If your credit falls into the fair or average credit score range, finding good credit cards that don't charge expensive fees can be difficult. To make it easier for you, we researched the top cards available and selected the best credit cards for fair credit based on their fees, rewards, and benefits. Here are our selections:
The best credit cards for fair credit
- Best for cashback rewards: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best no-fee card option: Petal Cash Back Visa Card
- Best for balance transfers: Aspire FCU Platinum Mastercard
- Best for students: Deserve Edu Mastercard
- Best secured card: Secured MasterCard® from Capital One
- Best for retail benefits: Credit One Bank American Express Card
The best credit cards for fair credit for May 2021
|Card name||Best for||Why it’s special|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Cashback rewards||Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase|
|Petal Cash Back Visa Card||No fees||$0 annual fee, no late payment fee, and no foreign transaction fees|
|Aspire FCU Platinum Mastercard||Balance transfers||Get 0% on balance transfers for 6 billing cycles|
|Deserve Edu Mastercard||Students||Earn 1% cash back on all purchases and get cell phone protection|
|Secured MasterCard from Capital One||Low security deposit||Security deposit as low as $49|
|Credit One Bank American Express Card||Retail benefits||Retail protection if your items are damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase|
Capital One QuicksilverOne: Best for cashback rewards
If you have fair credit, it can be difficult to find a rewards card that allows you to earn cash back or travel points. Most cards designed for people with fair credit don’t have rewards programs or extra benefits. The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is one of the few exceptions.
Although it does have an annual fee of $39, you can earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. You can also redeem your rewards in a variety of ways, including statement credits, gift cards, or a paper check. Plus, you’ll be automatically considered for a credit limit increase in as few as six months, which can improve your credit utilization ratio (the amount of available credit that you’re using), which then could improve your credit score.
The card also has other benefits, including auto rental collision damage waiver protection, travel insurance, and extended warranty coverage.
Petal Cash Back Visa Card: Best no-fee option
Many credit cards for people with fair credit have costly fees. You can end up paying hundreds of dollars each year just to use the card, which makes them expensive additions to your wallet.
The Petal Cash Back Visa Card is different. The Petal Visa Card is issued by WebBank, Member FDIC, and has no fees at all. You don’t have to worry about annual fees, foreign transaction fees, or even late payment fees. You can also qualify for the card even if you don’t have an established credit history, and you’ll start earning 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases right away.
Over time, you can even boost your cashback rewards rate. You can move up to earning 1.25% unlimited cash back on all purchases after 6 on-time payments, and 1.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases after 12 on-time payments.
The Petal Visa also has a mobile app you can use to manage your account, set a monthly budget, and track your credit score. The app is available on iOS and Android on the App Store and Google Play Store.
Aspire FCU Platinum Mastercard: Best balance transfer card
If you are paying a lot in credit card interest each month, a balance transfer can be a smart way to save money and accelerate your debt repayment. However, many of the best balance transfer cards are limited to consumers with good to excellent credit. But that’s not the case with this card from Aspire Federal Credit Union.
With the Aspire FCU Platinum Mastercard, cardholders can get 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 6 billing cycles and 0% intro APR on new purchases for 6 billing cycles, even with fair credit. After that, the regular APR will vary based on your creditworthiness. But that intro APR period gives you time to pay off your debt without incurring costly interest charges.
Do be aware that you will have to pay a balance transfer fee for this service. But the Aspire FCU Platinum Mastercard has a $0 annual fee and includes free identity theft protection.
Deserve Edu Mastercard: Best for students
The Deserve Edu Mastercard is an excellent option for college students who want to start building their credit history, earn rewards, and enjoy a few extra benefits that sometimes only the best credit cards for students provide.
The Deserve Edu Mastercard has a $0 annual fee, and you’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases. As a cardmember, you can get a free Amazon Prime Student membership for one year. Plus, you get complimentary cell phone protection, a perk typically associated with credit cards that have annual fees.
The card also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, so it can be used without incurring additional costs if you’re traveling internationally or studying abroad.
Secured MasterCard from Capital One: Best secured card
If you want to build your credit and don’t have a solid credit history, secured credit cards — which requires you to put down a sum of money as a security deposit — can be a helpful option. The previous cards we’ve mentioned on this list are unsecured cards, meaning you do not have to put a deposit down to open these accounts.
The Secured MasterCard from Capital One has a $0 annual fee, and you can put down a security deposit as low as $49. The minimum credit line you’ll be given if your application is approved is $200. You can be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months. All of this makes this card a good option if you’re working on rebuilding or building credit.
And, unlike most secured cards, the Secured MasterCard from Capital One also offers other benefits, such as auto rental collision damage waiver protection, travel accident insurance, and extended warranty protection.
Credit One Bank American Express Card: Best for retail benefits
Although the Credit One Bank American Express Card has a $39 annual fee, it’s a useful card if you’re looking for a rewards card. This card offers 1% cash back on every purchase and some retail benefits:
- Retail protection: If eligible items are stolen or damaged within 90 days of their purchase, your card’s coverage will pay for the item’s repair or replacement, up to a maximum of $1,000 per item.
- Extended warranty protection: Extended warranty protection extends the manufacturer’s warranty on eligible items by up to one additional year.
- Return protection: If you attempt to return an undamaged item to a retailer and it didn’t accept it, return protection will reimburse you for covered items.
You’ll also get $150,000 in travel accident insurance when you book your travel with your Credit One Bank American Express card. And, as a cardmember, you can take advantage of Amex Offers and purchase tickets before the general public to major events, such as games and concerts.
How we chose these cards
To choose the best credit cards for fair credit, we looked at 15 top credit cards designed for consumers with fair or average credit scores. When deciding what cards to include, we looked at the cards’ fees, rewards, and benefits. Cards with high annual fees, monthly maintenance fees, and setup fees were eliminated, and priority was given to cards that combined low fees with strong reward programs.
What is a fair credit score?
There are different credit scoring models, so your credit score depends on which model a lender or credit card issuer uses when they do a hard credit inquiry. In that way, you actually have more than one credit score.
The FICO score is the most commonly used model. For FICO, a fair credit score ranges between 580 and 669. Approximately 17% of Americans fall within this range. VantageScore is another scoring model. With VantageScore, the fair credit range is between 601 and 660. Just 13% of Americans have a fair VantageScore.
If your credit score is fair, you are generally considered to be a subprime borrower, and you may struggle to get approved for certain loans or credit cards, or you may pay high interest rates compared to borrowers with higher credit scores.
Both the FICO and VantageScore models use information pulled from your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit reports to determine your score. But although they consider the same data, the two scoring models weight information differently. Factors that may be dragging down your credit scores include missed monthly payments, high credit utilization, and the length of your credit history.
What is the difference between a bad and fair credit score?
Fair and average credit are terms that are often used interchangeably, but the difference between having fair credit and poor credit is dramatic.
According to FICO scoring, fair credit is a score between 580 and 669. Very poor or bad credit is a score between 300 and 579. If your credit profile is rated as being in the very poor or bad range, you likely won’t qualify for a loan or credit card at all, or you may have to pay fees or deposits.
How a credit card can help you improve your credit score
If you have fair credit, using a credit card can raise your credit score. The responsible use of a credit card can actually help you boost your credit in the following ways:
- Established payment history: Your payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. As you make your credit card payments, the credit card company reports your activity to the three major credit bureaus. If you make on-time payments and never miss a due date, then your responsible habits can increase your credit score.
- Improved credit utilization: When you’re approved for a new credit card, you get access to a new credit line. That means the overall credit available to you is now higher. Your credit utilization is how much of that credit you are using, and it determines 30% of your credit score. So if you keep your credit card balance low, having a credit card open can improve your credit score.
- Credit mix: Creditors like to see that you can manage different forms of credit, which is why your credit mix makes up 10% of your credit score. If you don’t currently have a credit card, adding one can boost your credit even more.
If you have fair credit, you may feel like you’re excluded from the top credit card offers. But there are several useful options available for consumers with fair credit, including reward cards and balance transfer cards. By exploring your options, you can compare credit cards for fair credit, find the right card for your needs, and learn how to improve your credit score over time.
If you put some time into improving your credit, then you may be able to move from a secured to an unsecured credit card, be given a higher credit limit, or even improve your credit enough to qualify for an auto loan or home loan in the future.