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In general, you need a good to excellent credit score to get a rewards credit card.
According to the 850-point FICO scoring model, the one credit card issuers most commonly use, a good score is 670 to 739. A score of 740 or above is considered very good to exceptional.
The higher your credit score, the more likely it is you'll qualify for premium rewards cards—and the better the perks, like intro bonuses and airport lounge access, you'll get access to.
Here's what you should know about credit score requirements for rewards cards, and how to reach them if your scores aren't quite there yet.
You Need a Good to Excellent Credit Score to Get a Rewards Card
Rewards credit cards come with major benefits, and to qualify for the privilege of using them, you'll need a credit score of 670 or higher. The closer your score is to 850, the more likely it is you'll be eligible for the cards with the most valuable perks.
Credit card companies want your business if you have good or excellent credit, since they anticipate you'll be a trustworthy customer who won't miss payments. Rewards are a way they can entice you to sign up for a particular card, and to use that card for many of your purchases. If you have a fair or poor credit score, you're considered a greater risk to lenders, and issuers in turn may not be as interested in securing you as a rewards card customer.
If you're not sure what your credit score is, there are lots of ways to find out. Check with your bank and current credit card issuers to see if they offer free credit score monitoring. Many websites also offer free credit scores if you register for an account, including Experian, which provides free FICO® Scores☉ .
Know that while a credit card issuer's decision-making will rely heavily on your credit scores, they look at additional factors, too, including your income and current debt load. You'll also need to be at least 21 years old to qualify; applicants between 18 and 20 must prove they earn an independent income.
Look Into These Rewards Credit Cards
The best rewards card for you will have perks that align with your spending, and offer easy redemption options for your rewards.
Some cards give you points for each purchase that you can use to buy flights and hotel stays; others give you cash back on what you buy, which can help reduce your credit card balance. Take time to analyze where most of your spending goes, what you want to get out of your new rewards card and which card will best help you reach your goals. For instance, do you spend a lot on travel or on meals out? Do you want a card with a straightforward rewards structure or one with varying rewards categories you can use to maximize your earnings?
Depending on your goals, one of these cards could be for you:
- If you're a jet-setter: The ERROR is a flexible travel rewards card that charges no foreign transaction fees and waives its annual fee of ERROR $95 the first year. You'll get a sign-up bonus of ERROR miles, worth $500 in travel rewards, if you spend ERROR on purchases in the first ERROR months as a cardholder.
- If you want a simple rewards structure: The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer provides cash back at the same rate for every purchase: 1% back when you buy an item, and another 1% back when you pay it off. That makes it easy to both rack up and use rewards, on everything from travel to groceries, without having to understand complex redemption programs.
- If you're a college student: The Discover it® Student Cash Back card lets college students take advantage of rewards, including an exclusive offer available to new cardmembers to match on all the cash back you earn in your first year with the card. The rewards rate is solid: 5% back in rotating categories such as grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations up to the quarterly maximum when you activate, plus 1% back on all other purchases.
- If you're loyal to a specific airline: Frequent Delta flyers can save by using the ERROR, for example, which waives the charge on your first checked bag and gives you Main Cabin 1 priority boarding on Delta flights. Southwest Airlines loyalists can get a $75 Southwest travel credit each year from the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, plus 20% back as a statement credit on drinks and Wi-Fi on Southwest flights.
Consider Improving Your Credit Before Applying
The perks of rewards cards could incentivize you to up your credit score—in addition to benefits like lower interest rates on loans and a potentially easier time qualifying for new credit. To improve your credit score, try these tactics:
- Put bills on autopay. Since payment history is the biggest contributor to your credit score, try not to miss even a single credit card, loan or utility bill payment. Set up automatic payments from your checking account so you never fall behind, but make sure your account has enough funds to avoid overdrawing it.
- Cut down on debt. Your credit utilization, or the amount of available credit you're using compared with your credit limit, is the second most important element of your credit score. If you've been carrying a balance on a current credit card, pay it off before you apply for a new one. Avoid applying for new lines of credit in the months before getting a new credit card, too, since doing so could land hard inquiries on your credit report. These could lead to a brief dip in your score, since financial institutions may view customers who frequently seek credit as a lending risk.
- Dispute errors on your credit report. Check your credit report to make sure your personal information is correct, that all the accounts listed are those you opened, and that all payments were accurately reported. Certain errors can bring down your score. If you see an on-time payment incorrectly listed as late, for instance, file a dispute with the appropriate credit bureau to have it corrected.
Use Rewards Cards the Right Way
Qualifying for a rewards card is just the start. Choosing one that you'll use regularly—and has perks that work for your spending—is the next step.
But take care not to charge more than you can pay off each month. While that's an important financial strategy no matter what, it's especially crucial when your goal is to earn rewards; they'll lose value if you carry a balance and accrue interest on your purchases. Spend enough to get the cash back or points you'll use, then pay off your balance monthly so you can get the most out of your new card.
Another thing: Never spend more than you would otherwise with the sole intention of reaping rewards for the money you spend. Make sure your rewards work for you, not the other way around.