Best Credit Cards for Average Credit
It’s tricky to know which credit cards you can qualify for when you have average credit. Check out the top options we could find, some of which are from our partners, to get the right credit card for your needs.
An average credit score is a little like credit card purgatory. Finding a credit card can be a challenge, as it seems like so many banks issue cards for consumers with excellent credit and cards for those with bad credit, but nothing in between. Even though average credit usually isn’t quite good enough to get you approved for one of the best credit cards, it is good enough that you want to get something better than a secured credit card with hardly any benefits.
You’re not out of luck, though, because there are some quality card options available in that middle ground. Our guide will help you figure out which one you should go with and if it’s the right time for you to apply for a new credit card.
Great for: Travel Rewards Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
- Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
- Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Enjoy a low intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 14.24%-24.24% variable APR after that
- Travel when you want with no blackout dates
- No foreign transaction fees
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Great for: Building Credit Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
- Pay no annual fee
- Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
- Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
- Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
- Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
- Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
Great for: Students Discover it® Student Cash Back
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
- Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
- Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
- No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
- Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
- Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
- Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
- 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 15.24% - 24.24%.
Great for: Business Owners Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business
- Enjoy no annual fee
- Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, every day
- Build business credit with responsible use
- Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
- No foreign transaction fees
- Enjoy business benefits including Year-End Summaries, employee cards at no extra cost and experienced small business customer service
How we picked the winners
Since so many credit cards require a good credit score, our selections here are cards that you can realistically get with average credit but without needing to pay a security deposit.
We looked for no-annual-fee credit cards first, because you generally only want to pay an annual fee if you’re getting a card with excellent cash back or travel rewards benefits. That’s not to say our list couldn't ever have cards with annual fees, but for those cards, we will always make sure that they have perks to make them worthwhile, such as large credit card rewards.
You probably want to improve your credit, and for that reason, it is also important to us that the cards we pick offer credit monitoring. With this feature, you can check your credit score at any time and receive alerts whenever there’s a change in your credit file.
Why you can trust me
Like everyone, I didn’t start out with a high credit score. I had to get a basic credit card with a low credit limit and work my way up. I’ve had no credit history, I’ve had average credit, and now I have excellent credit, so I know what it takes to get there and how you can choose the right cards along the way. Through my knowledge of credit scores and credit cards, I’ve been able to maintain an excellent credit score for years, earn over 500,000 rewards points, and get over $1,000 in bonus cash back.
What’s an average credit score?
The most widely used type of credit score is the FICO® Score, and that has a scale ranging from 300 to 850. The average or fair credit score range is between 580 and 669. Anything lower than 580 is considered a bad credit score, and scores from 670 to 739 are considered good.
An average credit score is standard among consumers who only recently started building their credit, as it takes time to reach the higher score ranges. If you started working on your credit within the last year or so, you most likely have an average score.
You could also have an average credit score if you have a longer credit history, but you’ve made some mistakes along the way. For example, if you’ve missed payments every now and then, that could keep your score in the average range.
Card benefits to look for
Benefits are understandably more limited among credit cards for average credit than they are among cards that require better credit for approval. That being said, you can still find cards with some solid perks.
Here are the types of benefits you can get from a card if you have average credit:
- No annual fee
- Cash-back rewards
- 0% intro APR on purchases
There are several no-annual-fee cards for average credit, making it easy to keep your costs down. You can also find cards that charge a small annual fee (usually under $50) but earn rewards comparable with the best cash-back cards. It may be worth paying the fee if you’ll spend enough to maximize your rewards.
If you want to earn cash back, the Discover it® Student Cash Back is a standout with 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories each quarter up to a quarterly spending maximum after you activate this bonus. It also features 1% cash back on all your other spending, the Discover Cashback Match™ feature to double the cash back you earn your first year, and a $20 statement credit every school year when you have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
For those who don’t want to activate their bonus categories and just want simple, flat-rate cash back, there’s the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. It earns 1.5% back on every purchase, which is an excellent cash-back rate for any card. The only downside is that it has a $39 annual fee, but you may be able to upgrade it to the no-annual fee version, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, once your credit has gotten better.
Unfortunately, 0% intro APR offers are rare for this type of credit card, but again, the Discover it® Student Cash Back comes through with a six-month 0% intro APR. The Discover it® Student chrome has the same deal.
What you won’t find
There are some credit card benefits that are hard to come by without good credit:
- Travel rewards
- Sign-up bonuses
- High credit limits
- 0% intro APR balance transfers
Travel rewards and sign-up bonuses are still typically reserved for consumers who have good to excellent credit scores. However, every Discover card has the Discover Cashback Match™, where Discover matches whatever you earn with your card in the first year. If you use your Discover card frequently, especially in its bonus categories, then that cash-back feature has the potential to rival the very best sign-up bonuses.
When you have average credit, card issuers will be cautious regarding how much credit they issue you. For this reason, it’s rare to find high-limit credit cards for average credit. If you need a high credit limit, you can often get your card issuer to raise your limit after six months to a year of on-time payments. Capital One even has a feature called Credit Steps, where you get a higher credit limit after making your first five monthly credit card payments on time.
The best balance transfer cards also tend to have strict applicant requirements, making approval difficult with average credit.
Deciding whether to get a credit card or wait
Before you decide to apply for a credit card, you should consider whether you really need a new one right now.
Here’s why -- if you work on your credit for another six months to a year and get a good credit score, that’s going to open up a lot more options for you.
Want to earn travel rewards instead of cash back? Then it’s better to wait until you have a better credit score instead of applying for a card that you’ll most likely be declined for at the moment, because the top travel cards are all aimed at applicants with good credit.
Looking for 0% intro APR offers? Although the Discover it® Student Cash Back and Discover it® Student chrome have those, there are cards with much longer intro periods that cover purchases and balance transfers.
That being said, if you’re primarily interested in earning cash back, there are some good options to choose from, whether you want a flat rate or bonus categories.
A potential alternative -- store credit cards
One option to consider when you have average credit is opening a store credit card with a retailer you visit frequently. Even though store credit cards aren’t as versatile as cash-back or travel rewards cards, it’s easier to get approved for them and they often earn high rewards rates at the issuing store.
Store credit cards usually offer at least 2% back at the issuing store, and some even offer between 3% and 5%. That’s more than what you’d earn with most credit cards for average credit. And store cards generally don’t have annual fees.
If you’re thinking of getting a store credit card, here’s a few important tips:
- Pick a store you visit multiple times per month -- This will give you the opportunity to earn plenty of rewards. A grocery store or department store in your area are both good choices.
- Never carry a balance -- You should aim to pay your full balance with any credit card, but it’s especially important with store cards, which tend to have high-interest rates.
- Be careful with zero-interest financing -- Many store cards have zero-interest offers. These are usually deferred interest offers, where you must pay interest going back to the purchase date if you can’t pay off your full balance within the intro period.
How to improve your credit
When you have average credit, what’s most important is taking the right steps so you can progress to good and eventually excellent credit. Not only will you have more credit card options, but you’ll be able to get better terms on loans, and your score will come in handy anytime you need to pass a credit check.
Improving your credit starts with knowing how your credit score is calculated. There are five factors that come into play with your FICO® Score:
- Payment history
- Credit utilization
- Length of average credit account history
- Applications for new credit
- Credit mix
The one habit you need to have is paying bills on or before the due date. Where this matters most is with credit cards and installment loans, because your payment history on those will be reported to the credit bureaus. Payment history is what affects your FICO® Score the most. It takes years to build a strong payment history, but only one missed payment to damage it.
Your credit utilization, which is the portion of all your available credit that you’re using, is the second-most-influential factor on your credit score. For that reason, you should aim to keep your credit card balances low or pay down any high balances that you have.
The other three factors have a smaller impact. It is important to build a lengthy average credit account history, which means if you’ve had a credit card for a long time, you should try to keep it open. If you have a secured credit card and you’d like to get the deposit back, ask the card issuer if they’ll refund it and upgrade you to an unsecured credit card.
Applying for a credit card with average credit
It can be a little stressful to apply for a credit card when you’re not confident you’ll be approved. Here are a couple ways to maximize your chances on a credit card application when you have average credit:
- Choose the credit card wisely -- The credit cards on this list are all smart choices because they are quality cards that you can get with an average credit score. If you try applying for a card with much stricter requirements, you’ll probably get a denial, at which point you’re getting a hard inquiry on your credit file for nothing.
- Keep your debt down -- Card issuers are wary of approving applicants who have a combination of average credit and a large debt load, as the latter is a significant risk factor. You stand a better chance at an approval if you pay down any existing credit card debt before you apply.
- Follow up when necessary -- Denials aren’t always the end of the road. If you call the card issuer and ask them to reconsider your application, they may change that “no” to a “yes.” Sometimes just explaining your situation can help you get your application pushed through. Don’t be afraid to call a few different times, either, if the first phone agent can’t help you.