After dozens of hours of research, this article will highlight the best credit cards by credit score. The higher your credit score, the better the credit card and the lower the interest rate you can get.
Getting a credit card is a good way to build your credit score. Ironically, you also need a minimum required credit score to get a credit card.
In general, you need a credit score of at least 650 to get a credit card. For the better rewards credit cards out there, you'll need a 690+. The higher your credit score, the lower the APR interest rate as well.
One of the easiest ways to check your credit score is with one of the big three credit score agencies.
I like Experian, as they have the most thorough credit reports based on my experience. Although Equifax and TransUnion are OK too.
Credit Score Range Basics
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the big three credit score agencies. They've collaborated to create the credit monitoring service VantageScore.
Below is a chart from Experian that highlights the FICO Score and VantageScore ranges. You essentially want to shoot for 700+ to have a good credit score. The best interest rates are reserved for those with FICO scores of above 800.
If you already have a credit card, you should also be able to monitor your score with free credit score reporting through your bank. Log in and look for a link or toolbar where you can click to see your credit score.
Some credit card companies, like Capital One, offer a credit simulation tool that allows you to see what would happen to your score if you were to make specific life changes.
For example, if you pay off your mortgage and lower your credit utilization ratio, your Capital One's credit simulation tool will give you an idea of what will happen to your credit score.
How To Get A Better Credit Score
To get a better credit score in order to get a credit card, you need to first understand the five main components that determine your credit score.
- Payment History (35%)
- Amounts Owed (30%)
- Length Of Credit History (15%)
- New Credit (10%)
- Types Of Credit Used (10%)
The weightings of each component are rough estimates that depend from person to person. For example, someone who just started taking out credit may have a lower percentage weighting in the Length Of Credit History component vs. someone who has used credit for over 30 years.
Payment History (35%)
A lender wants to know whether you’ve been a good creditor or a bad creditor with other financial institutions. The longer you can demonstrate you’ve consistently paid a lender on time, the higher your score.
The more you’ve been late or have not paid, the lower your score. If you are first starting out, lenders will base your creditworthiness on your occupation and debt levels. They understand everybody has to start somewhere and most are willing to lend with an initial small credit line.
Amounts Owed (30%)
The goal is to figure out how much credit is too much for a given borrower. When a high percentage of a person’s available credit is being used, it may signal that the borrower is overextended.
The credit scores want to determine:
- The amounts owed on all accounts,
- The amounts owed on different type of accounts e.g. credit cards, mortgages, car loans, student loans etc,
- Whether you have balances,
- How many of your accounts have balances,
- And how much of the installment loan do you still owe vs the original amount e.g. car loan.
Owing a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad creditor. But owing a lot of money on multiple accounts which are maxed to the limit show credit risk which may negatively hurt your credit score. Lenders don’t want to lend more money to people who are already using up all their line of credit.
Length Of Credit History (15%)
The general math is that the longer your credit history, the higher your credit score all things being equal.
Credit score companies will ascertain the age of your oldest credit account, your newest credit account, and the average age of all your credit accounts to get a big picture.
Another variable is the frequency by which your credit accounts are used.
New Credit (10%)
If you open up multiple new credit lines in a short period of time, research shows you are of higher credit risk.
The theory is that there may be an emergency cash crunch you are facing that encourages you to open up new lines of credit with the risk of not paying them off.
Therefore, strategically open up a new line of credit every three months at most.
Types Of Credit Used (10%)
Credit score evaluators will consider your mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans. More is not better, just like only having credit card and a mortgage isn’t better.
The Best Credit Cards By Credit Score
You don't want to apply to every single credit card if you don't have good-to-excellent credit because you will likely get rejected and waste your time. I've spent a dozen hours researching the best credit card depending on your credit score for you to consider.
Best Credit Cards For Excellent Credit
If you have above a 700 credit score, you will qualify for the best rewards credit cards today. Let me offer two of the best for you to consider. I own both.
1) Chase Freedom Unlimited
I've owned the Chase Freedom Unlimited Rewards credit card for over 10 years now. It is the best personal rewards credit card out there for frequent travelers and diners. You need a 690 or higher credit score to qualify.
Here are the main benefits:
- Great cash back percentage: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- Annual fee: $0
- Sign up bonus: Get a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months
- Bonus cash back categories
- 5% cash back on travel purchased in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal
- 3% cash back dining at restaurants and eligible delivery/takeout
- 3% cash back on eligible drugstore purchases
- Rewards don’t expire as long as your account is open.
- 0% APR for the first 15 months
- Credit score needed: good to excellent
- No minimums to redeem for cash back
2) Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Another fantastic card to own if you have excellent credit is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Here are the main benefits:
- Earn a 100,000-mile bonus when you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months of membership. Or, earn 50,000 miles (equals $500 travel rewards) if you spend $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months.
- Earn unlimited 2X miles fast on every purchase you make
- Transfer miles to any of Venture's 10+ travel partners
- No foreign transaction fees
- No limit on how many miles you can earn
- Rewards don’t expire for the life of the account
- Get up to a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pres✔®
- Built-in coverage and purchase protections
Best Credit Card For Good Credit
For those of you with a credit score above above 690, I recommend getting a cash back rewards credit card. The standard cash back percentage is 1%, which is not bad. But why settle for not bad when you can get great?
My choice for the best cash back rewards credit card is the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Credit Card.
3) Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Here are the main benefits:
- One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
- No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account. And there's no limit to how much you can earn.
- No foreign transaction fee.
- No annual fee.
Best Credit Card for Fair Credit
If you only have a credit score that's under 670, it's going to be tougher for you to get a credit card. That said, there are still some credit cards that offer some rewards, just not as much.
The best one for those with fair/average credit is the Capital One Platinum Credit Card.
4) The Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Here are the following features:
- No annual fee.
- Gain access to a higher credit line after paying your first 6 monthly bills on time.
- Improve your credit score with responsible use.
- Choose your own monthly due date.
- Make payments via mobile app, online, check, or at a branch for free.
- Benefit from fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen.
Best Credit Card For Bad Credit
I'm going to be frank with you. If you have a credit score that's under 580, you should probably not use a credit card. Pay cash for everything. Using a credit card when you have bad credit can be dangerous.
Why? You are the customer the credit card companies want to gamble on who don't pay their monthly balance in full. If you don't pay in full, credit card companies will charge you huge interest rates of 15% – 30%. Once you get in the credit card debt cycle, it is very hard to get out.
The best thing you can do is continue to pay all your bills on time. Your credit score will naturally get better in time given Payment History accounts for 35% of your score and Length of Credit History accounts for 15%.
Sooner or later, your credit score will get to the Fair and Good ranges if you keep being financially responsible. If you still want a credit card option, below is likely the best choice.
5) Capital One Secured MasterCard
The Capital One Secured MasterCard is like a build-your-own credit system. The card starts you out with a $200 line of credit after making a refundable security deposit of $49, $99, or $200.
This card is ideal for those with bad credit who need to establish or rebuild their credit history and improve their current credit rating.
Capital One Secured Mastercard’s additional offerings include:
- Accepted at millions of locations around the word.
- Access a higher line of credit after 6 months of on-time payments with no additional deposits required.
- No annual fees.
- You can pick your own due date so that it doesn’t coincide with other payment deadlines.
- Reports all payments and spending to all 3 three major credit bureaus.
- Manage your account easily via mobile app, online, or by phone.
Your Credit Score Matters For Getting A Credit Card
The better your credit score, the more you will qualify for the best credit cards with best benefits. You will also get a lower APR as well with a higher credit score, but it shouldn't really matter since you're always going to pay off your monthly balance in full.
When in doubt, get a cash back rewards credit card. That way, you know you're getting free money with every dollar spent. You don't have to think about spending money on a certain category to get the most rewards.
But if you are an avid traveler, get a travel rewards credit card. If you love to eat, get a dining rewards credit card and so forth.
There are plenty of great credit cards to choose from if you have a good-to-excellent credit score.
Pay off Your Debt Faster With A Personal Loan
If you don’t have enough cash, getting a personal loan from Credible is a good place to start. If you have expensive credit card debt, consider consolidating your debt into a lower interest-rate personal loan.
Credible has the most comprehensive marketplace for personal loans. Lenders compete for your business so you can get the best rate. Get personalized prequalified personal loan rates in just two minutes after you fill out an application.
For further suggestions on saving money and growing wealth, check out my Top Financial Products page.
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About the Author: Sam worked in investment banking for 13 years at GS and CS. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income. He spends most of his time playing tennis, writing online, and taking care of his family.
Financial Samurai was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites on the web with over 1.5 million pageviews a month.
Disclosure: Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS# 1681276, “Credible.” Not available in all states. www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org.