The Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit

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The 30-Second Review

We read the fine print and did the math on 16 of the best credit cards for fair credit to find which ones max out rewards while keeping fees to a minimum. All our top picks also have tools built in to help boost that fair credit score to good — or even excellent.

Our Top Picks

Unlimited 2x points on gas, utilities, and groceries — and no annual fee.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
A flat (but unlimited) 1.5% cash back on all purchases, with a fairly reasonable $39 annual fee.

Best for Students

5% cash back on up to $1,500 per quarter, on categories that rotate every quarter — plus Discover matches your cash back for your first year.

Discover it® chrome for Students
2% cash back on up to $1,000 of gas and restaurant purchases per quarter, plus the same cash back match for your first year.

A lot of those “best credit card” lists only feature cards designed for people with good or excellent credit. It makes sense: Credit card companies want to offer their best rewards to people with a strong credit history. That said, it’s also pretty easy to find cards for people with bad credit — we have our own roundup of credit cards for bad credit — and learn how to use a secured card to improve your credit score.

But what about everyone in the middle? The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) gives credit holders a credit score between 300 and 850 — higher scores are better — and considers scores between 580 and 669 “fair credit.” As of April 2016, about one in five credit users had fair credit. If you fall into that group, you’re a category all your own, and you need credit card options to match.

Our Top Pick

Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® Unlimited 2x points on gas, utilities, and groceries; 1 point on everything else; and no annual fee.

Our favorite is the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard®, which has some of the best rewards you can find with a credit card for fair credit: unlimited 2x points per dollar spent on gas, utility, and grocery store purchases, as well as 1x point per dollar on all other purchases and no annual fee. If those double-point categories don’t align with your spending habits, we also like the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on any purchase, and a relatively reasonable $39 annual fee.

Students will want to look into the Discover it® for Students and the Discover it® chrome for Students. Both have no annual fee and will double your cash back at the end of your first year. The big difference between these cards lies in their top rewards categories. Discover it® for Students offers a whopping 5% back, but on categories that rotate: One quarter will be 5% back on Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam’s Club purchases; the next could be for gas stations, ground transportation, and wholesale clubs. The Discover it® chrome for Students, on the other hand, gives a lesser 2% back on restaurants and gas, but those rewards are consistent throughout the entire year.

Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit

Our Top Pick

Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® Unlimited 2x points on gas, utilities, and groceries; 1 point on everything else; and no annual fee.

Credit cards for fair credit aren’t going to give you the major cash back benefits that come with our top cash back credit cards — the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, one of our favorite cash back cards, offers 6% cash back on groceries as well as a $250 bonus after you make $1,000 in purchases — but that doesn’t mean you can’t still earn rewards.

Case in point: The Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® gives you 2x points per dollar spent on gas, utility, and grocery store purchases, as well as 1x point per dollar on all other purchases.

Unlike other cash back rewards cards, the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® doesn’t limit the amount of cash back you can earn. Other cards might tell you that you can only earn 2x on groceries for “up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter.” Not the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard®. If you spend $10,000 on gas, utility, and grocery store purchases, you’ll earn 2x points on every dollar.

Another Good Option

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% back on any purchase, with a $39 annual fee.

One point is worth roughly 1 cent, and points can be redeemed for statement credits to your account — that is, you can pay off your credit card statement with points — as well as deposits into your US checking or savings account. Points can also be redeemed as gift cards.

Be aware that the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® has a relatively high 25.24% variable APR, which means that any unpaid credit card balances will earn a lot of interest. Make sure to pay off your balances in full every credit cycle (which will also help improve your credit score!). The Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® gives you access to your FICO credit score to help you track your progress.

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card also offers cash back rewards: an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. You get a nine-month 0% intro APR on purchases, followed by a 23.24% variable APR — not quite as high as the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard®, but close. You can also get access to a higher credit line with Credit Steps if you make your first five monthly payments on time, and Capital One’s CreditWise® app gives you unlimited access to your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score and helps you plan strategies to improve your rating.

The other big difference between these two cards: The QuicksilverOne charges a $39 annual fee, while the Barclaycard has no annual fee. Here’s a look at how much you could earn with each card:

Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard®

Cash Back

Earning Potential

Unlimited 2x points on gas, utility, and grocery store purchases

$20 for every $1,000 spent

1x points on all other purchases

$10 for every $1,000 spent

Total earned on $5,000 in purchases*

$75

*Assuming $2,500 spent on gas/utility/grocery stores and $2,500 spent on other purchases

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Cash Back

Earning Potential

Unlimited 1.5% on all purchases

$10.50 for every $1,000 spent

Total earned on $5,000 in purchases

$75

Minus $39 annual fee

$36

In this example, we made some assumptions on how that $5,000 was being spent on the Barclaycard, but depending on how much money you put toward gas, utility, and grocery store purchases, you could earn roughly the same amount of points/cash back with both the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard® and the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. The QuicksilverOne’s annual fee will take a bite out of those earnings — but it may be worth it if your spending habits earn you more with a flat 1.5% cash back rewards structure.

Best for Students

Discover it® for Students 5% cash back in categories that rotate each quarter, plus Discover matches your cash back at the end of your first year.

If you’re a college student with fair credit, it’s time to study up on the Discover it® for Students and the Discover it® chrome for Students. These cards — which are also on our list of best student credit cards — offer great cash back rewards, and Discover will match all of the cash back rewards you earn at the end of your first year as a cardmember. They offer 0% intro APRs for six months on purchases, and even give you rewards for good grades.

Let’s compare a year of their offerings side by side, assuming you max out the highest rewards categories each quarter — $1,500 per quarter for the Discover it® for Students and $1,000 for the Discover it® chrome for Students — and spend $1,000 in other purchases per year:

Discover it® for Students

Cash Back

Earning Potential

5% cash back on categories that rotate every quarter

$300

1% cash back on all other purchases

$10

$20 each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years

$20

Cash back matched at the end of your first year

$330

Total

$660

Discover it® chrome for Students

Cash Back

Earning Potential

2% cash back on restaurants and gas stations

$80

1% cash back on all other purchases

$10

$20 each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years

$20

Cash back matched at the end of your first year

$110

Total

$220

You can earn a lot more cash with the Discover it® for Students, especially when Discover doubles that cash at the end of your first year as a cardmember. With the Discover it® for Students, you earn $5 cash back for every $100 you spend on a 5% earning category. With the Discover it® chrome for Students, you’d need to spend $250 on restaurants and gas to earn $5.

Another Good Option

Discover it® chrome for Students 2% cash back on restaurants and gas, plus Discover matches your cash back at the end of your first year.

That said, the Discover it® for Students’ 5% rotating categories are a gamble. Take a look at the Discover it® Cashback Calendar to see whether you are likely to shop in any of the upcoming 5% cashback categories. For October – December 2016, for example, you could earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam’s Club. In January – March 2016, you could earn 5% cash back for gas stations, ground transportation, and wholesale clubs. Is there even a Sam’s Club near you? How often are you spending $1,500 at department stores? If you can’t take full advantage of the 5% categories, it’s not such a good deal — and the Discover it® chrome for Students is suddenly looking a lot better.

One more important tip: You don’t earn that 5% cash back automatically. Instead, you need to activate your 5% cash back categories every quarter, which means watching your inbox for an email from Discover telling you it’s time to activate, and then following the instructions. (You can also visit your Discover card account to activate your 5% cash back categories.)

Once you get your Discover it® card — either one — don’t forget to check your FICO score regularly. Like the other fair credit cards on our list, Discover wants to help you improve your credit score and is ready to give you the tools you need to succeed.

Other Credit Cards for Fair Credit to Consider

Best for People with a Military Affiliation

The USAA Classic Platinum Visa® and the USAA Classic American Express® are both basic (aka: no rewards) cards designed to help users build up their credit. These cards are only available to active and former members of the military or their eligible family members.

Both cards offer competitive terms: 18.24% – 24.15% variable APR, a $35 annual fee, and the option to be periodically considered for a premium credit card based on your account history and your ability to improve your credit score.

You also get military benefits, such as a 4% APR on all balances for 12 months while on deployment or PCS. Neither of these cards includes foreign transaction fees, which is a huge benefit for members of the military who travel.

Did You Know?

Having fair credit means you’re really close to having good credit.

If you have fair credit, you’re already doing something right. You’re not considered “subprime,” like people with bad credit scores; instead, you’re what’s called “near prime.” You’ve almost got what it takes to become a prime credit member with good credit.

So what do you need to do to get there? Here are a few tips:

  • Pay off your outstanding debt as soon as possible. If you have outstanding credit card debt, start paying it down. This is where a balance transfer card like Chase Slate® really shines. The more debt you pay down, the higher your credit utilization ratio becomes — that’s your ratio of the credit you’ve used compared to the credit available to you — which improves your credit score.
  • Don’t run up a high balance on your new card. Even if you’ve got a card with a 0% intro APR like the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card and the two Discover it® options, don’t use it as an excuse to run up a high balance and “pay it off later.” The higher your outstanding balance, the worse your credit utilization ratio looks. The credit bureaus don’t want you to have a $4,500 balance on a card with a $5,000 credit limit. They want to see responsible credit use, which includes paying off those balances before they get too high.
  • Make all of your payments on time. It’s an easy way to keep your credit score looking great.
  • Don’t close out your old credit cards. If you pay off an old credit card and don’t plan to use it anymore, don’t close it out. Your credit score is partially determined by what’s called “age of credit,” which means that the credit bureaus look at how many years a creditor has agreed to give you credit — and the more years, the better! Just because you aren’t using a credit card doesn’t mean it can’t count positively toward your age of credit and improve your credit score.

If you have derogatory marks on your credit report, be patient.

Some of you might have derogatory marks on your credit report, such as bankruptcies or foreclosures. If that’s you, be patient. These derogatory marks will disappear over time (generally over seven to 10 years) and your credit score will improve. Keep practicing good credit habits in the meantime to keep your credit score as high as possible.

If you’re not getting approved for fair credit cards, you may need to rebuild your credit first.

If you’re applying for fair credit cards and getting rejected, your credit might not be good enough yet. That’s OK. Use our list of the best credit cards for people with bad credit to pick an option that will help you rebuild your credit and make you eligible for better cards.

Use the resources that come with your credit card.

Most of our top cards get you access to your credit score, so use that information to track your progress and work toward a better score. What small changes can you make this month to improve your credit? Maybe it’s paying down an extra $150 in outstanding debt. Maybe it’s setting up a calendar reminder to make sure you make on-time credit card payments. Practice good habits and check your credit score to see your hard work pay off!

The Bottom Line

If you have fair credit, you deserve the best credit card possible. Look for cards that don’t charge a lot of fees, and be aware that there are several fair credit cards that offer cash back rewards, 0% intro APRs, access to your FICO score, and other benefits. Use the tools your card gives you to build your credit and improve your score — because you’re really close to having good credit, and you can get there.

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