What credit score do I need to get a credit card?

John Ganotis

John Ganotis | Blog

Dec 21, 2016 | Updated Nov 26, 2017

There is no exact credit score you need to get approved for a credit card. If I had to pick a number, I’d say you may run into trouble getting a credit card if you have a FICO score or VantageScore below about 600, but it’s more complicated than that.

If you’re asking this question, there are some important things to understand first:

  • credit approvals or denials are not based solely on one of your credit scores
  • you don’t just have one credit score
  • it depends on the card you’re applying for — different credit cards have different requirements for approval

Keep reading to learn more about each of these and to see what kinds of cards you may qualify for with your credit history.

Credit approvals are based on more than a credit score

A lender is going to consider several factors when you apply for credit. These may include:

  • One of your credit scores: The lender may use a credit score to screen out people with a bad credit rating, for example, but it’s not the only factor in the decision. Did you know you have more than one credit score? Keep reading this post, because the next section talks more about that.
  • Your credit history (credit reports): While a credit score might be considered, lenders will look at one or more of your credit reports to make sure you have a history of on-time payments. Depending on the card you’re applying for, the issuing bank may want to see several years of on-time payments. Looking at a credit report gives the lender a more detailed picture of your financial history than a single credit score number can.
  • Your income: This isn’t on credit reports, but credit applications always ask how much you make each year. The credit card issuer wants to make sure you have steady income before extending you a line of credit. Sometimes, the bank will ask for additional documents, like tax returns, to support the annual income you write on the application. Your income can be a big factor in the credit limit you’re granted by the issuer.
  • Your monthly housing cost: Credit card applications often ask about your housing situation: whether you rent or own, and what your monthly payment is. If your monthly housing expense seems high relative to your income, that may keep a bank from approving you for new credit or factor into the terms.

It’s important to understand the difference between a credit score and a credit report. (Watch the video for a full explanation.)

Here’s one example where that difference is important: Most credit scoring models only consider hard inquiries from the past year. However, credit inquiries from the past two years are included on your credit reports. Some lenders have rules for denial based on the number of credit inquiries you’ve had in the past two years. So, even if you have credit inquiries that are over a year old and not being counted in your credit scores, a lender might still deny you based on how many inquiries you have.

Even if your credit scores look great, a single late payment or lots of inquiries on your credit reports could be a reason you’re denied.

Or, maybe you have great credit history, but not much income. In that case, you may be approved for a card, but granted a low credit limit.

You don’t have just one credit score

You may have heard people talk about how important “your credit score” is. But really, they’re talking about “your credit scores.”

There are many different credit scoring models out there, with several (FICO and VantageScore) that are the most popular and most commonly used.

When you see “your credit score” somewhere, like on your credit card statement, it’s really “one of your credit scores.”

Watch this video to learn more about the variety of credit scores you have based on different credit scoring models:

Q&A Video: What’s the most important lesson to learn about credit scores?

Credit requirements vary

Different credit cards have different credit requirements. You may be approved for one card, but denied for another.

Generally, the lower your credit card debt and longer your history of on-time payments with other accounts, the more likely it is you’ll be approved for credit cards with the lowest interest rates, highest credit limits, and best rewards.

Retail store credit cards can be relatively easy to get, even with bad credit, but have their downsides. Higher end credit cards, like the best travel credit cards, can provide the most benefits and rewards, but require excellent credit history.

The only way to really know if you will get approved for a credit card is to apply. If you are denied, you will get a letter within 7-10 days that tells you why. Many issuers also provide a way to check whether you’re pre-qualified for any of their cards.

As long as you build credit responsibly, you will maximize your chances of getting approved for a wider variety of cards. For help with that, including finding the right credit card for you, check out our guide to building credit.

What cards can I get?

This table breaks down the types of cards you might be able to get depending on your FICO scores, but keep in mind your income and the specific credit history on your credit reports can play a big role. Remember, the only way to know for sure whether you’ll be approved for a card is to apply.

FICO score Credit level Approval odds Types of cards
Above 760 Excellent Great Almost any card from major issuers. Cards with the best rewards programs and benefits.
700–759 Good OK Decent cards from major issuers, but not the highest-end cards. Cards that earn some rewards
660–699 Fair Below average Cards designed for people with less-than-good credit, usually with no rewards. Retail store cards.
Below 660 Bad Low Secured cards. Unsecured cards designed for people with bad credit, which tend to have bad terms and worse customer service.

Excellent Credit

In this category, you have high credit scores in all major credit scoring models. You have at least 5–10 years of credit history on your credit reports. You may also have a mix of credit cards and loans, showing your ability to manage different types of debt responsibly.

Your goal is probably to get a card or cards that best fits your spending habits and lifestyle to give you the best reward and benefits, while providing you with enough value to cover any annual fees.

Credit card companies may present you with special introductory offers, like bigger point bonuses if you spend a certain amount on a card soon after opening it.

At this level, you’ll likely have your pick of premium cards, including the best American Express cards, like the Platinum Card (Review), and high-end Chase cards like the Sapphire Reserve (Review). You’ll likely qualify for almost any card from major issuers like Bank of America, Barclaycard, Capital One, Citi, and Discover.

Good Credit

In this category, it’s likely your FICO and VantageScores are around the 700–760 range, or maybe a little lower. You probably have at least 2–3 years of credit history established on your credit reports with no late payments.

At this level, you may be able to qualify for many cards from Bank of America, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Discover, but your income and other factors may play a bigger role in the issuer’s approval decision. If credit scoring models give you scores near this range, banks may take a closer look at how much debt you have on existing accounts and other details about your relationship as an existing customer of the bank.

You’ll likely be able to get cards with decent rewards at this level, and as long as you use your cards responsibly you’ll build up more positive credit history over time until you have excellent credit.

Fair or Average Credit

In this category, you probably just started building credit within the past year or two, or you’re recovering from a few negative items, like missed payments. It’s possible you have very high credit card balances relative to your credit limits, which can be a negative signal to credit card issuers.

If you’re at this level, your goal in getting a card is probably to build credit so you can qualify for better cards and terms in the future. To learn more about how to build credit with credit cards, read our guide.

At this level, your options are a little more limited. You’ll want to be smart by not applying for too many cards that are designed for better credit levels since you’ll get a hard inquiry every time you apply for a card. Too many hard inquiries could make it harder to get approved for cards in the next 1–2 years, and they’ll also generally decrease your credit scores.

Depending on your exact credit history, you may have mixed results when applying for cards at this credit level.

Capital One offers several products for people in this range, as well as cards for people with better credit. Starting with a Capital One card may give you a path to upgrade to better cards with them as you build your credit. You may be able to start with a card that earns some rewards, like the Capital One QuicksilverOne card (Review) that earns 1.5% cash back with a $39 annual fee. Or, you may only be able to get approved for a card that doesn’t earn rewards, like the Capital One Platinum card, which doesn’t earn rewards, but also doesn’t have an annual fee. It’s designed for people with fair credit to build up their credit by using it responsibly.

If you’re closer to the bad credit end of the credit spectrum, you may not get approved for a regular unsecured credit card, and you may want to consider applying for a secured card, which requires a deposit in case you don’t pay your bill. If you can’t get approved for unsecured cards designed for fair or average credit, cards like the Discover it Secured (Review) and Capital One Secured Mastercard (Review) may make sense as a place to start building credit, then you could graduate to an unsecured card later.

Retail store cards tend to have worse terms that cards issued by big banks or credit unions, but sometimes they have lower approval requirements, so a store credit card may be another option for you to start building credit if you can’t get approved for other cards. Just make sure you’re paying your bills on time and in full every month.

See our picks for best credit cards for people with fair credit here.

Bad Credit

You may be in this category if you have some significant negative items on your credit reports, like collection accounts, bankruptcies, tax liens, or lots of recent late payments.

Having bad credit history can affect you in many ways, so your goal at this level is probably to re-build your credit so you can qualify for better cards and better loan terms in the future.

At this level, you’ll likely need to start with a secured credit card. Secured cards require that you pay a deposit, which the bank holds on to in case you don’t pay your bill. Even though there’s a deposit, you can still get denied for secured credit cards. See our picks for best secured cards here.

There are also several unsecured credit cards designed for people with bad credit, but read the visitor reviews before you apply — some of these cards have bad customer service and bad terms.

No Credit

If you don’t have any credit established, you may be able to qualify for cards in the fair credit category above. If you’re a student, a credit card designed for students could be a good place to start. Since you’re new to credit cards and credit history, we recommend you start by reading our guide to building credit with credit cards.

Did you like this blog post? If you have any questions, please hit the Ask button and someone will get right back to you.

 

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