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Rewards credit cards are some of the most sought-after credit cards. According to a May 2017 Experian survey, 45% of the participants said they wanted credit cards with rewards. These credit cards pay an incentive—cash back, points, or miles—on the purchases you make. After you’ve accumulated enough rewards, you can redeem them for cash back, a credit card statement credit, flights, hotel stays, and more. Credit card issuers reserve rewards credit cards for the most creditworthy consumers. The exact credit score you need to get a rewards card depends on the card you’re applying for.
Credit scores generally range from 300 to 850. The higher your credit score, the more favorably lenders and credit card issuers view you, and the more credit cards you’re able to qualify for. Want to know where your credit stands? You can check your credit score for free using a few different services—Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Capital One’s CreditWise, Discover’s FICO Credit Scorecard, and WalletHub are a few. You can also purchase your FICO score.
Credit card companies look at more than your credit score when evaluating your application. The details of your credit history and your income can matter, too.
Some credit card issuer websites include the credit level required for each credit card, making it easier to tell whether you have the credit score you need to get a rewards credit card. For credit cards that don’t disclose a recommended credit level, you’ll have to use your best judgment based on the credit card issuer and the rewards structure. Checking your credit score before you apply for a rewards credit card helps you narrow down your options.
Credit cards with the best rewards rate typically require you to have excellent credit. A credit score in the upper 700s or higher gives you access to the best rewards credit cards—those that pay higher rewards, offer huge sign-up bonuses, and come with extra perks and benefits.
You'll prove to credit card issuers that you're trustworthy enough to have your choice of credit cards through a number of your actions. These include being responsible with your credit for several years, having no late payments or other derogatory credits on your credit report, and keeping your existing credit card balances low.
Someone with a credit score in the lower 700s can get approved for most, but not all, rewards credit cards. Premium rewards credit cards, which have higher rewards payouts and often higher annual fees, are typically off-limits to applicants with scores below the 740s.
You can fall into this category even with a clean credit report if you don’t have a long credit history or you don’t have experience with multiple types of credit.
As your credit score falls into the 600s, your options for a credit card—particularly rewards cards—become more limited. Previous late payments, high credit card balances, multiple credit inquiries, and old delinquencies can keep you from being approved for credit cards with the highest rewards rates. Instead, look for rewards credit cards with lower payout rates and fewer perks. If you’re a student, shop around for credit cards geared toward students.
Having a poor credit score (600 and below) severely limits your options for most credit cards, including rewards credit cards. It doesn’t mean you can’t get approved for a rewards credit card, but your options are far more narrow.
The Discover it Secured card is a great option for someone who’s rebuilding their credit score but wants to earn rewards. The credit card requires you to make a security deposit against your credit limit. Your purchases earn rewards and you’ll get your deposit back after several months as long as you make all your payments on time.
What Lenders Consider Besides Credit Scores
Your credit score isn’t the only thing credit card issuers check to qualify you for a rewards credit card. They’ll also consider your income, the amount of debt you have, how many credit cards you have open, and any recent delinquencies, along with a few other factors. Having your credit in the best shape possible improves your chances of being approved for a rewards credit card.
To limit the number of people who open credit cards just to get a new cardmember bonus, some credit card issuers limit the number of credit cards you can open within a period of time. Even with excellent credit, you can be denied for some credit cards if you’ve opened several credit cards within the past two years. Pay attention to each credit card issuer’s fine print to be sure the number credit cards you’ve opened in the past two years won’t count against you.