If you’re looking to be approved for a credit card, you’ll need to meet the card issuer’s criteria. That means, at minimum:
- A stable income
- An established credit history (usually for at least a couple of years)
- A credit score that meets the bank’s minimum criteria
That last point is why we hammer home this advice here on Money Under 30: Know your credit score.
Keeping track of your credit score can alert you to problems in your credit report and show you how timely payments are paying off as your score goes up. You can also compare your score to national averages so you know how good a job you’re doing managing credit.
But other than understanding your credit score, what good is it?
After all, if you walk into a bank for a loan or apply for a credit card online, you have no idea what credit score is required to get approved. So if you know your score is 665 (and that’s about average), that doesn’t help you if the credit card you’re applying for requires a 670 credit score.
One of the things I try to do as a financial blogger is shed light on areas of finance that you wouldn’t know about if this stuff isn’t your job. Most people go about life, see a credit card ad with Alec Baldwin or Samuel L. Jackson (who pitch for the Capital One Venture and Quicksilver cards, respectively), and apply because of the ad.
I sit around running spreadsheets comparing rewards redemption rates or how much a 0 percent balance transfer with a 4 percent fee will save you over a card with a 10.99 percent regular APR over 18 months. (Answer: $110.27 per $1,000 transferred).
The same is true for credit scores required for credit card approval. All you care about is getting a good card. I care about who the bank will give that card to and who it won’t.
Most cards require very good credit
Let’s be clear about that. A lot of people who apply for credit cards are denied. And if you get denied too many times in a year, that can actually hurt your credit further.
Most so-called “prime” and “superprime” credit cards are only available to applicants with credit scores of 720 or better. These include American Express cards and most cards from other major banks like Citi and Bank of America. And even with good credit, there are other reasons you might still be declined (like too much overall debt or even just one recent late payment).
To help you avoid that, let’s look at what cards you can get with various credit scores. You can also browse the credit card section of this website and see the average and lowest approved credit score for 100s of popular cards, giving you a good idea of your chance of approval.
If you’re applying for a new credit card, you can lump yourself into one of four groups:
- Superprime credit (750+)
- Good credit (700+)
- Average credit ( 600+)
- Poor credit (Under 600)
Superprime (excellent) credit: 750+
Reaching the superprime credit level is hard to do at a young age because it requires between five and ten years of on-time payments and usually takes a mix of credit accounts such as credit cards, student loans, and a mortgage. Even if you’ve responsibly used credit for up to five years, you may still be declined for many cards simply because the banks want customers who have an even longer track record of timely payments.
Obviously, if you’re in this range, you have your pick of any of the best credit cards, and you can take advantage of promotions in which the banks will actually pay you in cash or travel rewards for opening and using a new credit card. (You can see examples of this with these six credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses, some worth $500 or more.)
Good credit: 700+
To have very good credit, your credit scores need to be at least 700. Some scales consider scores in the high 600s to be “good”, but in our opinion these scores, while slightly above average, may be just under the cutoff get approved for some prime credit cards.
In the 700 to 750 credit score range, you’ve been using credit for at least three years without any late payments. In most cases, you’ll get approved for most credit cards, provided you aren’t overextended with too much debt or too many credit card accounts.
You can take advantage of great cards like:
- Discover it®—Double Cash Back your first year: Combining cash back rewards with long 0 percent intro APRs
- Chase Freedom: 1 percent cash back on every purchase and an introductory 0 percent APR for 15 months
- Capital One Venture: One of the best overall cards for earning travel rewards
Average credit: 600–700
If you’ve just started to use credit or are recovering from a missed payment or two, you’ll probably have a lower credit score in the 600s. This means you’ll have trouble getting approved for many credit cards.
Not knowing this, you may try to apply for several cards and get declined which, in turn, will hurt your credit score even more. If you’re in this group, you’ll want to know which credit cards will offer you the best chance of approval and apply for those cards first. You may be able to get approved for some of the leading cards, but it’s iffy.
Capital One, however, is a major card issuer that has some cards well-suited for this group. You can review and compare Capital One credit cards here.
If your credit score is between 600 and 699, you still have a good chance of getting approved for Money Under 30’s recommended credit cards for fair credit.
Pay attention to the credit score range required listed below the card name. Choosing a card that matches your credit score is your best shot for approval.
Bad credit: Under 600
If you’re in the last group and have bad credit because you’ve missed payments, had collection accounts, or a foreclosure, you need to take special steps to get approved for a credit card. If you’re in this situation, you should only apply for a credit card in an effort to begin rebuilding credit (NOT to spend money you don’t have!).
A secured credit card requires a security deposit before you can begin making charges. That security deposit acts as your credit limit. Although that may sound like a debit card or prepaid card, the secured credit card will report your payment history to the credit bureaus, which debit and prepaid cards do not do. After a year or so of using a secured card, you may be able to upgrade to an unsecured account and get your deposit back.
- I recommend the Capital One Secured MasterCard to help get your credit back on track
When a good credit score isn’t enough
Oftentimes you can check your credit score, find out it’s not bad, and still be denied for a credit card. This is especially true if your credit score isn’t in the mid-700s or better.
Banks’ approval criteria for each card changes all the time. But common reasons you may be denied a credit card, even if you have a good credit score, include:
- Too much debt (or high credit balances even if you pay them off)
- Too much available credit
- Too short of a credit history
- Recent late payments, charge-offs, or other negative items
If your credit score is in the high 600s, you may still get approved for some of the leading card offers, but this is where you have to be careful. You’re more likely to be approved if you have a year or two of on-time payments and very little credit card debt. If your score is lower than 700 because you’ve missed payments or have a lot of revolving debt, your approval chances are lower.
Before your apply for a credit card, check both your credit score and credit report. Don’t apply for new credit if you have recent late payments or big balances on your existing credit cards. Even if you pay your cards in full each month, that big balance from the month you went on vacation could look like debt to a bank’s computers.