The best credit cards for fair credit may be available to applicants with credit scores (a.k.a. FICO scores) in the range of 600, 610, 620, 630, 640, and up to 649. Although many of the best credit cards require better-than-fair credit, you still have options.
With 15+ years of experience reporting on credit cards, we’ve selected the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card as the best credit card for fair credit. Unlike many credit cards available for fair credit customers that do not feature rewards, the QuicksilverOne card pays 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Not your credit range? See the best credit cards for FICO scores between 650 and 700 or credit cards for bad credit (less than 600 credit score) instead.
Overview: Top credit credit cards for credit scores 600-649
- Best for cash rewards: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best for no annual fee: Capital One Platinum Credit Card
- Best Amex card: Credit One Bank American Express® Card
- Best for cash rewards: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is an unsecured credit card, complete with cash rewards. You will earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, every day — there are no rotating spending categories.
Intro APR, Purchases
Intro APR, Balance Transfers
Why the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good option for those with fair credit
You’ll get an automatic credit line review after just six on-time monthly payments. The card also comes with $0 fraud liability, and an annual fee of just $39.
How to use the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
If improving your credit score wasn’t enough, you’ll be eligible for an automatic credit line review after making your first six monthly payments on time. That can help increase your credit score in two ways:
- On-time payments will give you a good credit reference.
- The increased credit limit can improve your credit utilization ratio.
Why you might not want to consider the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
The increasing credit line might tempt you to also increase your expenditures and debt levels. If you want to improve your credit score, getting deeper into debt is the last thing you need.
Take this card only if you are able to pay off the balance each month.
» MORE: See card details/apply or check out our Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is designed for consumers with fair or limited credit. It’s an unsecured card, but it doesn’t offer any rewards of any kind. Cardholders will be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months.
- No annual or hidden fees. See if you're approved in seconds
- Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
- Help build your credit through responsible use of a card like this
- Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability so that you won't be responsible for unauthorized charges
- Monitor your credit score with CreditWise from Capital One. It's free for everyone
- Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with online banking from your desktop or smartphone, with Capital One's mobile app
- Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you're all set
- Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
|Intro APR, Purchases
|Intro APR, Balance Transfers
Capital One Platinum Credit Card doesn’t offer cash back or other rewards, but you will enjoy many other perks of carrying a major credit card such as $0 fraud liability, and auto rental collision damage waiver benefits.
How to use the Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Like all credit cards for fair credit, your primary objective is to improve your credit score by making your payments on time.
You’ll also want to avoid running up your balance and hurting your credit utilization ratio. The potential credit line increases in as little as six months after credit limit review which will help with that ratio – as long as you don’t use the extra credit.
Why you might not want to consider the Capital One Platinum Credit Card
The lack of rewards program is the biggest reason not to go with the Capital One Platinum Credit Card.
Credit One Bank American Express® Card
The Credit One Bank American Express® Card is one of the few credit cards in the American Express® network that’s marketed to borrowers in this credit range.
- Earn unlimited 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, terms apply.
- $0 Fraud Liability ensures you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
- Retail Protection covers you if an eligible item is accidentally damaged or stolen, terms apply
- Get deals on shopping, dining, travel, and entertainment through Amex Offers
- Enjoy exclusive access to pre-sale tickets for some of the hottest nationwide concerts and events
- Know you’re covered when the unexpected happens while traveling with Travel Accident Insurance, terms apply
- If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
- See Rates & Fees
|Intro APR, Purchases
|Intro APR, Balance Transfers
With a modest $39 annual fee and unlimited 1% cash back rewards, the Credit One Bank American Express® Card provides decent value. But this card has some other perks that are easy to miss, like Amex Offers. With Amex Offers, you get a rotating selection of exclusive discounts and the opportunity to earn statement credits for making purchases at participating merchants with your card.
» MORE: See card details/apply
How we came up with this list
Navigating the world of credit cards can feel a bit like trying to find the best cafe in a city packed with coffee shops – everyone claims to brew the best cup. But don’t fret! We’ve done the legwork and sifted through the options to bring you the best credit cards for fair credit.
Where we started
It all began with a list of credit cards tailored for those who find themselves in the 600 to 649 credit score range. This bracket is particularly intriguing. It’s the gray area – not really in the “bad” credit territory, but not quite touching the “good” credit zone. The needs and aspirations of individuals in this bracket can be pretty diverse.
Criteria for paring down our list
In a world brimming with credit card options, what sets one apart from the other? It’s the nitty-gritty details. We applied some good ol’ elbow grease to ensure the credit cards we spotlight not only meet the current needs of folks with fair credit but also help them stride confidently towards a better credit score.
Reporting to all major credit bureaus
The first order of business was ensuring the card issuer sends reports to all three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. The rationale? It paves the way for you to improve your credit score with all three, setting you on a path to a healthier financial tomorrow.
The mix of secured and unsecured cards
Everyone’s journey is different. That’s why we wanted a medley of both secured and unsecured credit cards. Some might need the sturdy hand-holding a secured card offers, especially if they’re nearer to the 600 mark. Yet, others might be ready to step into the world of unsecured cards, especially if they’re close to that 649 score.
Credit limits that make sense
Nobody wants a card that’s just a pretty piece of plastic or one that’s a debt magnet. Hence, we focused on cards with credit limits that hit the sweet spot – giving you enough leeway to make meaningful purchases but without leading you into debt’s quagmire.
Keeping annual fees in check
Who’s a fan of additional costs? Not us. So, it made sense to spotlight cards that either ditch the annual fees or keep them under a friendly $100 threshold. It’s like opting for cafes that give you that almond milk without the extra charge.
The potential for growth
Growth isn’t just for plants. We appreciate credit cards that acknowledge and reward responsible behavior. If you’ve been the picture of diligence with your card use and repayments, it’s only fair you get the chance to have an increased credit limit.
Special features and perks
Lastly, why should perks be the domain of just the high credit score club? Even if you’re in the fair credit range, you ought to enjoy some of the bells and whistles. So, we scoured for cards that offer those delightful extras, like rewards or cash back. Because, hey, who doesn’t like a cherry on top?
What is fair credit?
“Fair credit” — it has an air of mystery, doesn’t it? If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out this whole credit thing, you’re not alone. It’s time to unravel the enigma of “fair credit.”
The basics of fair credit
Fair credit is the middle child of credit scores. It’s not the overachiever (hello, excellent credit!) nor the one that struggles a bit (looking at you, poor credit). It’s right in between.
The number game
Now, for the number crunchers out there: the fair credit zone stretches from 580 to 669. This range isn’t random. It’s informed by data from our major credit bureaus, acting as our guideline.
Context matters: How ‘fair’ shifts
Ever noticed how perspective can change everything? What’s “fair” in one scenario might be viewed differently in another.
Home dreams and mortgages
Imagine hunting for that dream home. You know, the one with the perfect kitchen and cozy backyard. But when you delve into mortgages, you find that lenders dance to a different beat. Most hesitate if your score is below 620. Suddenly, a score like 605 might find itself on shaky ground.
The auto loan highway
Switching gears, let’s talk cars. Ready to hit the open road in a new vehicle? Banks and credit unions, however, may have their own roadmap. They might set their sights on a credit score of 650. Fall below, and they might just pump the brakes.
Leveling up: Boosting fair credit
Being in the “fair” category isn’t the final chapter. It’s a springboard, a launchpad for better things.
Small beginnings, big impact
One strategy? Kick off with modest credit lines. They may seem like tiny steps, but they ripple outwards. Every small credit opportunity is a chance to shine, proving you can handle it.
The power of punctuality
Here’s your new motto: Pay on time, every time. Every timely payment is a gold star on your report. Over time, these stars can outshine past mistakes, brightening your credit outlook.
Navigating the credit maze
The world of credit is intricate, with “fair credit” being just one layer. Though it may feel middle-of-the-road, it teems with potential. Armed with knowledge and a proactive spirit, this credit chapter can be a stepping stone to a prosperous financial narrative. Let’s embrace the journey, learn from each phase, and set our sights high.
How a credit card helps you improve fair credit
So, you’ve got a fair credit score and you’re wondering: “Can a credit card really help me improve this?” Absolutely! A credit card, when wielded wisely, can be a powerful ally on your financial journey. Let’s dive into the many ways a credit card can work its magic on fair credit.
The mechanics of credit reporting
First, let’s unravel a bit of the credit mystery. Every month, credit card companies report your activity to the major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This activity includes your payment history, the amount you owe, and your available credit, among other things. Each of these elements influences your credit score in different ways.
Payment history: The heavy lifter
Your payment history holds a significant weight in your credit score. So, making on-time payments on your credit card can have a hugely positive impact. It’s like building a track record of trustworthiness, proving to lenders that you’re reliable.
Credit utilization: A delicate balance
Another major factor is credit utilization, which is the percentage of available credit you’re using. Ideally, you’d want to keep this number below 30%. So, if you have a credit card with a 300. By doing this, you signal to the credit bureaus that you can manage credit responsibly, without maxing out your limits.
A stepping stone to diverse credit
Diversifying the types of credit you have can also boost your score. If all you’ve had is a student loan, for instance, adding a credit card to the mix showcases your ability to manage different kinds of debt. This mix of credit types accounts for about 10% of your score, so it’s an aspect worth considering.
Rebuilding with secured cards
If you’re having a tough time getting approved for standard credit cards due to your fair credit, don’t fret. Secured credit cards are here to save the day. By requiring a deposit, which typically becomes your credit limit, these cards reduce the risk for lenders. Over time, consistent responsible usage can elevate your credit standing and potentially transition you to an unsecured card.
Harnessing credit card perks
As you begin to improve your credit, you might notice that the world of credit card perks starts to open up. From cash back to points for travel, credit card companies often reward good financial behavior. By taking advantage of these rewards without overspending, you can make the most of your card.
Grace periods: An interest-free advantage
Did you know many credit cards offer a grace period? This is a window of time where you won’t be charged interest on your purchases if you pay off your full balance. By understanding and leveraging this period, you can use your card frequently without accumulating interest, and simultaneously boost your payment history.
The path of self-awareness and financial growth
Beyond the technical benefits, using a credit card responsibly promotes financial self-awareness. By monitoring your expenses, setting limits, and strategizing repayments, you cultivate habits that serve you well beyond just improving your credit score.
A word of caution
While credit cards offer numerous advantages, they come with their set of challenges. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overspending or only making minimum payments. To truly harness the power of a credit card to uplift your fair credit, it’s crucial to approach it with discipline and informed intention.
The road ahead
As you embark on this journey, remember that improvement takes time. Credit is a long game. But with each swipe and each on-time payment, you’re laying another brick on the road to better credit. By understanding the intricacies of how a credit card can bolster your fair credit, and acting on this knowledge, you’re well-equipped to steer your financial ship towards brighter horizons.
How to maximize a credit card for fair credit
Ah, the world of fair credit! If you’re donning the ‘fair credit’ badge, it might sometimes feel like being the underdog in a big championship. But here’s the good news: history has shown us that underdogs can rise to the top. By arming yourself with strategies and insights, your credit card for fair credit can become a reliable asset. Let’s embark on this enlightening journey.
Understanding the fair credit terrain
Before we delve into tactics, it’s beneficial to grasp what fair credit means in the financial ecosystem. It’s like the middle ground – not perfect but certainly not the worst. Given its mid-tier status, it’s no surprise that it comes with its unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Credit cards designed for those with fair credit act as a balancing act. They give individuals an opportunity to build or repair credit while also being guarded due to perceived risk.
The smart spend-and-repay strategy
Now, onto the core strategy. Think of your credit card as a trusty compass, guiding you through the thick forest of financial decisions. How you follow it will set your path.
Micro moves, macro impact
Consistent, minor purchases each month are your go-to strategy. By doing this, you’re essentially showing off your financial responsibility without putting too much at stake.
Pay in full, shine in full
Come month-end, try to settle your entire bill. This does two wonders: it keeps interest at bay and broadcasts a crystal-clear message to credit bureaus about your reliability.
Monitoring and adjusting
Always keep an eye on your monthly spend. A casual coffee here and a movie ticket there can add up before you realize. Periodically reviewing your expenses helps in staying on track.
Beware of the interest trap
The concept of interest rates, especially APRs, can sometimes feel like a web, intricate and slightly intimidating.
Why the high APRs?
Let’s decode this. Cards for fair credit often come saddled with heftier interest rates. This is because lenders, looking through their risk-assessment glasses, see lending to someone with fair credit as slightly riskier. To offset that perceived risk, they hike up the interest.
Dangers of prolonged payments
Stretching out payments over several months? Sounds convenient but can be a treacherous path. The accumulating interest, especially with high APRs, can make purchases more expensive in the end.
Keeping an interest check
It’s wise to regularly review the interest you’re paying. This not only helps in understanding your finances better but also motivates you to clear dues faster.
Planning ahead: Aiming for a card upgrade
Your current card is just a chapter, not the entire book of your credit journey. As you manage your current card smartly, you’re laying the foundation for better financial prospects.
Fluidity of the credit score
Always remember, credit scores are more like rivers than rocks. They flow, change, and reshape based on various factors, primarily your financial behaviors. By steering it right, you can direct it towards more serene shores.
Greener financial pastures
A better score means broader horizons. Those exclusive cards with tantalizing rewards and more favorable terms aren’t just for daydreaming. They can be within your grasp.
Regularly assessing and aiming high
Make it a habit to assess your credit performance now and then. Spotting consistent improvements? Perhaps it’s time to contemplate upgrading. Whether it’s a card with cash backs, travel rewards, or any other perks, with an improved score, you’re well-equipped to dive into better waters.
Reaching out for guidance
Sometimes, it’s beneficial to seek expert advice. Financial counselors or credit experts can provide tailored advice, helping you transition from a fair credit card to one with more perks.
The most important features of credit cards if your FICO score is between 600 and 649
If your FICO Score is between 600 and 649, shopping for a credit card is different than it would be if your score was, say, over 700. You’ll be less concerned with factors like cash rewards, travel benefits, and 0% introductory APRs. Your needs will be more basic, and will focus on a combination of the cost and usability of the card.
The main purpose of getting a credit card in this credit score range is to use it as a tool to improve or rebuild your credit score. Only then will you be eligible for the more generous credit card offers.
Here are the factors that are most important:
Annual Percentage Rate – APR
You may have noticed that many credit cards come with wide interest rate spreads, like 14.99% to 24.99%. With a credit score between 600 and 649, you’re much more likely to be offered an interest rate on the higher end of a given range.
This is a primary reason why we recommend throughout this guide that you keep your credit card balance to an absolute minimum. It’s possible to use a credit card to increase your credit score and to do so at a very low cost. But if you carry a balance, the interest cost will be substantial.
The annual fee should be carefully assessed with any credit card you apply for, even if you have perfect credit. But it matters even more when you’re in the fair credit range. That’s because benefits offered by credit cards for fair credit are relatively minimal, so their combined value is unlikely to compensate or make up for a high annual fee.
That doesn’t mean cards with annual fees should be ignored completely. If you’re unable to get a credit card with no annual fee, a card with a relatively low annual fee is the next best option. It can still help you to either rebuild or improve your credit score, and if you use the card responsibly your score should eventually improve enough that you can cancel the card and switch to an unsecured card with no annual fee, or a card offering a benefits package that substantially outweighs its annual fee cost.
Additional card benefits
The fair credit range is where you start getting more generous credit card features. This could include $0 fraud liability for unauthorized charges, collision damage waiver on rental cars, free credit scores, and other perks.
On our list, we included several credit cards that provide cash back rewards.
All of these benefits are better to have than not. But they should never be the primary reason for getting a credit card when you have fair credit. In fact, certain benefits can even be detriments when misused. For example, cash back rewards could encourage you to spend more money than you can comfortably afford to repay.
Secured vs. unsecured
In the fair credit range there are more unsecured credit cards available than in the below 599 score range. But if you’re on the low end of the range, like a credit score in the low 600s, unsecured cards may not be available to you. In that case, secured cards will be a necessary option.
Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of both card types.
Secured credit cards usually tie your credit limit to the amount of security you put up for the card. A $300 credit limit will typically require a $300 deposit. There are some cases where the deposit will be less than the credit limit, like the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. If your credit qualifies, the security deposit will be as low as $49 for a $200 credit limit.
In many ways, secured credit cards work just like unsecured credit cards. You can use them to make purchases, and you must make monthly minimum payments against your card balance as required by the card issuer. Your card payments (or lack thereof) will be reported to the major credit bureaus, and will either improve or reduce your credit score. You’ll also be charged interest by the card issuer on any unpaid balances.
The major disadvantage to a secured card is that your credit limit is tied to the amount of security you can put up. If you have no cash at all, you’ll be unable to qualify.
But there are several advantages to having a secured card:
- You’ll have a credit card available in situations where they may be required over cash or some other payment method.
- They will enable you to improve your credit score.
- Because they’re secured, they may come with either a very low annual fee or no annual fee at all.
- Most will automatically increase your credit limit after a few months of favorable payment history.
- Many secured card issuers will convert your account to unsecured once you develop a favorable payment history.
Unsecured cards are the typical format for credit cards. Unsecured cards for people with fair credit are typified by very low credit limits — often just a few hundred dollars.
The main advantage they have over secured cards is that you don’t have to put up a security deposit. They’re perfect for the person who needs to improve their credit score, but doesn’t have any cash to pledge for collateral.
The table below summarizes the difference between secured and unsecured credit cards:
|Make purchases on credit
|Report to credit bureaus?
|Typically under $35
|Can go as high as $500
|Average rate of 18% – 30%
|Average rate of 15% – 25%
|Automatic credit line increase
|Depends on issuer
|Convert to unsecured
|Depends on issuer
What to avoid with credit cards for fair credit
Alright! You’ve seen our top picks for credit cards that suit those with fair credit. Before you make your final decision, let’s chat about some potential pitfalls to watch out for. Keeping these in mind can ensure you get the most out of your new credit card.
Features of fair credit cards
By now, you’ve probably noticed that credit cards for fair credit have their unique features. Let’s delve a bit deeper into what you might want to keep an eye on.
Typically, these cards come with slightly higher annual percentage rates (APRs). It’s an excellent practice to clear your balance every month. This way, those interest charges won’t sneak up on you.
Found a card you like? Fantastic! However, be sure to check for any extra charges. Some might come with application fees or even monthly ones.
Risks of over-dependence
Credit cards are super handy, but relying on them too much can have drawbacks.
Maxing out your limit
Keep your balance below 30% of your credit limit. Maxing out can be a red flag for credit bureaus.
Only paying the minimum
Paying just the minimum amount seems easy, but it can make your balance tougher to manage. Always aim to clear as much as you can.
The pitfalls of cash advances
Some cards offer cash advance features. But remember, they come with their set of challenges.
Elevated fees and interest rates
Cash advances often have higher interest rates. Plus, there’s usually a fee involved. It can add up pretty quickly.
Unlike regular purchases, cash advances start incurring interest immediately. So, even if you repay quickly, you’ll still face some interest charges.
The temptation of applying everywhere
After our recommendations, you might still want to explore further. But a word of caution when applying.
Too many hard inquiries
Each credit card application triggers a hard inquiry on your report. Several in a short span can lower your score, so pace yourself.
Managing multiple cards
If you get multiple cards, juggling due dates and terms can be challenging. Stick to a manageable number.
Staying vigilant about security
Security should always be at the forefront, especially with digital transactions.
Being prudent with card details
Only share card details on trusted platforms. Be cautious, especially with new online merchants.
Always review your card statements. It’s your first line of defense against any unauthorized transactions.
Keeping updated contact info
Make sure your card issuer has your current contact information. Prompt communication is crucial, especially if there are concerns about your account.
There you go! As you move forward with your decision, keep these insights in mind. Here’s to making the most of your credit journey with confidence and knowledge.
What do I do if I’m rejected for a credit card?
So, you’ve faced the sting of a credit card rejection. I know, it’s a bummer. But here’s the silver lining: It’s not a dead-end, but a detour — one that can lead you to a better financial path if navigated correctly. Let’s unpack this together.
Understanding the rejection: The ‘why’ matters
That rejection letter you just received? It’s more than just a “No.” It’s a guide.
Reasons behind the rejection
By law, if you’re denied credit, the issuer must tell you the reason or reasons. This could be a short credit history, high credit utilization, or even errors on your credit report. Taking a step back and truly understanding these reasons can set the foundation for your credit-building journey.
Once you know the reasons, it’s time for some introspection. Have you been spending above your means? Do you tend to miss bill payments? Recognizing your own financial habits is the first step to setting them right.
Your credit report: Your financial health-check
You’d go for a regular health check-up, right? Think of your credit report as the financial equivalent.
Get your free report
Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. If you haven’t pulled yours yet, now is the perfect time. It provides an in-depth understanding of where you stand credit-wise.
Look for the anomalies
Mistakes happen. Scan your report for any errors, like an unfamiliar debt or an unjust late payment mark. Rectifying these can offer a substantial boost to your score.
Taking the next steps: Strategies post-rejection
Alright, rejection is behind us. Now, let’s look ahead. What are your options?
Secured credit cards: A new beginning
Getting turned down for traditional credit cards? Enter secured credit cards. They require a security deposit (which usually sets your credit limit) and are a godsend for those wanting to either build or rebuild credit.
The co-signer route
If you believe in your credit management skills and need a chance to prove it, think about applying with a co-signer. This is someone who backs you up on your credit journey. They guarantee the debt, meaning if things go south, they’re on the hook. It’s a big responsibility, so choose and approach your co-signer wisely.
Credit-building loans: An alternative
Many credit unions and some banks offer these unique loans. Instead of getting money upfront, the amount you “borrow” is held in a special savings account. As you pay off the loan, you’re essentially proving your trustworthiness. Plus, at the end of it, you have a neat little sum saved up. Win-win!
The journey of patience and proactivity
Improving credit is much like growing a plant. It requires time, care, and consistent effort.
Monitor your progress
As you implement changes, keep a close eye on your credit score and report. Every spike in that score? That’s your effort paying off.
Never stop learning
The financial realm is ever-evolving. Dive into books, webinars, or online articles. The more you know, the better decisions you’ll make.
Considering expert help
Sometimes, a guiding hand can make all the difference.
Credit counselors: Your financial allies
If the credit maze feels overwhelming, think about consulting a credit counselor. These experts offer tailored advice, resources, and can provide a fresh perspective on your credit situation.
Treading carefully: The reapplication process
Eager to reapply? Hold on just a bit.
Avoid hasty applications
Several hard inquiries on your credit report within a short time can be a red flag for lenders. So, before reapplying, ensure you’ve worked on the areas of improvement and given it some time.
Research and select wisely
Not all credit cards are made equal. Based on the feedback from your rejection, seek out cards that align with your current financial profile. Some cards are tailored for those with lower credit scores or specific financial situations.
In the end, a credit card rejection can be transformed from a setback into a stepping stone. It’s a chance to introspect, strategize, and ultimately forge a path towards credit success. With each positive step you take, you’re not just working towards a card approval but a brighter financial future.
Tips to improve your credit
This is especially important when you’re in the fair credit range, for at least two reasons:
- If you’re at the bottom of the fair credit range, you’ll want to move toward the top, and;
- Your goal should be to move above the fair credit range.
Here are tips to help you do just that.
Get your free credit score and monitor it from now on
This will enable you to keep a finger on the pulse of your credit. Some free credit score services even provide simulators that will show you how you can improve your credit score, and by how much. You should take full advantage of these services.
Dispute any errors
If there is any information contained in your credit report that’s not accurate, you have an opportunity to fix it. Contact the creditor, report the error, and provide written documentation proving it’s wrong.
Get written notification from the creditor acknowledging the error. Also request the creditor report corrected information to all three credit bureaus. If they don’t, you’ll have to send the notification from the creditor acknowledging the error to all three credit bureaus yourself.
Allow at least 30 days after the successful dispute before applying for a credit product and pulling your credit score again.
Pay ALL your bills on-time from now on
A late payment here, a collection there, may seem fairly harmless at the time — especially if you’re in a cash crunch. But those are the stuff of fair and poor credit, and you need to avoid them at all costs.
One advantage you have with bad credit is that it becomes less important as time goes on. The sooner you begin paying your bills on time, the older the derogatory information will become, and the higher your credit score will be. So start paying all your bills on time all the time, now.
Don’t forget landlords and utility companies either. They will report to the credit bureaus if you have unpaid balances.
Pay off any past due balances
If you have any charge-offs or collections, pay them off as soon as possible. The same is true for judgments and tax liens. Paying them off won’t remove them from your credit report. But a paid delinquency is always better than an open one. Your credit score should begin to rise soon after these delinquencies are paid.
Go slow applying for new credit
We’ve already touched on this factor, but it’s worth reminding you that lenders don’t like seeing applicants applying for multiple lines credit. It could be an indication you’re having budget problems, and looking to solve them by obtaining additional credit. You should apply for no more than one or two new lines of credit per year.
Use an app to boost your score
Experian offers a service called Experian Boost that can improve your score by about a dozen or so points. You’ll sign up and connect your bank account to get credit for on-time payments for expenses like your phone and electric bills.
Payment alternatives for people with credit scores between 600 and 649
Using a credit card, whether secured or unsecured, is a great way to improve your credit score. But there are other means of payment available to you as well.
As a sheer transaction method, debit cards function in a very similar way to credit cards — they can be used to make purchases in a store, online, etc. The main difference is that when you make a purchase with a debit card the money for the purchase is taken out of your checking account; you aren’t borrowing money from the card issuer, so you don’t accrue a balance and don’t need to make monthly repayments.
This inherent difference has both positive and negative effects. Here are two examples:
A debit card doesn’t help you build credit
Since there are no monthly repayments, there’s no payment history to be reported to the credit bureaus. Debit cards may enable you to spend like credit cards, but they’ll do absolutely nothing to improve your credit score.
A debit card CAN help you manage your finances
Debit cards might even be better than credit cards in this regard. Since you can’t spend any more money than you have in the checking account behind the card, you’re forced to stay within budget. And since there are no monthly payments, there are no interest charges. That helps to improve cash flow.
Successful use of a debit card can also help to prepare you for responsible use of a credit card. If managing your spending has been a problem in the past, a debit card can help by forcing/training you to live within your financial limits.
Prepaid cards have grown more popular in recent years, not only for people who are unable to be approved for credit cards, but also as a secure way of making online purchases. It may be worth having a prepaid card even if you already have a debit card and a credit card.
How do prepaid cards work?
Credit cards work on credit limits, while debit cards are connected to a bank account. Prepaid cards are just what the name implies — you have to pay a certain amount of money on the card in advance in order to use it.
When it comes to spending, prepaid cards work just like debit cards and credit cards. You can even “recharge” them by adding more money to them.
They work well for online purchases, because you don’t risk providing account information to an unknown online vendor. That eliminates the possibility of identity theft.
The limits of prepaid cards
If you’re looking to rebuild your credit or improve your credit score, prepaid cards will be of no value to you. Much like debit cards, since there’s no monthly payment, there’s no payment history to report to the credit bureaus.
The other problem is fees. You might have to pay a fee to purchase the card, and then each time you recharge it. They can be expensive to use if you have to pay $5 every time you put $100 on the card.
Store charge cards
Many people who have difficulty getting traditional credit cards opt instead for store cards. But can they help if you’re looking to improve your credit score?
How store cards work
Store cards are issued by individual merchants. You may have a credit card issued by Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, or other retailers, but they’re not credit cards in the usual sense. They can only be used to charge purchases through that merchant. You will not be able to use the card to make other purchases, like groceries and gas.
Are store cards a good idea?
Because they’re credit cards, your payment history with store cards is reported to credit bureaus. If you make your payments on time, and keep your balance low, having one or two can help improve your credit score.
But they do have a few negatives:
- As noted earlier, they can only be used with the issuing merchant.
- They usually charge very high interest rates.
- Store cards are established to encourage you to spend money with the merchant. If you have bad credit, going deeper into debt is the last thing you need to do.
Also, be aware that store credit card facilities are back office operations. Their sole purpose for existing is to provide credit for customers to purchase the merchant’s products and services. As a result, store card operations may be somewhat chaotic, raising the possibility of misapplied payments and negative credit ratings. They are not the best cards to rebuild or improve your credit.
The advantages and disadvantages of debit, prepaid, and store cards
|Require credit approval?
|Report to credit bureaus?
|Will improve your credit score?
|Purchases subject to interest charges?
Wrapping up: Navigating the world of fair credit
There we have it, folks! Navigating the world of credit cards can feel a bit like a roller coaster, especially when you’re in that middle ground of average credit. But remember, “average” doesn’t mean “stuck.” It’s a stepping stone, a place from which you can climb to financial heights you might not even imagine yet.
Throughout this guide, we’ve walked side by side, unpacking the options available, the potential pitfalls, and those golden strategies to boost your credit even further. Armed with this knowledge, you’re better prepared to make a choice that fits not just your credit score, but your life’s goals and dreams.
Always keep in mind that every financial move is a learning experience. As you consider and eventually choose a credit card that suits your needs, think of it as a trusty companion on your credit journey. Use it wisely, stay informed, and watch as doors of opportunity swing open wide.
Or, try CardMatch from our partner Bankrate and see which cards you're pre-qualified for before you apply.