15 Credit Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

15 Credit Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

credit card advice

Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: May 29, 2019
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Our articles follow strict editorial guidelines and are updated regularly.

There’s no shortage of credit cards aimed at those with fair credit, but they usually lack many of the bells and whistles associated with cards pegged to higher scores. That means you’re unlikely to encounter big signup bonuses, although some cards in this group offer cash back rewards and a few other goodies.

All of the cards reviewed below may charge no annual fee and are useful to folks with a scant or blemished credit history. Timely payments and low balances can help keep your interest charges in check and demonstrate your creditworthiness. This may help you increase your credit score over time.

Overall | Cash Back | Students | Business | Retail

Best Overall Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

We’ve judged these three cards to offer the best overall mix of benefits. All three are unsecured and should be available to those with fair credit scores. These cards may be useful for improving your credit without necessarily shelling out annual fees.

  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.96% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is highly rated because it may provide access to higher credit limits when you make your first five months of payments on time. It takes only a few minutes to pre-qualify for this card and doing so won’t hurt your credit score. The card offers tools to monitor your credit, $0 fraud liability, automatic monthly payments, provision for adding authorized users, and several travel and retail services.

Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • 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 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 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.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
15.24% - 24.24% Variable
$0
Fair

The Discover it® Student chrome is a rarity in this group, as it offers cash back and a first-year Cashback Match. The card offers a limited bonus cash back rate on select purchases and an unlimited regular cash back rate on all others. Students receive a statement credit if they achieve a GPA of 3.0 or above for the school year for up to five years. The card provides free alerts when it spots new accounts on your credit report or detects your Social Security number on the dark web.

Indigo® Unsecured Mastercard® Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★
4.3

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Pre-qualify today without an impact on your credit score
  • Keeping your account in good standing may help establish and/or improve your credit
  • Access your account online or from your mobile device 24/7
  • Protection from fraud if your card is stolen
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.9%
$0 - $99
Fair/Good

The Indigo® Unsecured Mastercard® is offered with an annual fee as low as $0. The card is designed for those with less-than-perfect credit. You can select from several card designs at no additional fee. Indigo will pre-qualify your application without a hard pull of your credit history, which means your credit score won’t be impacted. It promises a 60-second pre-qualification decision and offers 24/7 mobile account access.

Best Cash Back Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

These cards provide cash back rewards, charge no annual fee, and are obtainable by people with fair credit. That’s valuable because many cards for fair credit don’t offer rewards. Avoiding annual fees leaves you more money to pay your card balance.

Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★
3.8

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability
  • Qualified applicants will receive a card with a competitive APR and no annual fee along with 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, terms apply
  • View updates to your Experian credit score with free online access, terms apply
  • Make paying your bill easier with the ability to choose your payment due date, terms apply
  • Access your account on-the-go with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
20.24%-26.24% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® is specifically marketed for rebuilding credit. The card can charge or waive annual fees, and it offers cash back on all purchases. Credit One provides automatic reviews for opportunities to increase your credit line. You also get $0 fraud liability, free credit scores, and customizable account notifications.

Discover it® Secured Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★
3.7

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% for 6 months
25.24% Variable
$0
N/A

The Discover it® Secured card requires a refundable security deposit up to your approved credit limit. If you use the card responsibly for eight months, Discover will evaluate whether to return your deposit. The card offers cash back on all purchases with a limited bonus cash back rate on select purchases. New cardmembers will receive a Cashback Match on all the cash back earned during the year on the account anniversary.

Credit One Bank® Cash Back Rewards Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★
3.3

OVERALL RATING

3.3/5.0
  • 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, no annual fee, and a competitive APR are just a few of the benefits qualified applicants will enjoy. Terms apply.
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Managing your account is easy with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Pick a card that fits your style. Multiple card designs are available, a fee may apply
  • Monitor your credit with free online access to your Experian credit score, terms apply
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
20.24%-26.24% Variable
$0 - $99
Good

The Credit One Bank® Visa Card with Cash Back Rewards also offers a flat-rate cash back percentage on all purchases. The card is mobile-friendly offering a smartphone app, mobile payments, and integration with popular electronic wallets. You can add an authorized user, sign up for automatic account alerts, and choose your payment due date.

Best Student Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

Student cards can be helpful for folks with limited credit experience. They usually offer features that can help students and other credit newbies manage their credit and monitor the card’s security. These three even offer special rewards for good grades and positive credit behavior.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • 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.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
15.24% - 24.24% Variable
$0
Fair

The Discover it® Student Cash Back card uses a quarterly rotating merchant system to offer a bonus cash back rate. You must activate the card each quarter to earn the bonus rate. All other purchases earn the regular cash back rate. Following the end of the first year, new cardmembers will receive an unlimited Cashback Match, thereby doubling the first year’s cash back earnings.

Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • 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 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 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.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
15.24% - 24.24% Variable
$0
Fair

The Discover it® Student chrome offers a bonus cash back rate on limited selected purchases and an unlimited regular cash back rate on all other purchases. New cardmembers receive a dollar-for-dollar Cashback Match on all the cash back earned during the first year. Students who achieve a GPA of 3.0 or above for the school year receive a statement credit for up to five years. Other benefits include $0 fraud liability, free credit scores, an instant on/off switch to freeze your account, and 24/7 live customer support.

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.96% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® pays cash back on all purchases. It offers a bonus cash back rate when you pay your monthly bill on time, which could teach students the merits of financial management. Moreover, you can earn a higher credit line by making timely payments for the first five months. The card lets you access credit monitoring tools, provides $0 fraud liability, and supports virtual card numbers for online purchases. You also get instant card lock and various types of security alerts.

Best Business Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

The rough and tumble of business could leave you with a less-than-good credit score. Or you may be just starting up a business and have a limited credit history. The following trio of cards has you and your business covered.

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Enjoy no annual fee
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase
  • 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
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
25.24% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

The Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business offers unlimited cash back on all purchases with no redemption minimums or expiration dates. You can add employee cards at no extra cost, download purchase records, receive quarterly and year-end summaries, and make fee-free foreign transactions. Purchases are covered for 90 days against theft or damage, and you receive up to one year of extended warranty protection. You can use Visa SavingsEdge for up to 15% additional savings on qualifying business purchases.

11. Brex Startup Card

The Brex Startup Card calls itself the first corporate card for startups. You can obtain the card without a personal guarantee and qualify for unusually liberal spending limits.

Brex Mastercard

  • Earn 7X points on ridesharing, 4X on Brex Travel, 3X at restaurants, 2X on recurring software, and 1X on everything else
  • Applying will not affect your credit score
  • Powered by the Mastercard network

The Brex card can help you build business credit by reporting activity to Experian and Dun & Bradstreet. You can also get discounts on services important to startups. The card can provide you with virtual card numbers, instant issuance of new employee cards, automatic monthly payments, and expense management tools.

12. BBVA Compass Visa® Business Rewards Credit Card

The BBVA Compass Visa® Business Rewards Credit Card offers rewards that are valuable to business owners. New cardholders may qualify for a 20,000-point signup bonus when they make $3,000 in qualifying purchases within 90 days of account opening.

BBVA Compass Visa® Business Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn 3X points at office supply stores, 2X points at gas stations and restaurants, 1X points per $1 spent on everything else
  • Save up to 15% at select merchants with Visa SavingsEdge
  • No annual fee

You can add additional employee cards at no extra cost, and use CentreSuite to manage your account online. Other benefits include $0 liability protection, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase security, extended protection, and travel accident insurance. The card is only available in Alabama, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, and New Mexico.

Best Store Cards for Fair Credit with No Annual Fee

Store cards allow you to make purchases online or at brick-and-mortar store locations. The following three approve applicants with fair credit scores, and two of them offer alternatives to those who may have trouble qualifying for a card.

Fingerhut Credit Account Review

at Fingerhut'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★
4.3

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Easy application! Get a credit decision in seconds.
  • Build your credit history – Fingerhut reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • Use your line of credit to shop thousands of items from great brands
  • Take advantage of low monthly payments if you apply and are accepted for a Fingerhut Credit Account issued by WebBank, who determines eligibility and qualifications for the terms of credit
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
See Issuers Website
$0
Poor Credit

The Fingerhut Credit Account is for charging online purchases from this merchant. The account helps you build credit by reporting your transactions to TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, the three major credit bureaus. You automatically apply for the Fingerhut Fresh Start Installment Loan at the same time you apply for the credit account, and Fingerhut will let you know which one you qualify for. The account offers promotions that allow you to skip a payment or two, although interest will continue to accrue. The maximum liability for unauthorized use of your account is $50.

14. Amazon Store Card

Amazon.com offers multiple credit card products, the Amazon.com Store Card being the one marketed to consumers with fair credit scores. It offers promotional financing and will help increase your credit score with responsible use.

Amazon.com Store Card

  • Get 6-, 12-, or 24-month financing options on select purchases
  • Start shopping on Amazon.com instantly upon approval
  • Access to free credit score monitoring
  • No annual fee

For those with lower credit scores, there is also the secured Amazon.com Credit Builder Card. Your application for the Amazon Store Card automatically includes this offer if you don’t qualify for the Store Card. The Credit Builder Card requires you to put down a security deposit of at least $100, which acts as your credit limit.

15. Target REDcard

The Target REDcard can be used to charge purchases at Target stores and Target.com. The card offers several rewards, including a fixed 5% discount on all purchases.

Target REDcard

  • 5% discount on all Target and Target.com purchases, including in-store Starbucks locations
  • Extended returns when you pay with your REDcard
  • Free 2-day shipping on qualifying items from Target.com

You can combine the 5% discount with savings from Cartwheel and Target Subscription offers. You also get early access to special products, exclusive extras, and a 10% coupon to use in-store on your account anniversary.

What is the Easiest Credit Card to Get with Fair Credit?

Typically, secured credit cards are the easiest to obtain, since they are backed by your deposited cash. In this group, the secured credit cards are the Amazon.com Credit Builder Card, and the Discover it® Secured card. The Amazon card’s minimum deposit is lower than that of the Discover card, which may make the Amazon card somewhat easier to get.

Discover it® Secured

In both cases, the issuer automatically re-evaluates your use of the secured card and will reward responsible usage with an upgrade to an unsecured account. However, only the Discover it® Secured card also offers cash back on purchases and a Cashback Match to new cardmembers on the first anniversary of opening the account.

Although the Amazon card may be the easiest to get, it’s not necessarily the easiest to understand. That’s because Amazon offers at least six different credit cards:

  1. Credit Builder Card
  2. Prime Credit Builder Card
  3. Store Card
  4. Prime Store Card
  5. Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card
  6. Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The last two are for those with good or excellent credit. For those with fair credit, the Prime versions of the first four cards offer better benefits — including cash back — than the non-Prime counterparts.

While none charge an annual fee, it costs $119/year to join Amazon Prime. Of course, you get many benefits with Prime membership beyond cash back on the cards.

Store cards are known to be easy to acquire, although they could offer tight credit limits. Therefore, if you prefer a non-secured card, the Target REDcard and the Fingerhut Credit Account may be easy to obtain with fair credit.

Which Credit Cards are Best for Building Credit?

The basic rule for building credit from credit card usage is for the issuer to report your payment activity to one or more of the major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

All of the cards in this review report payment activity, although not necessarily to all three bureaus. The business credit cards may instead, or additionally, report account activity to business credit bureaus. For example, the Brex Startup Card sends reports to Dun & Bradstreet as well as Experian.

To help build credit, you should make your payments on time and remit at least the minimum payment due each month. This approach can help pay off the balance quickly, as it demonstrates that you haven’t overused your credit. Credit card bureaus like to see a credit utilization rate below 30%, meaning your total balances are no more than 30% of your available credit. A low utilization rate indicates you have leeway to respond to a sudden need for credit, such as a medical emergency.

Chart of Example Utilization Rate

This chart shows examples of utilization rates across three different cards.

Another important point for building credit is to avoid canceling a card, even if you have stopped using it. That’s because the credit limit on the card contributes to your overall available credit. Closing the card will reduce your available credit and therefore increase your credit utilization ratio, which is a negative factor for your credit score.

As indicated earlier, secured cards are a good way to build or establish credit. The two secured cards in this review are the Amazon.com Credit Builder Card, and the Discover it® Secured card. If you have bad or scant credit, you may find it easier to get a secured card first, and possibly replace it with an unsecured card later.

Does Getting Approved for a Credit Card Raise Your Score?

Getting a new credit card can have both positive and negative implications for your credit score. On the positive side, the credit limit on the new card increases your available credit. All things being equal, this will reduce your credit utilization ratio, which should help your credit score.

FICO Score Factors

However, that benefit could quickly disappear if you make a big-ticket purchase when you open the card. That could reduce your overall credit utilization ratio to a figure lower than the one you had before you got the new card, which could weaken your credit score. Credit utilization counts as 30% of your FICO score.

There are a couple of other ways a new credit card could hurt your credit score. The first is that a new credit score lowers your average credit age. Credit scores like FICO consider the age of your credit accounts and rewards older credit histories.

In fact, 15% of your credit score is determined by the age of your credit history. The second negative effect is that accepting a new credit card requires the card issuer to place a hard inquiry on your credit report. That’s true even if you decline the offer. Credit inquiries have a small negative impact, composing 10% of your credit score.

It may not seem significant to lose a few points from an inquiry, but if you are barely in the “fair” range, an inquiry could tip you into “poor” territory.

You may have important reasons to apply for a new card even if it negatively impacts your score. For example, you may want to take advantage of a card’s introductory offers for a cash back bonus or 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers. Or perhaps you’ve improved your score enough to qualify for a card with a significantly lower APR or better rewards.

Compare Offers to Find the Best Rates and Terms

All the cards reviewed here should be obtainable by people with fair credit, and some may be available to those whose credit is poor or nonexistent. We’ve categorized some of the cards (i.e., student, business, store, secured) to help you focus on the ones that best meet your individual needs.

By concentrating on cards with no annual fees, you keep your expenses down and have more money to repay your card balances. Responsible use of these cards may help boost your score and possibly open a whole new universe of card choices.