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4 best credit cards for fair credit in Canada

StoryTime Studio / Shutterstock

Fact Checked: Scott Birke

🗓️

Updated: October 16, 2023

We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Please be aware that some (or all) products and services linked in this article are from our sponsors.

We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Please be aware this post may contain links to products from our partners. We may receive a commission for products or services you sign up for through partner links.

If you have a fair credit score of 600 to 650, you might feel like certain things in the finance world just aren’t for you. Maybe you feel like credit cards aren’t realistic, but there are more credit cards for fair credit than you might realize. Don’t settle for a mediocre card just because your score isn’t perfect.

We’ve rounded up a list of the best cards for those with lower credit score requirements than other cards and better benefits. Here are the five best credit cards for fair credit including some that offer cash back, some that offer travel rewards, some with no annual fee and more.

Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit Scores of 650 or Less

Best overall credit card for fair credit: BMO CashBack® Mastercard®

Best fair credit credit card for cash back: MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard®

Best balance transfer credit card for fair credit: CIBC Select Visa* Card

Best low interest credit card for fair credit: BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®*

Expert tip: Using easy to get credit cards to boost your credit score

High-end credit cards with all the bells and whistles of top-tier perks and benefits will require a good credit score. But that doesn’t mean that Canadians with fair credit scores need to settle for a credit card with no perks. While the benefits of these best credit cards for fair credit may not be at the same level as some of the high-end premium cards, you can still earn rewards or cash back and find no annual-fee cards, even if you have a lower credit score. Remember, paying off your credit card in full and on time is also a great way to boost your credit score so that, in the future, you can apply and qualify for a more lucrative credit card.

—Hannah Logan, Money.ca credit card, saving and travel expert

Best overall: BMO CashBack® Mastercard®

Quick Facts

Purchase APR: 20.99%

Cash Advance APR: 22.99%

Annual fee: $0

Recommended credit score: Fair-Good

Pros

Pros

  • No annual fee*
  • 3% cash back on groceries*
  • 1% cash back on recurring bill payments like streaming purchases, subscriptions, and utility payments*
  • 0.5% cash back on all other purchases*
  • 25% off on rentals through participating Alamo Rent a Car or National Car Rental locations*
  • 15% off admission to Cirque du Soleil shows in Canada and 20% off resident shows in Las Vegas, Nevada*
  • Ability to add additional cardholders at no added cost*
Cons

Cons

  • High purchase interest rate
  • $500 spending limit per statement period for 3% cash back and 1% cash back*
  • 2.5% foreign transaction fee for all purchases made outside of Canada*

The BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* is unusually generous for credit cards available to those with average scores, which is why we’ve chosen it as one of the best credit cards for fair credit overall.

This credit card from the Bank of Montreal has no annual fee* and earns a solid regular cash back rate of up to 3% cash back. That’s 3% cash back at grocery stores*; 1% cash back on recurring bill payments* (like eligible streaming services, subscriptions, and monthly utility payments); and 0.5% cash back on everything else*. And as an introductory promotion, you can earn 5% cash back for the first three months on up to $2,500 in qualified spending ($500 each for the top two bonus categories and $1,500 on everything else). Plus, a $50 cash back bonus when you spend $6,000 or more in the bonus offer period giving you up to $175 total in cash back in your first year*. This card also comes with extended warranty*.

Most cashback cards for people with average credit will either charge an annual fee for earn rates at that level or charge no annual fee but will offer low earn rates and no sign-up bonus to speak of. The BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* is an all-around great credit card for anyone with a credit score of at least 650 (which is likely the score you’ll need to qualify) and an annual personal income of $15,000 or more.

If you don’t think your spending habits are a good fit for this card’s best cash back categories or you already have a credit card you like for your groceries and subscriptions, choose a different card from this list. You also won’t be eligible for this card if you’ve declared bankruptcy in the past seven years. But if you can’t qualify on your own but you know someone who might be willing to add you as an authorized user so you can boost your credit.

Read our full review.

*Terms and conditions apply.

Best credit card for fair credit for cash back: MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard®

Quick Facts

Regular purchase APR: 19.99%

Cash Advance APR: 24.99%

Annual fee: $0

Recommended credit score: Fair-good

Pros

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 4 points†† per dollar spent on eligible dining, grocery, digital media, membership, and utility purchases for the first 90 days from account opening
  • 4 points†† per dollar spent on eligible dining, grocery, digital media, membership, and utility purchases for the first 90 days from account opening
  • 1 point‡ per dollar spent on everything else
  • Annual points bonus‡ of 10% up to 10,000 per year
Cons

Cons

  • High purchase interest rate
  • $10,000 spending limit per year for 4 points†† per dollar or 2 points‡ per dollar earn rates

Credit cards for fair credit overview

A lot of the credit cards for fair credit on our list earn cash back rewards, but the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard® stands out for its good base earning rate on all spending and fairly high annual maximum. It’s one of the best credit cards for fair credit if you want to earn money on your everyday spending without changing anything about it.

The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard® starts out strong with a promotional rewards rate of four points†† per dollar on eligible spending categories including eligible dining, grocery, digital media (e.g. streaming), memberships and subscriptions, and household utility purchases. You’ll earn this rate for the first 90 days after opening your account. After that, the rate drops down to a still-respectable two points‡ per dollar on the same categories. 

And although there is a cap of $10,000 in annual spending, this is per category, so it ends up being really generous each year. And after you’ve hit that limit, you’ll still earn one point‡ per dollar on everything. You can redeem points‡ to shop, travel, or pay yourself back at a rate. 

One of the best things about this card is you won’t really have to think about how you’re using it. Most likely, the top-earning categories match up with your top spending categories, and you won’t have to keep track of any changing categories or offers to earn as much cash back as possible. A card like this is often reserved for applicants with at least good credit, but you can qualify with a credit score in the fair range. There is no minimum income requirement.

This is a great rewards credit card in general and one of our favourite MBNA cards. But watch out for that interest rate, as it’s high at 19.99% for purchases. If you’re not planning to carry a balance, choose this card to save when you spend.

Read our full review.

‡, ††, ✪, ***, Terms and conditions apply

This offer is not available for residents of Quebec.

Sponsored advertising. MBNA is a division of The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) and TD is not responsible for the contents of this site including any editorials or reviews that may appear on this site. For complete information on this MBNA credit card, please click on the “Apply Now” button.

The Toronto-Dominion Bank is the issuer of this credit card. MBNA is a division of The Toronto-Dominion Bank. ®MBNA and other-trademarks are the property of The Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Best credit card for fair credit for balance transfers: CIBC Select Visa* Card

Quick Facts

Regular balance transfer rate: 13.99%

Purchase APR: 13.99%

Cash Advance APR: 13.99%

Annual fee: $29

Credit score: 670-739

Pros

Pros

  • 0% interest for up to 10 months with a 1% transfer fee†
  • Lower regular interest rates for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances
  • No transaction fees on CIBC Global Money Transfers™ (paid off on time)
  • Ability to add up to three additional cardholders at no added cost
Cons

Cons

  • Few rewards or benefits
  • $29 annual fee
  • 2.5% foreign transaction fee

Making a balance transfer or transferring the balance from one or more of your credit cards to one credit card can be a smart strategy for paying off your debt. Not only does this let you consolidate your debt for simpler repayment but it can save you a significant amount of money in interest over time by reducing the total amount you’ll owe. And especially if you’re working to improve your credit, paying down your consumer debt is important.

Credit cards that allow you to make transfers without immediately charging you interest on these new balances as you work to pay them off are valuable tools. They can help you turn high-interest credit card debt into something more manageable.

The CIBC Select Visa* Card is one of the best credit cards for fair credit specifically for balance transfers because it offers a balance transfer introductory period of 10 months during which you will pay 0% interest on transferred balances (with a 1% transfer fee)†. And after that, the regular Balance Transfer Annual Interest Rate is just 13.99%†, which is pretty low compared to other similar cards that may charge up to 25.99% interest for balance transfers. Also, the CIBC Select Visa* Card has a balance transfer fee of just 1%† versus the 3% we often see for this type of transaction.

While this credit card does have an annual fee, it’s only $29, which is about the lowest you can ask for. And you’ll receive a rebate for this for the first year†. The Purchase Annual Interest Rate is 13.99%† and the Cash Advance Annual Interest Rate is 13.99%†. This credit card does not earn cash back or rewards and has a short list of benefits beyond no or low interest, so it might not be the general-purpose card you’re looking for. But if you plan to make a balance transfer soon, consider applying. A minimum household income of $15,000 is required†.

Read our full review.

† Conditions apply

Quebec Residents – Learn More about this CIBC product here.

RĂ©sidents du QuĂ©bec : Pour en savoir plus sur ce produit CIBC, suivez ce lien.

Best low interest credit card for bad credit: BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®*

Quick Facts

Annual fee: $0

Purchase APR: 13.99%

Cash Advance APR: 15.99%

Minimum credit score: Good

If you have a credit score of at least 650 and you’re looking for a credit card for fair credit that won’t charge an outrageous interest rate on purchases and balance transfers, the BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®* is tough to beat. This is an unsecured credit card with lower interest rates for everything than the average credit card, especially credit cards targeted toward those with average scores.

The BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®* is the right card for anyone who regularly carries credit card debt. It charges a 13.99% interest rate on regular purchases, which is really low compared to all credit cards in Canada, not just fair credit cards. But you can even avoid paying interest entirely on some purchases by setting up BMO PaySmartTM Installment Plans. This lets you split larger purchases into smaller payments spread out over three, six, or twelve months for a fee of up to 0.90%* instead of the full interest rate. 

And with a 0.99% interest rate on balance transfers for 9 months from account opening and a transfer fee of only 2%*, this card is not a bad pick for balance transfers either. The $29 annual fee is more than fair, though still ideal, but you may be eligible to have it waived every year you have a BMO Performance Plan Chequing Account*.

BMO will be looking for credit scores of 650 or higher (Good), ideally, and there is no income requirement to meet. If you can swing this, this card could be right for you. The BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard® is one of the best credit cards for fair credit for anyone focused more on saving money with a lower interest rate than with cash back rewards because they don’t always pay off their balance in full.

Read our full review.

BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®* vs. CIBC Select Visa* Card

You might be wondering what sets the BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®* apart from the CIBC Select Visa* Card. They seem pretty similar, right? 

The fact of the matter is, these cards are similar, even right down to their annual fees and Purchase Interest Rate. But the CIBC Select Visa* Card is slightly better for balance transfers because it charges 0% interest for 10 months and has only a 1% fee† (rather than 9 monthswith a 2% fee*). 

*Terms and conditions apply.

What is fair credit?

Canadian credit scores range from 300 to 900. Although it’s difficult to accurately determine where exactly the average Canadian falls, 650 is generally considered to be somewhere around the middle for those with credit. 

With a credit score at or slightly above/below the average, you may often find yourself right on the line of eligibility requirements. Some credit card issuers will consider your application after seeing your score and others will not. It depends on what kind of product you’re applying for and what the rest of your file looks like, from your income to your borrowing habits.

There are a lot of different events that can lead to a fair credit score. If you don’t have any credit yet because you haven’t borrowed money, you won’t have a credit score yet. This is also true of those new to Canada. In these cases, you will build credit slowly as you pay your bills, take out loans, and otherwise use credit and may soon find yourself in low-fair to fair territory.

But there are also factors that can contribute to your credit score falling from good to average or fair. For example, enough missed payments on your report or applying for new credit too frequently can decrease your score. It’s also possible to dip in and out between fair and good credit depending on your borrowing and bill payment history. 

Then there are ways you can fall more substantially. Individuals with bankruptcies, for example, will need to work hard to build their credit back. Likely, they will restart at 300 and pass through fair to get to good.

With the wide range of factors affecting credit scores, keeping yours in great shape is challenging but important. You can check your credit score at any time through TransUnion and Equifax without affecting your credit.

Read more: The ultimate guide to credit scores in Canada

How to choose a credit card card for fair credit

Choosing a credit card when you have average credit is about knowing what options you have and what options you don’t have because you don’t have the ideal credit score. Let’s start with how you should be thinking about interest rates.

Interest

If you have average or fair credit, you’ll mostly get stuck with rates somewhere in the mid- to high-range for any credit card and may be limited to only cards with higher ranges.

So when you see an interest rate range, assume that you’ll land somewhere in the top 50% of those rates. On loans, credit cards, and other lines of credit, the best or lowest APYs are typically offered to the applicants with the highest credit scores, highest incomes, and cleanest credit histories (i.e. no delinquencies, missed payments, bankruptcies, etc.).

But that’s not to say that you can’t comparison shop to find the best rates you’re likely to qualify for. There can be significant differences in interest rates from one card to the next, and if you see yourself carrying a balance, it’s worth shopping around. For example, the BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard®* and CIBC Select Visa* Card have the lowest rates from our picks.

Fees

Annual fees are the biggest expense to consider when browsing credit cards, but there are a lot of smaller fees to think about too. Balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, foreign currency conversion or foreign transaction fees, and late fees are a few more expenses charged by all cards, not just credit cards for fair credit. Some of these can be avoided with responsible use while others can’t.

Even if you don’t choose a credit card based solely on fees, you should know what you’re getting yourself into before signing up.

Annual fees

You may decide to rule credit cards out based on annual fees alone if that’s not an expense you have room in your budget for right now. 

Unfortunately, credit cards for fair credit are more likely to charge annual fees because this is a way for credit card issuers to protect themselves, but there are still enough no-annual-fee credit cards out there – including the BMO CashBack® Mastercard®*, MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard®, and the Home Trust Preferred Visa – that you can choose from if you’re taking a hard stance on annual fees. Which is totally your prerogative. 

Read more: Why pay for a credit card with an annual fee?

Rewards

Not every credit card is going to come with a rewards program. And sometimes, you may have to choose between rewards and other benefits such as lower interest rates.

But if you are interested in rewards, cash back is one of the best options as it tends to be the most flexible to redeem. For example, maybe one day you feel like using your cash back for a statement credit and another day you feel like taking yourself shopping (online). When you just earn cash, you can have this option. Points and miles/travel rewards are great too, but they can be a bit more difficult to apply and use for all they’re worth.

Income requirements

Many Canadian credit cards are fairly transparent about what your income needs to be in order to qualify when applying. They will tell you the absolute minimum annual income they’ll accept and aren’t likely to budge. Very often, this is around $15,000 for your household. 

You’ll need to state your income on almost any credit card application. But while most cards won’t require you to submit proof of income documents such as tax returns or earnings statements, credit cards for fair credit might. Be prepared for this when applying, especially if your credit history contains some red flags.

When considering credit cards you can qualify for with your income, you also want to think about which credit card benefits are going to be most appropriate for your money and lifestyle. For example, if a card has a low cap on rewards spending, would this affect you? And if the card has a high annual fee, is it worth the savings you could potentially get?

Read more: What credit card should you have at your income level?

Welcome offers for fair credit credit cards

Bonuses are great. Free money is great. But try not to get so caught up in enticing welcome offers and promotions that you forget the most important features you’re looking for in a credit card. If a credit card is a good fit and happens to offer a bonus for new applicants, fantastic. We’re happy for you if it works out!

But if a credit card doesn’t feel like a good fit because it doesn’t have the benefits you’re looking for or you don’t think you can qualify for it with your credit score, history, and/or income, don’t waste your time applying. It’s not meant to be.

Unsecured vs. secured credit cards: Which is best for fair credit?

For fair credit borrowers, both unsecured cards and secured credit cards are on the table, and they each offer distinct advantages and disadvantages. So what kind of credit card should you choose? 

To start, let’s talk about some of the main differences between unsecured and secured credit cards. These are: 

  • Secured credit cards require security deposits as collateral while unsecured cards do not (this mitigates risk for lenders and makes it more difficult for you to go into debt)
  • Credit limits are typically lower for secured cards and are usually determined by the amount you deposit
  • Secured cards may have higher interest rates
  • You can qualify for select secured and unsecured cards with little credit and poor scores but will have an easier time qualifying for a secured card

The most important similarity between these two types of cards is that both affect your credit. For either kind, you’re responsible for paying off your bill each month and your payment activity may be reported to the two main credit bureaus in Canada, Equifax and TransUnion.

For better or worse, your payment activity will show up in your credit history no matter what kind of card you choose. So late or missed payments will hurt while on-time payments will help.

Secured cards tend to be better for newer borrowers and those with worse scores. There are downsides like fees and lower credit limits, but they are often the smartest option for many people including those struggling with debt and those with low or no steady income. They may also be the only realistic choice if your credit is on the low end of fair or bordering on poor.

And remember, you can always get an unsecured credit card in the future if you want to.

Read more: What’s the difference between a secured and an unsecured credit card?

How to qualify for credit cards with fair credit

Having fair credit will, unfortunately, put some financial products out of reach for you, and that includes a lot of the best credit cards. But you will still be able to qualify for a number of different secured and unsecured credit cards.

If you need to apply for a credit card right now, always check to see if you’re preapproved for a card you’re interested in before you submit any formal applications. This will help you avoid adding hard inquiries or hard checks to your report, which can damage your credit.

If you can hold off on applying for a new credit card until you’ve had a chance to improve your score, try to wait until your credit is on the high end of average or better. In general, the credit cards with the most benefits and best terms want applicants with scores of at least 700 or 750.

But it also depends on why your credit is fair. If it’s lower because you’re still new to credit and building your credit history up for the first time, you could have an easier time getting approved for new credit than someone with missed payments and bankruptcies in their credit report.

Whether you’re applying for a card now or not, keep working on your credit! You won’t change your credit score overnight and it could take several months before you see a real difference. But any progress you can make to prove that you’re a responsible borrower can help your chances of getting the credit cards you really want down the road.

How to bump your credit score from fair to good

If you’re in the fair credit range right now, chances are you don’t want to stay there forever. But fortunately, there are a number of different things you can tackle to bump your credit score into the next bracket and improve your chances of borrowing in the future.

Achieving a good credit score is about consistency. There are no guaranteed shortcuts for bringing your score up quickly, but there are several steps you can take now.

Avoid applying for new credit â€“ Do your best to use the credit you have before applying for more. Applying for new credit such as loans and credit cards is not a good idea if your credit isn’t in a good place because it can indicate to lenders that you’re short on cash (which might be true, but having this reflected in your credit file will only make matters worse) and potentially living above your means.

Use the credit you have â€“ Especially if your credit history is thin or limited, you want to do your best to use the lines of credit you already have open. This can show that you’re able to manage your debt and could be ready for more. Using some credit and then paying it back right away is better evidence of responsibility than using no credit at all.

Just be mindful of your credit utilization ratio, or the total amount of credit you’re using over your combined credit limit across all your cards and accounts. If your credit utilization is high, lenders may worry about your ability to continue paying off your debt. In these cases, they’d want to see you pumping the brakes rather than applying to borrow more.

Keep your debt-to-income ratio low â€“ Use the credit cards you have, if you have any, for everyday purchases and spending, but avoid carrying balances. Keeping your cards paid off will lower your overall debt-to-income ratio or the total percentage of your income that goes toward debt repayment. Maxing out your overall credit limit every month can reflect poorly on your money management skills and raise concerns about your cash flow.

If you have a lot of credit card debt, consider a balance transfer.

Make your payments on time â€“ One of the best things you can do for your long-term credit health is to get into the habit of paying all your bills on time, not just your credit card bills. Take advantage of the ability to make automatic payments whenever you can so late payments don’t end up on your report and bring your score down.

FAQs

Can you qualify for a credit card after bankruptcy?

Yes, you may be able to qualify for a credit card even with a recent bankruptcy in your credit history, but your options will be limited. Many cards will automatically rule you out as a candidate if you have an outstanding bankruptcy in your credit file, including credit cards for fair credit. But fortunately, most of them are upfront about this before you even start the application.

Bankruptcies usually stay in your credit file for between six and seven years after they’ve been discharged or your debts have been removed from your credit and are no longer your responsibility. After this has happened, you can apply for credit cards. But until bankruptcies have been officially discharged, you won’t be allowed to apply for new credit.

If you have a recent bankruptcy, you might be better off looking at credit cards for poor credit rather than those for fair credit as cards designed for lower credit scores are more likely to be more forgiving about things like defaults.

Read more: 6 necessary steps to repair your credit after bankruptcy

Should you get an unsecured or secured credit card if you have fair credit?

Secured credit cards tend to be the easiest cards to qualify for. So if your credit is in really poor shape, consider starting with one of these. Some secured cards can even graduate into unsecured cards after a set number of on-time monthly payments if that’s what you want to end up doing. Otherwise, you can always just use a secured card and apply for an unsecured card when you’re ready.

What are good alternatives to credit cards for people with fair credit?

Credit cards are still an option for you if you have a fair credit score and/or thin or less-than-ideal credit history, but you may decide that a different spending tool is a more responsible choice for you right now.

If you’re not ready for a credit card, look into some alternatives to give you the spending flexibility you need without some of the risks that come with borrowing (the biggest one, of course, being going into debt). Prepaid debit cards are just one safer alternative.

Read more: Credit card alternatives: debit cards, prepaid cards and charge cards

Summary

Fair credit shouldn’t prevent you from getting a credit card. Credit cards are for everybody, and there are so many with more lenient credit score requirements that you can qualify for at this stage of your credit journey rather than having to wait until the next one, whatever that looks like for you. Many even earn cash back and other rewards, like several on our list.

The point is, you have options. Take advantage of them!

Read more:

BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information.

About our author

Lauren Graves
Lauren Graves, Author

Lauren Graves is a writer and editor specializing in finance writing and education.

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The content provided on Money.ca is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.