Best Credit Cards for Fair or Average Credit: 2019

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Jun 26, 2019

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Credit Card Insider’s Top Card Picks for Fair or Average Credit

Best for Card
No Annual Fee Any of these cards
Flat-Rate Cash Back Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review)
Cash Back Bonus Categories Deserve Pro Mastercard (Review)
Transferring a Balance Chase Slate (Review)
Students Discover it® Student Cash Back (Review)
Small Business Owners Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business (Review)

Choosing a Credit Card for Fair or Average Credit

If you have fair or average credit — a FICO Score 8 of about 580–669 — you won’t be eligible for the very best credit card offers on the market. But you can still get a decent card to suit your needs, sometimes even with a rewards program.

Your options are a bit more limited, but you can use any of the cards on this page to improve your credit. As long as you use your credit cards responsibly, and maintain other good financial habits in general, eventually you’ll be able to qualify for better, more rewarding cards.

Aside from our Best Picks, store credit cards typically have low approval requirements, meaning people with fair or average credit can often qualify. But there are some reasons why you should be careful when applying for and using store cards, as explained below.

Credit builder loans are another tool you can employ to improve your credit, along with or instead of credit cards. These installment loans require you to pay them back before you can actually use them, creating a record of timely payments.

If you’re not sure if you’ll be approved for a credit card or not, you can check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards from the major credit card issuers before applying. You might find that you’re pre-approved for some cards that you thought were out of reach. Some people with fair credit report having good luck with Discover credit cards, for example, even though they’re generally considered to be made for good credit.

Selection Criteria: What Makes a Great Credit Card for Fair or Average Credit?

  • No annual fee: Just because you don’t have great credit, that doesn’t mean you need to pay a fee to use credit cards. None of our recommended cards on this page have an annual fee. But annual fees aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you get enough value out of the rewards and benefits of a card.
  • Won’t need to cancel: If your card doesn’t have an annual fee, you won’t need to close your card out once you’ve moved on to bigger and better cards. This is better for your credit scores, particularly your credit utilization and the average age of your accounts.
  • Rewards: Many credit cards for average credit offer cash back or points, although they aren’t as rewarding as cards for good or excellent credit.
  • Benefits and protections: You won’t usually get great benefits on cards like these, but you’ll typically have a few basic perks like Purchase Protection and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers.
  • Good customer support: Credit card companies aren’t always known for their excellent customer support, but you should be able to get help when you need it.

The Best Credit Cards for Fair or Average Credit of 2019

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) is branded as a student credit card, but you don’t actually need to be a student to apply for this card. Anyone can apply, student or otherwise.

This makes it a good choice for people without the best credit, even those with limited credit histories, who still want to get some cash back. You can earn a decent flat rate on every purchase, though you won’t have access to more rewarding bonus categories. And there is no welcome bonus.

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
    • pay on time and that goes up to 1.25% cash back

Since you should always be paying on time, you should expect to get 1.25% back with this card consistently. Late payments are awful for your credit, and it’s even more important to avoid them when trying to improve your credit scores. Not to mention the fees that come with late payments, which will cancel out the cash back you earn with the card.

Capital One will also automatically provide access to a higher credit line after your first five monthly payments are made on time. This is a nice feature to have on a card for fair or average credit, because it probably won’t come with a very large initial credit line. Capital One may also increase your credit limit occasionally if you show responsible card use.

Other Key Terms & Features

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee, making it good for traveling or studying abroad
  • The CreditWise tool lets you monitor your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0
  • Platinum Mastercard protections, like an Extended Warranty, Travel and Emergency Assistance, and Travel Accident Insurance
  • Must not have applied for a Capital One credit card two or more times in the last 30 days
  • Must not have two or more open credit accounts with Capital One
  • Must not be past due or over the credit limit on any Capital One credit cards

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Journey Student Credit Card

Capital One offers another flat-rate card for average credit, the QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Card (Review). It offers 1.5% cash back but comes with a $39 annual fee. Despite offering more cash back, the QuicksilverOne will only be more rewarding than the Journey Student if you’re going to spend over $16,000 with the card per year, after accounting for the annual fee.

They issue another card for average credit too, the Capital One Platinum Card (Review). This card offers no rewards, but has no annual fee either.

Best for Cash Back Bonus Categories

The Deserve Pro Mastercard (Review) offers some decent cash back reward categories, despite being made for people with average credit. Deserve, the card issuer, is also unique because they use a wider set of criteria when deciding whether or not someone should be approved for their cards.

Most credit card companies check your credit and current financial situation when you apply. Deserve will also look at:

  • education
  • future employability
  • projected earnings

So you’ll have a better chance of being approved, especially if your credit file is a bit thin (not many accounts, or a low average age of accounts). But the Deserve Pro still requires a bit of an established credit history.

  • 3% cash back on:
    • travel
    • entertainment
  • 2% cash back at restaurants (excludes bars)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

These 3% and 2% categories are only available for the first $500 in combined spending each billing cycle. After that you’ll earn 1% back on all purchases.

So, for example, if you spend $300 on travel and $200 at restaurants, you’ll hit the $500 limit. Then you’ll only earn 1% back for every purchase until the end of the billing cycle.

The travel and entertainment categories include:

Hotels Airlines Car Rentals Tourism General Entertainment

These may not be the most useful categories for everyone, but they might fit quite well for some people. If you travel or go out to eat very often, making plenty of eligible purchases, this card could be right for you.

Other Key Terms and Features

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Up to $10,000 credit limit
  • Earn statement credits for successfully referring friends for Deserve cards
  • Platinum Mastercard benefits, like Price Protection and Roadside Assistance
  • A waiver for your first late payment fee
  • Does not come with EMV chip technology

Read more in our Review of the Deserve Pro Mastercard

Best for Transferring a Balance

If you’re paying interest on a credit card, stop and reconsider your strategy. You may be able to transfer that balance over to a different credit card with a 0% APR, and pay it off over time without incurring extra interest charges.

The Chase Slate (Review) is a credit card designed for balance transfers, and many people with less-than-good credit have reported being approved for it. Depending on where your credit scores are and your other financial information, like income, you may have a decent chance of being approved for this card.

The Slate card offers a 0% APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers. There’s also no fee for balance transfers for the first 60 days. It’s not a rewards credit card, but is known as one of the better options for balance transfers.

This card offers a way to pay down a large balance, giving you over a year to make payments. And you can do this completely for free because there are no transfer fees, unlike many other cards which will charge a fee of 3% or so. That makes the Slate one of the best balance transfer cards currently available.

If you transfer a balance to this card, you can figure out what your monthly payment should be by dividing that balance by 15. That will give you the amount you need to pay each month to finish off the balance by the time the intro period runs out. We actually recommend dividing by 14 to make sure you get it paid off in time.

Other Key Features & Terms

  • No annual fee
  • Chase Credit Journey credit monitoring, with data from your TransUnion credit report and your VantageScore 3.0
  • Visa Platinum benefits, like Purchase Protection and an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Some people report being denied for Chase cards for having five or more new credit card accounts in the last 24 months

Read more in our Review of the Chase Slate Credit Card

Best for Students

The Discover it® Student Cash Back (Review) is made for college students with limited or no established credit history. If you’re a young adult just getting into credit cards, the Discover it might be a good first card.

It’s actually quite rewarding for a student card, offering more potential cash back than any of the other cards on this page.

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent per quarter, in categories that rotate every 3 months (see calendar below)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year

The 5% cash back calendar for the Discover it for 2019 is:

Quarter 5% Cash Back Category
January – March Grocery Stores
April – June Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft
July – September Restaurants, PayPal
October – December, Target,

The Cashback Match of this card means you’ll be earning 10% cash back in the bonus categories, and 2% cash back for every other purchase. That’s a great deal, even compared to rewards credit cards for good credit.

If you spend money in these categories every year, the Discover it for Students could provide quite a bit of cash back. This is actually the same rewards program you get with the regular, non-student Discover it (Review). The rewards and benefits are the same for both cards, with some differences in the terms and fees.

In addition to all that, you’ll get a $20 statement credit for each school year in which your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five years. Knowledge is money with this cash rewards credit card.

Other Key Terms & Features

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 0% intro APR for 6 months for purchases, a rare find on student credit cards, followed by a regular rate of 15.24%–24.24% Variable
  • 10.99% intro APR for 6 months for balance transfers, followed by a rate of 15.24%–24.24% Variable
  • Get $5 added to your cash back when redeeming for gift cards
  • Check your FICO Score 8 for free online with the FICO Credit Scorecard, based on your TransUnion report
  • First late payment fee is waived

Read more in our Review of the Discover it for Students

Runners Up

There are a few other good cards that students can use to improve their credit while earning rewards.

Best for Small Business Owners

The Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business (Review) is one of the only unsecured business credit cards you’ll find that is designed for less-than-good credit. It’s not a bad card per se, but it’s not very rewarding either.

  • 1% cash back on all purchases

And that’s it. No bonus categories, no introductory bonus cash back offer.

Capital One will report your positive card activity to three business credit bureaus: Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Small Business Financial Exchange. That’s a good thing because you’ll be building your business credit with all three of these bureaus. Negative card activity will be reported to the regular consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

This is a better reporting system than most other card issuers. American Express business cards, for example, only report positive activity to Small Business Financial Exchange.

Use this card to earn a bit of cash back on your business expenses, improving your credit until you can qualify for a more rewarding business card. If you can’t get approved for the Spark Classic, there are some secured business credit cards you can try.

Other Key Terms & Features

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • As many free employee cards as you want
  • Quarterly and year-end summary
  • Savings at select merchants through Visa Savings Edge
  • Basic Visa Business benefits, including Purchase Security and Travel and Emergency Assistance Services
  • Customer support is specially-trained to handle your business needs

Read more in our Review of the Spark Classic for Business

How to Build or Rebuild Credit With Credit Cards

  • Always pay your bills on time. Make at least the minimum monthly payments.
  • We recommend paying more than just the minimum payment. Try to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest and help your credit utilization, which is good for your credit scores.
  • Set up autopay on your cards so you’re never late on payments.
  • Be patient. The only way to establish a positive credit history is to consistently make on-time payments over a long period.
  • Track your credit scores using a free credit monitoring service to be sure that you’re making progress, and to get specific tips based on your credit reports. Discover and Capital One both have free credit monitoring tools for non-cardholders.
  • As your credit improves with responsible card use, eventually you’ll be able to qualify for more rewarding credit cards. You can always check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards without hurting your credit scores at all.
Establishing a positive, robust credit history is pretty simple overall, but it takes some time and dedication. Learn everything you need to know about improving your credit scores in our Definitive Guide to Building Credit with Credit Cards.

Store Credit Cards

Store credit cards often have lower credit requirements than other cards, making them easier to get. But this means they also tend to have higher interest rates, and some have special rules about how and where you can use them. Your credit line will usually be smaller than what you get with other reward cards.

If you shop at a particular store very often and they offer a credit card, it could be a good idea to use that card. As long as you completely understand the terms and use it responsibly, you’ll improve your credit and can move on to better cards if you’d like.

Sometimes these cards are connected with a payment network, like Visa or Mastercard. But in other cases they aren’t. This is important, because unless your card is part of a network like Visa you can only use it at the store it’s associated with.

Take a moment to watch our video below on a few of the most important things to know about store credit cards. If you decide that one is right for you, learn more about store credit cards and then check out our picks for the Best Store Cards.

3 Things You Should Know Before You Apply

Store credit cards can be a good way to build or rebuild your credit and get some rewards while shopping, as long as you’re sure to follow the terms and pay them off on time. In some cases, store cards have special financing deals that you need to pay very close attention to, or you can end up getting burned with retroactive interest charges. If you’re not careful, not only will you end up paying more for interest, you can also do damage to your credit scores.

Credit Builder Loans

If your goal is to build or rebuild your credit, or even establish a credit history for the first time, credit builder loans can help. You can use credit builder loans instead of or in addition to credit cards.

A credit builder loan is a special type of installment loan, which you must pay back before you can use. The funds for the loan go into an account that you can’t access, and then you make a regular payment each month to “pay off” this loan. This creates a positive record of timely payments, showing lenders that you can responsibly handle a loan.

After paying off the loan in full, you’ll get all the money that was initially placed into the account. It’s basically a loan that you don’t get until you pay it off.

For example, if you get a $1,000 credit builder loan, you won’t have access to that money at first. You might be required to pay $100 per month for 10 months. After paying the full amount, you’ll then have access to that $1,000 again. This payment schedule is just for example purposes, it doesn’t reflect what you might actually get.

It may seem like an odd process, but if building credit is more important to you than having money in the bank you can use a credit builder loan to add an installment account to your credit reports, along with a history of perfect payments. This will be great for your credit scores. And you can also see it as a way to set some money aside even as you improve your credit.

Learn more about credit builder loans offered by Self Lender

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