2023’s Best Credit Cards for Fair or Average Credit

Best Pick for: Cash Back

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: 4 out of 5 stars

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One 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. There’s no welcome bonus.

Why we picked it

The Journey Student Rewards card provides a bit of a bonus for paying on time. And since you should always pay by the monthly due date, you can expect to get 1% – 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 late fees that come with missed payments, which can cancel out the cash back you earn with the card.

Capital One will automatically consider you for a credit line increase after your first 6 months with the card. This is a nice feature to have for fair or average credit, because it probably won’t come with a very large initial credit line. Capital One may also provide occasional credit line increases if you show responsible card use (which many card issuers do).

Runner up

  • Capital One QuicksilverOne Rewards Credit Card

Best Pick for: Students

Discover it® Student Cash Back: 5 out of 5 stars

The Discover it® Student Cash Back is made for college students with limited or no established credit history. If you’re a young adult just getting into credit cards, this 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 list.

Why we picked it

The Cashback Match of the Discover it® Student Cash Back means you’ll effectively be earning 10% cash back in the bonus categories during the first year and 1% cash back for every other purchase. That’s a great deal, even compared to rewards credit cards for good credit.

This is actually the same rewards program you get with the regular, non-student Discover it® Cash Back. The rewards and benefits are mostly the same for both cards, with some differences in the terms and fees.

Runners up

  • Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students Credit Card
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Students Credit Card
  • Discover it® Student Chrome
  • Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
  • Capital One Journey Student Rewards Credit Card

Best Pick for: Secured Cards

Discover it® Secured: 5 out of 5 stars

Secured credit cards typically don’t have the best features. They’re designed to help get your credit back in shape, rather than reward you with perks.

But the Discover it® Secured isn’t like the others – not only does it offer cash back for your purchases, it even doubles your rewards in the first year!

Why we picked it

Discover’s secured card is top notch. With no annual fee and a solid rewards program, it’s one of the best cards to help build or rebuild your credit.

A security deposit of $200 to $2,500 is required, depending on your creditworthiness. Your credit limit will be determined by the amount you deposit.

Nobody wants to lose a security deposit forever. That’s why, after 7 months, Discover will begin reviewing your account each month, including how you’re using this card. If they like what they see, they may return your security deposit and allow you to continue using the card.

This is handy because, unlike some other issuers, you don’t need to close the card to get your deposit back – a move that could damage your credit scores.

There’s also an intro APR for balance transfers. But it’s not at a 0% interest rate, so we usually don’t recommend using it.

Runners up

  • Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
  • Sable ONE Secured Credit Card
  • Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) nRewards® Secured Credit Card

Best Pick for: Small Business Owners

Capital One Spark 1% Classic: 4 out of 5 stars

The Capital One Spark 1% Classic is one of the only unsecured business credit cards designed for less-than-good credit. It’s not a bad card per se, but it’s not very rewarding either.

Why we picked it

Need a simple card for business expenses? The Spark 1% Classic can fit the bill.

Use this card to earn a bit of cash back on business expenses and improve your credit until you can qualify for a more rewarding business card. If you can’t get approved for the Spark 1% Classic, there are other secured business credit cards you can try. However, they’ll require refundable security deposits.

Capital One will report your positive card activity to three business credit bureaus: Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business and Small Business Financial Exchange, along with the three major credit bureaus for consumers. This is beneficial because it can help build your business credit with all three bureaus.

Runners up

  • Sam’s Club Business Mastercard
  • Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card
  • BBVA Secured Visa® Business Credit Card

Best Pick for: Store Cards

Target REDcard™ Credit Card: 4 out of 5 stars

Typically, store credit cards are easier to qualify for than most other cards. Merchants want you to apply and spend money at their stores, so they make it relatively easy to get their branded credit cards.

Target has one of the best with its Target REDcard™, a simple but valuable offer for frequent customers. With this card, you don’t need to bother redeeming rewards – your 5% discount is automatically applied at checkout.

Why we picked it

Who doesn’t stop by Target from time to time? If you find yourself at this mega-merchant often – whether it’s for groceries, home goods or random splurges – you may want to consider the REDcard™ credit card.

We typically only recommend a store credit card if you already shop at that store regularly. If you’ll use the card enough, and it’ll be more valuable to you than a general-use reward card, it might be a good idea to apply.

The Target REDcard™ is a step above many other store cards because it’s issued by TD Bank, a major issuer with a pretty good reputation. If you like Target but aren’t interested in a new credit card, check out the debit card version: the Target REDcard™ debit card.

Runners up

  • Amazon Store Card
  • Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card
  • Gap Good Rewards Credit Card
  • TJX Rewards® Credit Card
  • Lowe’s Advantage Credit Card

What’s the Best Credit Card for Fair or Average Credit?

If your credit is in the fair/average range, you’ll typically have access to a decent variety of cards. We suggest starting your search with the following:

  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, if you want flat-rate cash back (you don’t need to be a student to qualify)
  • Discover it® Student Cash Back, if you’re a student
  • Discover it® Secured, if you’re having trouble getting approved for other cards and need a secured card
  • Capital One Spark 1% Classic, for business owners with fair credit

Are There Instant Approval Cards for Fair or Average Credit?

Yes – but what does “instant approval credit card” actually mean? Most credit cards provide an instant decision when you apply, meaning you’ll get a response right away: either approved or denied.

Some cards are marketed as “guaranteed approval credit cards.” These are subprime cards designed for people with the lowest credit scores, so they typically have high fees. They also tend to come with poor customer support and slow payment processing. So we recommend avoiding them if possible.

What Does Fair or Average Credit Mean?

Terms like “fair credit” are often thrown around without a second thought. And if you’re not well versed in the world of credit, it’s easy to assume they’re just vague indicators of one’s creditworthiness.

The fact is credit score ranges vary between scoring models (FICO, VantageScore, etc.). But even so, these ranges tend to be similar across brands. Knowing where your credit stands can make it a lot easier to pick a credit card that’s right for you.

“Fair or average credit” typically indicates the following score ranges:

  • FICO Credit Score: 580 – 669
  • VantageScore Credit Score: 650 – 699
Back to top of page

You Should Also Check Out…

Our team of financial experts write, review and verify content for accuracy and clarity.