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Best Credit Cards for Fair and Average Credit for December 2022

These credit cards are designed for people with a credit score between 580 and 669.

Good or excellent credit can lead to a higher credit limit, bigger rewards and better perks and benefits. But if your credit is fair -- generally defined as a credit score between 580 and 669 -- you still have access to credit card offers that will let you earn rewards and cash back. And regular, on-time payments will help boost your credit rating up to good or excellent, making you potentially eligible for the very best of the best credit cards.

Focusing on low fees, good rewards and flexible credit requirements, we picked the top partner offers for the best credit cards for consumers with fair or average credit scores. If your credit rating is worse than fair, or you have no credit history at all, you might consider a secured credit card, which requires a deposit and helps build positive credit.

Best credit card overall for fair credit

9.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR15.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Limited/Fair/Good/Excellent
Reward Rates
  • Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Foreign Transaction Fees $0
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

Our Take

Our top choice for people with fair credit, the Petal 2 Visa Card, issued by WebBank, is distinctive among the field for having no annual fee, no late fees, no returned payment fees and no foreign transaction fees. Credit limits run from $300 to $10,000, based on creditworthiness. And it's a good pick for anyone worried about eligibility, because Petal may use its own proprietary Cash Score -- which analyzes your income and expenses -- in addition to weighing your credit score. (Yes, you'll have to provide some financial data.)

We're also big fans of the 1% flat cash-back cardholders earn on all eligible purchases -- which increases to 1.25% cash back on eligible purchases after making six on-time monthly payments in a row, and 1.5% after 12 on-time monthly payments. Cardholders can also earn 2% to 10% bonus cash back on purchases at select merchants. Though the Petal 2 doesn't offer a welcome bonus, the credit requirements and absence of fees make it a solid choice.

Flat 1.5% cash-back rate

5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR28.49% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Average, Fair, Limited
Reward Rates
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Annual Fee$39
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer APR28.49% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

Our Take

The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a competitive cash back rate of 1.5%, which is especially noteworthy if you have some blemishes in your credit file. This cash-back rate is on par with the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which is targeted to those with good to excellent credit. Also, if you make on-time payments for six months, you may be eligible for a higher credit line.

There is a $39 annual fee and there are no frills such as an intro APR or welcome bonus, but you don't have to reach a minimum amount to redeem your rewards points, and there's no limit to how much you can earn in a given year. 

Travel perks for fair credit

5.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR28.49% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Average, Fair, Limited
Reward RatesN/A
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer APR28.49% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None

Our Take

If you're less interested in cash-back rewards and looking for specific travel incentives, the Capital One Platinum Credit Card is a solid option. Those with a fair credit score are eligible and you may get an automatic credit line increase after six months if you make on-time payments.

While there are no rewards or introductory bonuses, the card's appeal lies in its travel benefits. Card holders won't get dinged with a foreign transaction fee when traveling internationally, ATM location-services while traveling, plus they can receive emergency card replacement if their card is lost or stolen. 

Check out our full review of the Capital One Platinum Credit Card for more details.

Small credit line for building credit

3/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR28.74% Variable
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Fair Credit
Reward RatesN/A
Annual Fee$59
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $39

Our Take

Issued by WebBank, the Avant Credit Card is a no-frills card that doesn't offer many perks. There are no rewards, no welcome bonus and no option to make a balance transfer. However, you can get prequalified online without impacting your credit score. It's an option worth considering if you're looking for a bare-bones card for making headway toward improving your credit.

With a credit limit of $300, this card won't give you access to a large line of credit -- but that might be a benefit if you're worried about racking up credit card debt. If you fall behind on payments, a penalty APR -- which is higher than your standard APR -- won't kick in. But you will get dinged with up to a $39 late payment charge.

If you don't want to pay for a secured card -- which requires an initial deposit -- and you don't mind paying an annual fee of $59, this card is a worthy one to consider.

See our full review of the Avant Credit Card for more details.

Best for students

9.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferIntro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
APR16.74% - 25.74% Variable
Intro Purchase APR0% for 6 months
Recommended Credit Fair/New to Credit
Reward Rates
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR10.99% for 6 months
Balance Transfer APR16.74% - 25.74% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Late Payment Fee None the first time you pay late. After that, up to $41.
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Our Take

With no annual fee and multiple ways to earn cash back, the Discover it® Student Cash Back* is our top contender in the student credit card category. Students who are building their credit can check their FICO scores for free. Plus, Discover does look beyond credit scores for those applying for student credit cards.

The Discover it Student Cash Back offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories upon activation (on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter, then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, for the first 12 months after opening an account, cardholders get a dollar-for-dollar match on all cash-back rewards, a benefit that can essentially double your cash-back rewards at the end of the first year in the form of a statement credit.

Read our Discover It Student Cash Back review.

 

FAQs

What credit score is considered fair?

According to Experian, a credit score that hovers between a 580 to 669 FICO score is considered "fair." This sits between what's considered a "poor" score, which ranges from 300 to 579, and a "good" score, which is anything from 670 and 739. Once you hit the threshold for a good credit score on your credit report, you'll gain access to more credit card options with better rates and terms.

What are some ways to improve your credit score?

The best way to improve your credit score depends on why it's lower in the first place, explains John Ulzheimer, a consumer credit expert and formerly of Equifax and FICO. "There is more than one path to a lower score, which means there is more than one path to a higher score," he says. For example, if your score is low because you have limited credit history, using credit responsibly on a regular basis can help boost your score.

In general, to improve your score, you should:

  • Pay all your bills on time.
  • Keep lower amounts of credit card debt.
  • Pay your card balance in full each month if possible.
  • Avoid excessively applying for credit.
  • Review your credit. You can order a free credit score every week from AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Monitor your credit. Some credit cards offer free credit monitoring or free credit scores.
  • Set credit card alerts. This can help you stick to a spending limit and get alerts about fishy activity.

What are the benefits of a high credit score?

Having strong credit that falls in the good-to-exceptional range (670 to 850 FICO) comes with a number of advantages: more favorable rates and terms, higher credit limits, more perks and more options. You'll also have an easier time finding a credit card that's best suited to your needs and preferences.

What kind of credit card can you get with a fair credit score?

You can get the same types of cards that people with good or excellent credit can get: travel cards, cash-back rewards cards, student cards and ones with no annual fees, to name a few. However, the APRs might be higher if you have fair or average credit, or the credit limits may be modest.

What's the minimum score needed to get approved for a credit card?

Typically, the minimum credit score needed to get approved for a credit card depends on the particular credit card and the type of card. Each card has different lending criteria. However, if you have a credit score below 600, you might have a tough time getting approved for a credit card. In this case, you'll want to search for credit cards that either don't require a FICO score or look at other factors to determine creditworthiness, or secured cards.

What are the easiest cards to get approved for?

Retail store cards and subprime cards are the easiest to get because they're structured for people who are considered a higher risk for lenders, says Ulzheimer. 

"These aren't really the cards you want to rely on for any extended period of time because the rates are punitive," he adds.

A secured credit card might also be easier to get and is designed for people who are rebuilding their credit. With a secured credit card, you need to offer an initial security deposit that usually gets refunded. Credit limits tend to be low and usually match the amount of your security deposit.

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles -- with the understanding that everyone's financial situation is different -- and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the "welcome bonus" and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card's respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

Cards researched

  • Aspire Platinum Mastercard®
  • Avant Credit Card
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • Capital One Platinum Credit Card
  • Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card 
  • Citi Simplicity® Card
  • Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students 
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back 
  • Discover it® Student chrome 
  • Indigo® Mastercard®
  • Jasper® Cash Back Mastercard® 
  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
  • OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
  • Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card 
  • Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
  • Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

More credit card recommendations

*All information about the Discover it Student Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.