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Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit

7 Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit: Student, Business, and No Fee

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Is it really all that bad to have fair credit? Should you be losing sleep over it, or is it just a slight inconvenience that you don’t need to worry about too much?

Although having fair credit isn’t the absolute worst thing for your finances, it is definitely not helping you very much and you could be losing out on a lot of great benefits reserved for those with optimal credit scores.

Try the CardMatch Tool!

Use the CardMatch Tool to find the best credit card for fair credit for you! The tool uses a soft credit check, so it won’t affect your credit score at all.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your credit score, the easiest of which is opening a credit card and using it responsibly. By choosing the right credit card, you could earn cash back or rewards and improve your credit at the same time. 

The Credit Cards for Fair Credit We RAVE About

credit card guide
Best First Step
CardMatch Tool
Best In Category
Credit Cards for Fair Credit
Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students
Best Student Credit Card
Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students
Petal 2 Visa Credit Card
Best No Fee Credit Card
Petal 2 Visa Credit Card
Capital One Spark Classic Credit Card
Best Business Credit Card
Capital One Spark Classic Credit Card

What Does Fair Credit Actually Mean?

credit card guide

There are a lot of misconceptions around credit, how to manage it, and what actually affects your score. Knowing where you stand with credit can be another issue that is hard to determine due to different people, banks, and companies classifying different scores as “average” or “fair.” Although there isn’t quite a definitive answer, we consider average credit to be about 590 to 680, give or take.

Although fair credit is not something to be bragging about, be glad that you haven’t dropped down into the “poor” range of scores. These kinds of scores can be very difficult to overcome and can cost thousands due to only getting approval for high-interest rates and bad loan terms. You aren’t starting from the bottom, but you also could use some help in the credit department.

How You Got Here and What To Do Now

It is very important to understand why your credit score is fair. There is a drastic difference between somebody that has fair credit due to not having much credit history and somebody who has fair credit because they have missed loan payments or maxed out credit cards.

If you don’t have negative marks on your credit, like bankruptcy, missed payments, or high credit utilization, then you are on the right track. If you consistently make good decisions around credit, you are on the path to “excellent” credit.

If you are in the unfortunate situation of having bad marks but want to make some positive changes, we applaud you for trying to improve your credit. You will be much better off down the road and save yourself a ton of money and headaches in the process.

First, you need to review your credit report or history, which can be done via a free service like CreditKarma or by getting your free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com. Look through everything on your report to see what negative remarks are present. Take note of late payments, missed payments, delinquent accounts, or cards that have a very high credit utilization ratio (above 30%). This will give you an idea of what has happened in the past and what the next steps should be to improve your credit.

Note: If you notice anything on the report that is incorrect or false, you need to dispute that with the credit bureau ASAP. You don’t want something that you never actually did hurting your credit score.

If you have missed or late payments in your history, they will be on your report for a while. But if you make sure that you pay your bill on time every single month moving forward, they will start to have less of an effect over time. If you notice one or more accounts that are maxed out or have high credit utilization, try to pay those down first and don’t let the amount of credit you use go over 30% in the future.

Methodology

“Fair” or “average” credit can be a vague term, and the credit scores in this category can vary depending on who you ask. Some people will say that you only need a 580 credit score to count as “fair,” while others will say you need at least 630. This can lead to a lot of confusion and not knowing what the minimum credit score is for each card.

We are trying to simplify the process for you by identifying a handful of the best cards that will give you a good chance of getting approved with “fair” credit, whether you are on the upper or lower end of that range. When evaluating credit cards for people with fair credit, we considered the following criteria:

  • Annual fee: How much is the annual fee on the card, if it has one? Is the annual fee reasonable, too high, or quite low?
  • Security deposit: Does this card require a security deposit? If so, how much is it?
  • Signup bonus: Does this rewards card have a signup bonus and how much is it worth? Do you have to spend a certain amount to get it?
  • Rewards: Are there any rewards you earn by making purchases on this card?
  • Other benefits: What other kinds of benefits does this credit card offer? Are these valuable benefits?

Best Overall Credit Card for Fair Credit

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $39
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Rewards: 1.5% cash back on everything
  • Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees
  • Pros: Unlimited cash back, low annual fee
  • Cons: Minimal additional benefits

The Capital One QuicksilverOne credit card is our pick for the best overall credit card for fair credit thanks to its immediate cash-back earnings rate and a low fee.

Don’t be afraid of the annual fee on this card, as it will only cost you $39. You may want to go for a no-annual-fee card, which is completely understandable, but don’t let the fee completely deter you.

The best feature of this card is its rewards. You will earn 1.5% cash back on everything you buy as soon as you get the card. That is equivalent to the earnings rate for some of the best flat-rate rewards cards, but those often require great credit. At 1.5% cash back, you will cover the cost of the annual fee after spending just $2,600 on the card each year. Everything above that is additional money in your pocket.

One great thing about Capital One credit cards is that you can upgrade their lower-tier cards to some of the more premium Capital One cards once you have improved your credit score and regularly paid your bill on time each month. That can be a great advantage, since many other credit card issuers and banks that have cards for fair credit don’t have many other upgrade options, if any.

There aren’t a ton of additional perks on this card, but you won’t ever have to pay foreign transaction fees. Despite its lack of many other benefits, the Capital One QuicksilverOne credit card is still our top pick for credit cards for fair credit.

Best Credit Limit Increase Credit Card for Fair Credit

Capital One Platinum

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Rewards: None
  • Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees, credit limit increase in as little as six months
  • Pros: No annual fee, quick credit-limit increase
  • Cons: No rewards 

One of the major drawbacks for credit cards designed for people with fair credit is that they have low credit limits. But with the Capital One Platinum credit card, you can increase your credit limit much quicker than with other similar cards.

This card has no annual fee, which is always a great feature to have on a credit card. The card won’t earn you any rewards though, so don’t expect a bunch of cash back in your pocket. But although you won’t earn cash back, you can get more spending power quickly if you pay your bill on time regularly.

If you pay your bill on time for six months, you will be automatically considered for a higher credit limit. That can be especially helpful since banks can make it somewhat hard to get approved for significant credit without high credit scores.

You won’t pay any foreign transaction fees with this card, so it is great to use when abroad. The ability to increase your credit so quickly with this card makes the Capital One Platinum a great option for those looking for a higher credit limit.

Best No-Fee Credit Card for Fair Credit

Petal 2 Visa Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases (boost to 1.25% cash back when bill is paid on time for 6 months, 1.5% boost after 12 months of bill paid on time)
  • Other benefits: Up to 10% cash back at select merchants, no foreign transaction fees, no late fees, no returned payment fees
  • Pros: Cash Back Boost, no fees of any kind
  • Cons: Low base cash-back rate

The Petal 2 Visa credit card is a really great card for individuals with fair credit who despise fees. It doesn’t have many of the fees that other credit cards carry and it still rewards you with cash back on every use.

The major selling point of the Petal 2 Visa is that it doesn’t have many fees. It doesn’t have an annual fee (like a lot of other credit cards) but it also doesn’t have late fees or returned payment fees (which other cards charge).

Late fees and returned payment fees can cost you $20 to $30 every time it happens, and sometimes even more for subsequent occurrences. We strongly encourage you to keep making your payments on time to maintain the good habit, but sometimes missed payments can happen. Avoiding fees when it does happen gives this card an edge over others.

On top of a card without fees, you can also earn cash back for all of your purchases. You will automatically earn 1% cash back every time you use the card, but you have the opportunity to earn up to 1.5%. If you make your monthly payment on time for six months, your rewards rate bumps up to 1.25%. If you make your payments on time for 12 months, it will bump up to 1.5%. Earning 1.5% on all of your purchases regardless of what you buy is a very good cash-back rate.

You can also earn up to 10% back when you make purchases at select merchants. When traveling, you also won’t pay foreign transaction fees–another bonus from this fee-less card.

If you are anti-fee or even just like the idea of paying less in fees, then the Petal 2 Visa credit card might be the right choice for you.

Best Rewards Credit Card for Fair Credit

Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa

  • Annual fee: $95
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Rewards: 5% cash back on gas, groceries, internet, cable, satellite TV, and mobile phone service (up to $5,000 in purchases per year), 1% on all other purchases
  • Other benefits: Bonus rewards at select merchants (up to 10%), free Experian credit score
  • Pros: Big rewards, free credit score
  • Cons: High annual fee

The Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa has some really great rewards earning potential across a wide range of categories, making it a great rewards card for people with fair credit. It does come with a larger annual fee, but the amount of cash back you can earn each year will easily offset the fee.

The annual fee on this card is $95, which is pretty high compared to many of the other cards on our list. However, it is to be expected that there will be a substantial fee on a card that earns a ton of rewards.

You will earn 5% cash back on a number of categories that are part of your monthly budget already, like gas, groceries, internet service, cable and satellite TV service, and mobile phone service (up to $5,000 in expenses each year). In terms of how much of your monthly expenses it covers, you would be hard pressed to find another card that covers so many categories with 5% back all the time. You will also earn 1% cash back on everything else outside of those categories.

On top of the 5% cash back, you can also get up to 10% cash back if you make purchases at participating merchants. As you can see, this card can earn a ton of cash back every single year and easily offset the annual fee.

You will also receive a free monthly Experian credit score, which can help you track your credit score progress from “fair” to “excellent.” If you are somebody who really values a great cash-back credit card, the Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa is going to be the best pick for you.

Best Secured Credit Card for Fair Credit

Capital One Secured Mastercard

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Minimum security deposit: $49, $99, or $200, depending on credit
  • Rewards: None
  • Other benefits: Refundable security deposit, no foreign transaction fees
  • Pros: No annual fee, low security deposit
  • Cons: No rewards 

Secured credit cards are typically intended to help individuals start building or rebuild their credit, and the Capital One Secured Mastercard is no different. Although you could still be approved for an unsecured card with fair credit, you are essentially guaranteed to be approved for this card. It can be a great way to build your credit with a no-frills type of card. It can especially be good for those on the low end of fair credit.

This card comes with no annual fee and a tiered security deposit depending on your credit score. You will be required to put down a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200 to get an initial $200 credit limit. If you have a better credit score, you can get $200 in credit with just $49, which is much better than most other secured credit cards, which require a 1:1 ratio of deposit to credit limit.

If you make your payments on time, you can eventually be considered to have your account converted to an unsecured card. When this happens, your security deposit will be refunded as a statement credit. You won’t earn any rewards with this card, but when you have it converted to an unsecured card, you could pick one that earns rewards. You also won’t pay any foreign transaction fees with this card, so it is great for travel.

If you are in the low range of fair credit, you might have a difficult time getting approved for an unsecured credit card. But a great option instead would be the Capital One Secured Mastercard, which will give you much better odds of approval.

Best Student Credit Card for Fair Credit

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Minimum security deposit: $0
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Other benefits: Free Amazon Prime Student for one year, cell phone protection (up to $600), no foreign transaction fees, collision damage waiver, $100 Feather furniture subscription credit, $10 Lemonade insurance statement credit, $45 Mint Mobile wireless statement credit
  • Pros: No annual fee, cash-back Rewards, Amazon Prime Student
  • Cons: Low rewards 

If you are a student, you should strongly consider the Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students to help you build your credit. It offers a ton of rewards and statement credits that can be very helpful for students.

Like many student credit cards, the Deserve EDU Mastercard has no annual fee. As a student, you may not have too much extra cash, so not having to pay a fee is very important. On top of no annual fee, the card will also earn 1% cash back on all of your purchases.

The card also offers a ton of benefits that are geared towards students in particular. If you spend $500 on the card within the first three months of card membership, you get a free year of Amazon Prime Student, which is worth $59. You just need to pay for the membership with your card and receive a statement credit back. You also get cell phone protection (up to $600) should anything happen to your cell phone. You just have to pay your monthly cell phone bill with the card to qualify for coverage.

You will also get statement credits for Lemonade insurance, Mint Mobile wireless service, and Feather furniture rental service. If you pay for three consecutive months of Lemonade insurance, you will receive a $10 statement credit. If you use your card to sign up for Mint Mobile wireless service, you also get a $45 statement credit (through Nov 11, 2021). You can also get $100 off your first month of Feather furniture rental when you use your Deserve EDU card.

If you travel, you will also get collision damage waiver for rental cars and you won’t ever have to pay foreign transaction fees. As you can see, the Deserve EDU Mastercard really tries to pack in the benefits that students will use. That’s why it’s our pick for the best student credit card for those with fair credit.

Best Business Credit Card for Fair Credit

Capital One Spark Classic Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Minimum security deposit: None
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases
  • Other benefits: Free employee cards, no foreign transaction fees, extended warranty and protection, multiple purchase records formats
  • Pros: Free employee cards, no annual fee
  • Cons: Minimal benefits

When it comes to business credit cards for business owners with fair credit, there aren’t too many options. It is especially hard to find one that offers some sort of rewards, but the Capital One Spark Classic gives you the best of both worlds. Although it doesn’t come with a ton of additional perks, it is still the best business credit card for fair credit.

First off, this card has no annual fee, making it ideal for all business owners. You want to minimize your unnecessary business expenses, so no annual fee is the way to go. You will also minimize fees thanks to the free employee cards. You can have employees have their own cards to charge business expenses, and you earn the cash back.

The card earns 1% cash back on everything you purchase. There is no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, so every swipe rewards you and your business. Some cards require you to earn a certain amount of cash back before you can redeem it, but the Spark Classic has no minimum.

The card also comes with a few additional benefits like extended warranty and protection, which can help you if one of your recent purchases goes out on you. If you travel abroad for business, this card will come in handy, as it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. Last but not least, you can export all of your expenses in different formats (including Quicken, QuickBooks, or Excel) to help you streamline your business finances and bookkeeping.

It can be hard to find a business credit card for fair credit. But the Capital One Spark Classic is definitely your best bet as it offers no annual fee, cash back, and other helpful perks.

Will Opening Multiple Credit Cards Help Boost My Credit Score?

There is no single correct answer for this and it will depend on your particular circumstances. However, there is an argument that multiple credit cards can have a much stronger effect on improving your credit than just one, as long as you use them responsibly. But just as multiple cards can be better when used correctly, they can also do more damage if used poorly.

By opening more than one credit card, you improve some of the factors used by credit bureaus when calculating your credit score. With more than one credit card, you have more available credit, so your credit utilization will go down if you keep your expenses at the same amount each month spread across the cards. You also get double the amount of positive payment history so long as you make all of your payments on time. Since these are the heaviest weighted factors in your credit score, they can have the biggest positive effect.

How Long Will it Take for My Credit Score to Get into the Good or Excellent Range?

Depending upon where your current credit score falls within the range of “fair” or “average,” there can be a big difference in the time it takes for your credit to improve. It also depends upon what negative items you have on your credit score and what positive changes you can make immediately.

If you have missed or made some late payments in recent history that are bringing your score down, it could take a little while for those to have less of an effect. Just be sure to make all of your payments on time moving forward and your score will slowly increase. In this type of situation, it could take as little as 6 months before you see significant improvement, or as long as a couple years if you had a lot of missed payments.

If you have a habit of spending a lot on your credit cards (think 50% or more of your credit limit) but still make your payments on time, your score could improve much more quickly if you change your spending habits. Opening a credit card can increase your available credit, thus dropping your credit utilization, but reducing the amount of expenses you put on credit cards each month would be even better. This type of change can have an effect in as little as a few months (just so long as you haven’t been maxing out all of your cards every single month).

When Can I Open a Credit Card That Offers Big Signup Bonuses and Other Lucrative Rewards?

Credit cards that offer huge signup bonuses, lucrative rewards, and other valuable perks are usually only given to those individuals with “very good” or “excellent” credit (at least above a 740 credit score). The closer you get to the “excellent” range, the better your odds become. It also helps if you have significant income to prove that you can pay off your credit card bill every month.

Although you may not get approved for some of the premium, top-of-the-line credit cards, there are plenty of credit cards with great rewards when you get into the “good” range of credit scores. “Good” credit scores are generally between 680 and 740. The types of cards meant for people with “good” scores often have decent signup bonuses, good rewards, and sometimes no annual fee. If you make your way into the “good” range, you are already on track to having a high credit score in the future.

Should I Open a Card That Has an Annual Fee?

Although you may think that you shouldn’t have to pay an annual fee for a credit card, there can be some value to doing so if it has certain benefits or rewards earned on the card. Of course you shouldn’t pay a huge annual fee if it doesn’t offer equivalent benefits, but if a card will earn enough cash back or rewards to cover the fee (and hopefully add even more value), it can definitely be worth it. You will need to assess how much you value the benefits of each card and if it is worth paying a fee or choosing no-fee card.

What is the Best Overall Credit Card for Fair Credit?

In our opinion, the best overall credit card for fair credit is the Capital One QuicksilverOne credit card. It earns 1.5% cash back on everything you buy without exceptions, making it rival some more premium credit cards on the market. It only has a $39 annual fee and it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. It doesn’t come with a ton of other perks, but the unlimited rewards make this a top pick for those with fair credit.

RAVE Recommends

  • CardMatch Tool: We know, we keep telling you about this. We really recommend it! Getting prequalified for credit cards is a big deal and a great service!
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card: This card is one of the best no-annual-fee credit cards out there, but it will require a higher credit score. It earns you massive rewards on travel and dining, but still offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase that isn’t in a bonus category. It always features a really great signup bonus as well.
  • Personal Capital Financial Planning and Wealth Management: Personal Capital is one of the tried and true programs that can help you manage your money and help you stay on track financially. It includes really great budgeting tools, retirement tools, and other money management tools.
  • Clever Fox Planner Pro (Premium Edition): This planner has everything you need to stay on top of your schedule and tasks. It also helps you keep a close eye on your finances and keep you on track to reach your short-term and long-term goals.

Patrick Beckman

Patrick Beckman is the Contributing Finance Editor for RAVE Reviews. Leveraging his educational training in engineering, Patrick has developed his own consumer finance strategies for household saving and credit card optimization. A centerpiece of his approach is his Travel-for-Free philosophy: Decide where you want to travel and what you want to do, and then reverse-engineer your credit card sign-ups and bonuses in order to travel to and stay in your destination of choice for free.