credit score do you needUpdated: March 8, 2019

You’ve probably noticed that credit cards list “credit needed for approval” with terms like Excellent, Good, Fair and Very Poor, but what does that mean? We’ve written about what credit scores are and how they differ from credit reports. However, even if you know your credit scores, you may not be sure what term describes them. We’re dusting off our credit-to-English dictionary so we can explain each of these terms. What’s more, we list the best credit cards you can get with each credit range. Keep reading to see where your credit scores fall and determine which card is right for you.

Want to skip ahead? Click here to jump to our list of the best credit cards for every credit score.

Credit scores, credit scores, credit scores

The first hurdle is acknowledging that there are many credit scores. Each kind of score is essentially a different formula that weighs factors of your credit history to guess if you’re likely to repay your debt. We call that the applicant’s creditworthiness.

While there are many kinds of credit scores, most of them share a number range of 300 to 850. Additionally, FICO 8 scores are such a dominant force in credit scores that knowing the FICO 8 ranges will get you 90% of the way.

The breakdown

Now to the numbers. We’ve listed the credit score range that matches each term for FICO 8 and VantageScore below. Keep in mind, however, that this is a general guideline. Each credit card issuer has its own credit qualification criteria to decide whether to offer a line of credit, and on what terms. Credit issuers often review both debt and income to make their decision.

FICO 8 VantageScore
Exceptional: 800-850 Excellent: 750-850
Very Good: 740-799 Good: 700-749
Good: 670-739 Fair: 650-699
Fair: 580-669 Poor: 550-649
Very Poor: 300-579 Very poor: 300-549

While FICO 8 is currently the most commonly used credit score, credit card issuers don’t always find FICO’s scale and terms the most useful way to categorize good and bad credit scores. For that reason, we have found the following list of commonly accepted scores to be the most useful when recommending credit cards.

Commonly Accepted
Excellent: 750-850
Good: 700-749
Average: 670-699
Below average: 620-669
Bad credit: 619 and below

Good to excellent: typically 700 and above

If you have good or excellent credit scores, you may be eligible for the very best credit cards. We’ve written extensively about the wonderful options you have. For incredible cash back rewards, great balance transfer terms or the travel rewards of your daydreams, read on.

Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card

credit score do you needLooking for stunning cash back rewards with no annual fee? If so, the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card is hard to beat. Let’s start with the intro bonus. After spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, you’ll earn a $150 online cash bonus — note that you must apply online to earn this bonus. That’s 30% cash back on the first $500 you spend! Add to that 12 billing cycles with 0% intro APR on purchases and any balance transfers made in the first 60 days (with a 3% balance transfer fee, $10 minimum), and you’re beginning to see why it’s great to have good credit scores!

You can pile up the cash rewards with 3% cash back on the category of your choice (you can choose from gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, as well as home improvement and furnishings), 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/choice category purchases each quarter, then 1% cash back) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, Gold, Platinum or Platinum Honors Bank of America customers who redeem their rewards for a deposit into their account will receive a bonus, ranging from 25% to 75%, depending on their account status.

Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever

credit score do you needThe Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever (a NextAdvisor advertiser) is the card for you if you want a really long balance transfer period. That’s because it offers 21 months with 0% intro APR on balance transfers (with a 5% balance transfer fee, $5 minimum). It also offers a more modest 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases and charges no annual fee.

Want to hear something really unusual? The Citi Simplicity Card charges no late fees and won’t apply penalty APRs. If you’re worried you might slip up on a payment, that is a huge weight off your shoulders! That said, even if Citi doesn’t penalize you for late payments, your credit score might. We always recommend using credit responsibly.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

credit score do you needDo you love to travel? Let your travel spending and everyday purchases help fund your next trip! With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn a massive 10 miles per $1 spent on hotel bookings at Hotels.com/Venture (valid on purchases made through Jan. 31, 2020). If you use Hotels.com/Venture to book your hotel stays, you’ll quickly accumulate enough miles to fuel further travel. Plus, those miles have no limit, never expire and you can use them to fly on any airline — with no blackout dates.

Now that we’ve delved into the value of those miles, how does 50,000 miles sound? Well, as a new cardholder, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. That bonus, plus the fact that you won’t have to pay an annual fee for the first year (after that, it’s $95 each year), can make your vacation dreams a reality in no time. And once you’re abroad, you’ll appreciate that this card does not charge foreign transaction fees (meaning you’ll save, generally, a charge of 3% to 5% on every foreign transaction).

Average: 670 or higher

An average credit score, which is often considered a score of 670 or above, can still net you some really astounding credit card deals. Here are some of our top options for those with average to excellent credit:

Discover it Cash Back

credit score do you needDiscover it Cash Back offers an intro bonus with huge potential. At the end of your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match all of the cash back you’ve earned. For example, if you earn $300 cash back, it will match that $300 and you’ll earn a total of $600 for the year. There’s no limit to how much will be matched.

So how do you earn ongoing cash back rewards? You’ll earn 5% cash back on purchases made in rotating categories each quarter you activate (up to the quarterly maximum, currently $1,500, then 1% back) and 1% on all other purchases. Discover’s 2019 cash back categories are groceries from January to March; gas stations, Uber and Lift from April to June; restaurants from July to September; and Amazon.com from October to December.

In addition to great cash back rewards, Discover it Cash Back includes some very nice perks, no annual fee or foreign transaction fees and a 14-month 0% intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers (with a 3% balance transfer fee). After the 0% intro APRs expire, a go-to variable rate applies. For a longer balance transfer period and the same cash back rewards (but a shorter intro APR period for purchases), consider the Discover it Balance Transfer credit card.

Discover it Miles

credit score do you needIf you are looking for consistent mile accumulation on all purchases and no annual fee, Discover it Miles is the ticket. With this card, you’ll earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases. Redeem your miles with any airline or hotel group — you aren’t tethered to specific brands. What’s more, at the end of your first year with the card, Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned. For example, if you earn 30,000 miles, Discover will match those 30,000 miles and you’ll earn a total of 60,000 miles in your first year.

In addition to travel rewards, you’ll benefit from the many perks of a Discover card and of being a customer of the winner of the J.D. Power’s Credit Card Satisfaction Survey. Plus, you can make use of a 14-month 0% intro APR on purchases. After the intro APR period expires, the go-to variable rate applies.

Below average: above 620

If your credit score is below average, somewhere between 620 and 669, you may want to consider strategies for improving your credit scores. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice cash back credit card today.

Capital One QuicksilverOne

credit score do you needFor an annual fee of $39, you’ll earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases with the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. The highest flat cash back rate we’ve seen is 2%, so 1.5% cash back is a great rate for not-so-perfect credit.

If you have your eye on building up your credit scores, you’ll enjoy the account management tools and customizable alerts in the Capital One mobile app as well as the ability to monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise app. You may also enjoy that the Capital One QuicksilverOne card has no foreign transaction fees or balance transfer fees. However, there is no special intro APR period for balance transfers, so this is only worthwhile if the APR on your current card is higher.

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa with Cash Back Rewards

credit score do you needThe Credit One Bank Platinum Visa with Cash Back Rewards offers 1% cash back on purchases and 3-bureau reporting. That means that your payment history is reported to all three of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) each month. That will quickly add to the credit history on your 3 credit reports. With responsible use, your credit scores will quickly increase.

You can also take advantage of exclusive discount offers for Credit One Bank Platinum Visa cardholders through Visa Discounts and travel accident and rental collision insurance that comes with the card. This card may, however, require an annual fee. The annual fee ranges from $0 to $99, depending on your creditworthiness.

Bad, limited or no credit: below 620

It’s possible to not have a credit score at all. This happens when you haven’t taken out any loans or used much credit. There simply isn’t enough information for credit issuers to be confident in offering you credit. Alternatively, you could have bad credit because of poor credit management in the past.

Either way, the best approach to building or rebuilding your credit scores is to use a secured credit card. While we’ve described secured credit cards in more depth in the past, the general idea is that you make a down payment (called a security deposit). Your credit issuer will use the deposit as collateral if you default on your debt.

Discover it Secured

credit score do you needYou’ll be able to earn cash back rewards while rebuilding your credit with the Discover it Secured card. In addition to 3-bureau credit reporting to quickly bulk up your credit history, you’ll earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations (up to the quarterly maximum, currently $1,000 in combined purchases, then 1%) and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, you’ll end the year with a nice bonus. Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year with the card. For example, if you earn $50, Discover will match that, and you’ll get a total of $100 back.

It’s best to keep that bonus in mind when you make your security deposit. The security deposit range is $200 to $2,500 and the amount you deposit will also become your credit limit. Also worth noting are two things the Discover it Secured card doesn’t have: an annual fee and foreign transaction fees. That’s a great deal. And after 8 months, Discover will automatically begin reviewing your account to see if you are eligible to be transitioned to an unsecured line of credit (which will result in the return of your deposit). That’s an even better deal!

Citi Secured Mastercard

credit score do you needIf you want to rebuild your credit and you need some tools to help you do it, the Citi Secured Mastercard is a perfect pick. With this card, you’ll make a security deposit of $200 to $2,500, depending on your credit history. Your credit limit will match your security deposit. If your account is up to date and paid on time when you close your card, you’ll receive your full deposit back.

Aside from the security deposit, the Citi Secured Mastercard will look and function just like a standard credit card, with the added benefit of 3-bureau reporting. You also won’t be charged an annual fee and you’ll have access to great account management tools that will help you stay on top of your credit. You can set up customized account alerts, automatic payments or use the online bill pay. Plus, you’ll get free access to a monthly FICO score report, so you can track your progress.

For more credit card options, you can search through our credit card reviews using our “Card Type,” “Card Issuer” and “Credit Rating” filters. To learn more about credit cards, credit management and the latest credit card deals, follow our credit card blog.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.