When it comes to differentiating between various credit card types and offers, there are three main categories. The top category, which is for those with excellent or good credit, includes all of the best rewards cards, each offering excellent terms and plenty of perks. Meanwhile, the bottom tier, which is for those with poor credit or limited histories, is generally comprised of secured and unsecured cards that charge high fees and interest rates.
The middle tier includes everyone else, and is filled with fair credit offers for people with generally good, but not great, credit scores. Using the FICO scoring system, an average credit score usually falls somewhere between 630 and 689.
Since the most recent State of Credit Report from credit reporting agency Experian found that the average credit score in the United States was approximately 666 in 2014 (does that number say something about our debt problems?), it appears that a large swath of the country falls into this category.
Fortunately, a ton of card offers are aimed at this demographic. Here’s how fair credit offers work:
How Credit Cards for Fair Credit Work
Even though having fair credit leaves room for improvement, it’s still much better than having poor credit. Since fair credit is usually enough to help someone qualify for an unsecured credit card, it is also enough to help consumers avoid cards with the highest fees and interest rates.
On the other hand, cards for fair credit don’t offer nearly as many perks as the best rewards cards either. Here are a few basic principles that describe most credit cards for fair credit:
Some credit cards for fair credit offer generous rewards programs – Although rewards offered by credit cards for fair credit may not be as robust as those offered for consumers with excellent credit, the perks are undeniable. Many cards for fair credit cash-back on everyday purchases as well as other free perks like free FICO scores or credit monitoring.
Most credit cards for fair credit come with a low annual fee or no annual fee – One of the perks that comes with having decent credit is being able to secure a line of credit without paying an annual fee. While some cards for average credit that offer rewards programs do charge an annual fee, it is usually a nominal amount (normally between $39 and $59).
Some cards for average credit offer attractive balance transfer terms – If you’re carrying a balance on a high interest credit card, you may be able to save money on interest and get out of debt faster with a card that offers attractive balance transfer terms. Fortunately, many cards for fair credit offer low fees for consumers who take advantage of these offers.
Credit cards for fair credit may charge higher than average interest rates – Although this can vary from card to card, it’s a general rule that cards for average credit charge higher interest rates than cards for excellent credit.
Featured Cards for Fair or Average Credit
If you don’t have an extensive credit history or an excellent credit score, then consider applying for one of these credit cards for fair or limited credit. These cards feature a greater chance of being approved and often have much better terms and perks than credit cards for people with bad credit or no credit.
How to Select a Credit Card
If you have fair or average credit, your ultimate goal should be improving your credit score over time. Since credit cards for fair credit extend an unsecured line of credit and report to all three credit reporting agencies, nearly any credit card in this category can help you accomplish that goal. Still, there are certain factors you should consider as you make your selection. Here are some tips that can help:
Know your credit score – Before you apply for a card for fair credit, you need to find out your credit score right away. If it is high enough, you may want to see if you qualify for a card for excellent credit first. But if it is too low, you run the risk of not qualifying for a card for fair credit at all. Knowing your score will help you figure out which step to take next.
Choose a card with a low annual fee or no annual fee – Once you find out that your credit score does in fact fall between 630 and 689, you should start exploring fair credit offers right away. During your search, make sure to keep an eye out for offers that don’t charge an annual fee. With average credit, you shouldn’t have to pay an annual fee unless you decide it’s worth it.
Compare rewards programs – When it comes to cards for fair credit, gaining access to a generous rewards program is crucial. Meanwhile, a generous rewards program can also make paying an annual fee with it. For example, if your credit card offers 2% cash-back but charges a $59 annual fee, you could easily justify that expense. But if you were to get an airline miles card and didn’t earn enough rewards in a year to pay for a ticket. Then the $59 is not really worth the rewards.Either way, you should compare rewards programs among different cards to make sure you’re getting the most “bank for your buck,” even after considering an annual fee.
Take a closer look at interest rates – If you plan to carry a balance on your card for any reason, you should familiarize yourself with any card’s APR, or interest rate, right away. Since some credit cards for fair credit offer interest rates that are higher than average, you would be wise to take a look at what’s available and select a card that will help you save money over the long haul.
Take your spending into account – Whether you’re comparing rewards programs or deciding whether to pay an annual fee, you should always take your normal spending into account. If you choose a card that offers rewards on certain popular categories, for example, that could increase the utility and value of that particular card. Meanwhile, if you rarely use credit at all, a card with a rewards program or annual fee probably wouldn’t be worth it.
If your credit is average or decent, a credit card for fair credit might be exactly what you need. These cards can provide much more than an emergency line of credit; they can also help you improve your credit over time through responsible use.
And you never know – with the right card for fair credit, you could be on your way to excellent credit – and the best credit card offers – in no time.