accounts and the age of your newest account, which gets younger each time you open a new account.
  4. New credit: 10 percent – Each time you apply for a new credit card or loan, a hard inquiry will hit your credit.
  5. Credit mix: 10 percent – Having several types of loans – such as a car loan, a mortgage and a credit card – can help your credit.

As this shows, the most important things you can do to improve your credit are making payments on time and making payments in full. To view your current credit score for free and without impacting your score, check out our app.

How fast can credit improve?

The length of time it takes to improve your credit depends on the details of your financial situation. Along with your credit behavior, your starting score is a major factor.

For example, if you have no credit history, it will take a minimum of 6 months to establish a credit score. Credit score formulas require an active credit account to be present for at least 6 months before a score is generated.

If you are repairing damaged credit, however, it can take much longer to up your score. A person who only qualifies for a secured card, for example, can generally improve to fair credit within 12 to 18 months – with responsible card usage, of course.

While some people need to repair minor infractions, others have major issues to climb back from. Overcoming small mishaps will be a quicker journey than, say, recovering from bankruptcy. According to VantageScore, here are the approximate lengths of time it takes to repair credit based on your actions:

ActionAvg. Recovery TimeCredit Score Impact
Applying for Credit3 monthsMinor
Closing an Account3 monthsMinor
Maxing Out a Credit Card3 monthsModerate
Missing Payment / Default18 monthsSignificant
Bankruptcy6+ yearsSignificant

What activities affect your credit?

There are a number of factors affecting your credit, and VantageScore has identified which ones are more important than others. What makes one factor more important than another and what can you do about it? It’s about how lenders see the behavior. Here are behaviors, how lenders view them and how much impact they have on your credit:

BehaviorHow lenders view thisImpact on your score
Pay bills on timeWisely handling debtImprovement
Not use all available creditSufficient access to credit, unlikely to need additional fundsImprovement
Hold accounts for long periodsExperienced credit userImprovement
Use different types of loan productsExperience with different types of repayment requirementsImprovement
Inquire about or take out new loansAre you just expanding access or taking on too much?Slight drop
Max out credit cards or make first late paymentPotential signal of increasing riskDrop
Pay multiple loans late; miss 3 or more paymentsAll credit at riskLarger drop
Stop paying loan; foreclosureDefaultMajor drop
BankruptcyDefaultMaximum drop over extended time period

In the news: Experian launches Go, a tool to build your own credit report

If you’ve boosted your credit score to the fair-credit range, you’ve come a long way. Your efforts have opened the door to more opportunities, making it easier for you to borrow money if you ever need to. Not everyone is as fortunate.

A lot of people still struggle to get their credit score as far as you have. In fact, 28 million have no credit score or credit report and are credit invisible. And because of this, they struggle to gain access to valuable financial resources. This makes it easier for them to fall prey to predatory lending options like payday loans.

If you know anyone who is credit invisible, let them know they have resources available to them. This includes a new tool by Experian that helps people who are credit invisible establish credit records. Instead of relying on lenders to provide the data that determines a credit score, Experian’s Go program lets users create an Experian credit report using recurring bills that are not usually reported to credit bureaus. John Egan has the details on Experian’s new DIY credit report tool.

Research methodology: How we choose the best cards for fair credit

Methodology: We analyzed 161 credit cards in the average credit range to identify the top products in the class. Core criteria we considered in our evaluation include:

  • Credit-building features: When building a credit score, it’s vital to have a card that regularly reports your payment habits and has flexibility with your credit limit. We looked for credit cards with perks that help bolster your credit history and make it easy to track your credit score.
  • Base rewards program: Does the card provide any ways to earn rewards? Not all cards in the fair credit range do, but some options provide strong cash back earnings, attainable sign-up bonuses and rewards across several spend categories.
  • Affordability: Does the card feature an annual fee? Additionally, are there any extra fees you need to watch out for? How high are the interest rates if you were to carry a balance? In other words, we considered how costly a card can be.
  • Additional benefits: Some cards offer introductory 0% APR periods on purchases/balance transfers to help protect cardholders from tedious costs. Other protective benefits, like zero fraud risk, prequalification and many more, were also weighed during our analysis.

More information on credit cards

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