Best Credit Cards for Fair/Average Credit of December 2023

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A credit-building card’s cost has a large influence on its overall score and our decision to include it in our best cards list. This is because cards in this category tend to be much pricier than traditional credit cards designed for people with a good or better credit score. 

We compare a card’s total cost, including any annual fees, account activation fees, monthly fees and more against the total cost of other cards in the credit-building category and assign each card a score based on its affordability. We also factor rewards-earning potential into our assessment of a credit-building card’s total cost, subtracting expected earnings from the sum of its fees. 

To get a sense of a credit-building card’s rewards-earning potential, we estimate its average annual rewards rate and average annual earnings based on the most popular spending categories (as covered in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer spending report). 

However, we use a slightly lower spending assumption ($300 per month or $3,600 per year) to estimate average earnings, assuming credit-builders will start out with a lower credit limit, will want to keep credit utilization low and will focus primarily on small purchases they can easily pay off.

While low-cost credit-building cards will always be at a major advantage in our scoring system and will likely earn a higher spot on our best cards list, no-annual-fee credit-building cards can be hard to come by, especially if you’re looking for an unsecured card. With this in mind, we may include unsecured cards with high fees in our list if they offer other benefits for credit-builders, like a high starting credit limit or useful perks.

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A card’s APR is also a major factor in its credit-building score. Each card’s average APR is compared against the average APR of other cards in the category, and the cards with lower-than-average APRs receive a higher rating. 

Given the many costs students face — from textbooks to laptops — the presence of an introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers also plays a role in a student card’s score and its inclusion on our list. 

Though high APRs are hard to avoid when you’re just starting out or working on your score, credit-builders and students should strive for as low an APR as possible since they’re likely to either be new to managing cards or trying to establish better financial habits and avoid falling into debt.

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