You obviously want excellent terms for your credit cards, but, unfortunately, your credit score doesn't quite make it into the "excellent" range. These days, credit scores dictate most offers from reputable lending institutions, with a few tiered categories in which you can fall: excellent, good, fair/average and poor.
A credit score is a number that credit card issuers use to evaluate you. You'll often see this referred to as your FICO score, though there are other companies that produce credit scores. It considers such factors as your history of paying bills on time, how much available credit and existing debt you have, and how long you have maintained various financial accounts. Credit card issuers use credit scores to decide whether to approve your application and then to set your credit limit.
Don't know your credit score? Read this first!
Generally speaking, you'll need a FICO score of at least 650 (out of a possible 850) to qualify for a traditional, unsecured credit card. In fact, scores from about 650-699 are considered "fair/average." Of course, your credit history, income and housing costs also will play into what you can get.
The majority of Americans today fall in the "fair/average" to "good" range. Though it doesn't seem like it would make a huge difference, cracking the 680 credit score can actually reap a large reward, like lower rates, more offers and better rewards.
So what are some of the top cards for people with 650-699 credit scores? Remember, each lender makes its own definitions for "good" and "fair." For instance, a 680 credit score without a lot of available income won't get you far with issuers like Chase or American Express. On the other hand, positive cash flow and stability on your credit report can inspire some lenders to take a chance on you even if your score is in the middle range of "fair."
There are some good options out there and with responsible use, you could do some good for your score overall and soon find yourself qualifying for even better offers. Here are CardRatings' picks for the top credit cards for people with "fair/average" credit.
Why We Like It: This card is great because there are no categories; you earn cash back with every purchase. If you don't qualify for Capital One's very best offer, the bank's system will suggest one or two similar deals, usually with annual fees or higher finance charges.
The Bonus: Once you've established a solid payment history with the bank you can request bank credit line increases, new features or even check to see if you qualify for an even better offer.
The Annual Fee: $39
The Rewards: Earn 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase with no categories, caps or deadlines to consider. Your cash back doesn't expire as long as your account remains open. Read our full review
Credit Needed: Average, Fair, Limited
Why We Like It: Discover rewards good grades by offering students $20 cash back each year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years. Additionally, you receive a 0 percent APR on purchases for six months from the time of account opening. What we love best, though, is that all the cash back you earn during your first year, will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, by Discover. That means $200 in cash back is actually $400 in cash back.
The Bonus: ALL the cash back you earn during your first year will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, by Discover.
The Annual Fee: $0
The Rewards: Earn 5 percent back up to the quarterly maximum in categories that rotate each quarter (you must activate the bonus each quarter). Earn 1 percent back on all your other purchases and in the bonus categories after your reach the quarterly cap. Read our full review
Credit Needed: Fair
Why We Like It: With the lowest rates of any major bank in the country, it's hard to go wrong. USAA takes care of its military families with even lower rates during deployment and for a year after and is generally geared toward meeting the unique needs of those families.
The Annual Fee: $0
The Rewards: This isn't a rewards card; rather its primary feature is that super-low APR, which is reward enough if you need to carry a balance and are trying to avoid a sky-high interest rate. Read our full review
Credit Needed: Good, Fair
Why We Like It: Being able to pre-qualify without a hard inquiry on your credit report sells us immediately on this card. Plus, you can choose your monthly due date AND earn rewards – rewards cards are a bit hard to come by at this credit-needed level. This is a great card for those looking to boost their credit standing.
The Annual Fee: $0-$75 the first year depending on credit worthiness. $0-$99 annually after that, again depending on credit worthiness.
The Rewards: The rewards are determined by your credit worthiness, but could be 1 percent on gas; groceries; and mobile phone, internet and cable/satellite services. Or 1.1 percent on dining purchases and 1 percent on all other purchases. Or 1 percent on all your eligible purchases. Read our full review
Credit Needed: Fair
Why We Like It: This card allows you to build or rebuild your credit, but doesn't lock you into a specific refundable security deposit. You can choose what amount to deposit and establish your credit limit from $200-$3,000.
The Annual Fee: $35
The Rewards: The reward is the opportunity to build your credit, but still have some flexibility with your security deposit. Use the card responsibly and you could go a long way toward increasing your credit score into a new tier, opening up a whole new range of credit card offers. Read our full review
Credit Needed: Fair/Poor/Bad/No Credit
Keep in mind, a credit score of 650 isn't terrible, but it's not exactly considered tops in the class either. That said, some credit card issuers consider 650 good or reasonably decent, and so you should be able to get a credit card without too much difficulty. It won't, however, be a card with a low purchase APR, but you already know that.
A few years ago, your 680 FICO score would have landed you in the "very good" to "excellent" range. In today's post Great Recession lending market, however, that 680 lands you toward the upper end of "fair/average." Let it slide below 650 and you could find it difficult to qualify for a traditional credit card.
That said, no one knows any of the trade secrets that credit card issuers use when determining who gets a credit card and who doesn't, but keep in mind that FICO scores aren't everything. If you still have trouble getting approved, there may be other things in your credit history that are keeping you from getting a credit card with decent terms.