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Why you should apply for credit cards based on credit score

Your score heavily impacts if you’ll qualify for a card.

Wondering how to pick your next credit card? Start with your credit score.

With this simple information, you may be able to narrow your options right away and avoid the headache of having your card applications repeatedly denied. Plus, you’ll be able to avoid unnecessary drops in your credit score.

Why you should apply for credit cards based on credit score

Your credit score – also called a FICO score or Beacon – is far more than simply a passing consideration — it’s one of the key indicators whether you’ll qualify for a credit card.

If your credit score isn’t high enough for a credit card, there’s a good chance you’ll be denied. You’ll want to avoid denied card applications for a few reasons:

  • Each time you apply for a card, your credit score temporarily drops.
    After you submit a credit card application, the provider will check your credit report with a hard inquiry. This “hard pull” will typically cause your credit score to drop by a few points.If you applied for a card and were denied, your credit score may be lower when you’re ready to apply for another card. This might decrease your approval odds again.
  • Lenders can see if you’ve applied for new credit.
    Each time a hard inquiry is added to your credit report, subsequent lenders can see the record. They usually take it as a bad sign if they see you’ve applied for many credit cards – it hints that you’re desperate for credit. Ultimately, they may deny your application based on this information.

This is why it’s smart to be selective about the cards you apply for. By aiming only for cards that fit your credit profile, you can increase your odds of approval and protect your credit score.

How do I find out my FICO credit score?

By law, you are entitled to receive a copy of your credit file once a year from Canada’s national credit bureaus, of which TransUnion and Equifax are the largest. These reports can usually be requested online or by phone and received either by mail or in person. You’ll have to present 2 pieces of ID before your request can be processed. Alternatively, you can pay a monthly fee to have regular access to your credit score and monitor changes as they occur (often, you’ll get other credit-related tools and resources with this fee as well).

Certain lenders let cardholders check their credit scores for free each month. There are also third-party services like Credit Verify that let you check your credit score once for a small fee or pay an ongoing fee to check your updated scores once a month.

Check your credit score

Credit score ranges

CACCF Credit Score Range And Ratings

Types of credit cards to apply for based on credit score

Different types of cards are best for people who fit different credit score ranges. For example, those with poor or fair credit might be better suited for a credit-building card with a low annual fee and that reports your payment history to Canada’s main credit bureaus.

Those with good to excellent credit scores are more likely to qualify for some of the best credit cards — including those that offer rewards, such as cashback or travel rewards.

Which credit cards should I apply for if I have poor credit?

If you have poor credit, we recommend you apply for a secured credit card with no credit check. That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down:

  • To open a secured credit card, you must put down a security deposit that’s typically a minimum of $200. Your deposit will usually be your credit limit.
  • A low credit score isn’t an issue if the provider doesn’t check your credit. Keep in mind the provider may have additional requirements and may charge annual fees and other costs.

If you have poor credit, watch out for unsecured cards

The best unsecured cards generally go to consumers with good to excellent credit. If you find an unsecured card that’s aimed at applicants with poor credit, you may find high interest rates, expensive annual fees, cringe-worthy terms and more.

Our advice: Strongly consider sticking with a secured card until you’ve repaired your credit.

Which credit cards should I apply for if I have fair credit?

With fair credit, you’ll still want to avoid most unsecured cards. For one, you may not qualify for the best ones. Also, the ones you do qualify for may offer poor terms, such as high annual fees or interest rates and even the lack of a grace period on interest.

Instead, consider these options:

  • Secured cards.
    You’ll have more options for secured cards versus someone with poor credit. You don’t have to apply solely for cards with no credit check. Plus, you may qualify for a secured card with rewards, no annual fees or low minimum deposits.
  • Store credit cards.
    Store credit cards are an option that most people miss. However, they can be a good choice because their providers often have more lenient requirements.
  • Some unsecured cards.
    There are some providers that offer legitimate products. Some providers use proprietary methods to evaluate applicants beyond traditional metrics like credit scores and income.

Which credit cards should I apply for if I have good to excellent credit?

With good to excellent credit, you can choose from a wide variety of credit cards. These might include:

  • Rewards cards.
    As you spend, you’ll earn cash back, points or travel miles. Cash back is pretty simple: you can usually redeem it as bank deposits or credit towards your monthly credit card bill (statement credit). Redeem points or miles for travel perks, transfers to airlines and hotels, gift cards, statement credit and more.
  • Balance transfer cards.
    If you have existing debt, you may be able to move it to a balance transfer credit card and get a low promotional APR on it for a limited time.
  • Low-APR cards.
    With strong credit, you may qualify for a lower-than-average interest rate. This is helpful if you typically like carrying a balance on your card.

You won’t automatically qualify for the card you want just because you have a good or excellent credit score. Each provider will evaluate you on a range of criteria, including your annual income and details on your credit report. Be selective and apply only for cards you think you’ll be approved for.

Compare credit cards based on your credit score

Here are a few credit cards we recommend based on your credit score. If you have poor credit, seriously consider a secured card with no credit check. With fair credit, consider one of the better secured cards that might offer low deposits or even rewards.

If you have good to excellent credit, you have many more options — including cards that offer lucrative cash back, points or miles.

Poor (300-599)Fair (600-649)Good to excellent (650-900)
  • Refresh Financial Secured Card
  • American Express Cobalt Card
  • Scotiabank Value Visa Card
  • BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
  • BMO AIR MILES Mastercard
  • American Express AIR MILES Gold Business Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card
  • American Express AIR MILES Platinum Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card from American Express
  • Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card
  • Business Platinum Card from American Express
  • TD Platinum Travel Visa Card
  • Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
  • ScotiaGold Passport Visa Card
  • American Express AIR MILES Gold Business Card
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card

Compare types of credit cards

Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
RBC Cash Back Mastercard
N/A
Up to 2% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get 2% cash back on grocery store purchases, and up to 1% cash back on all other qualifying purchases and pre-authorized payments.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to max. spend of $2,500). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
Tangerine World Mastercard
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of purchases in the first 2 months Until July 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
RBC Avion Visa Infinite
55,000 points
Up to 1 point per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to 55,000 Welcome Points. Get 35,000 points on approval and 20,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in your first 6 months. Apply by September 16, 2022.
OFFER
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of purchases in the first 2 months Until July 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
EXCLUSIVE
Neo Financial Mastercard
Get $25.00
Average 5% cash back
19.99% - 24.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Get $25 when you sign up for the Neo Financial Mastercard. Plus, earn bonuses like 15% cashback on your first purchase at most partners, and earn an average of 5% cashback at thousands of partners and at least 1% cashback guaranteed.
RBC Rewards+ Visa
3,500
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Earn up to 3,500 RBC Rewards points by going digital in the first 60 days.
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
0.99% rate on balance transfers for 9 months
N/A
12.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($20 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a rate of 0.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 2% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Walmart Rewards Mastercard
Up to $25 in Reward Dollars
Up to 1.25% cash back
19.89%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to $25 in bonus Walmart Reward Dollars.
American Express Cobalt Card
30,000 points
Up to 5x points per $1 spent
20.99%
$155.88
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 30,000 Membership Rewards points in your first year. Earn 2,500 Membership Rewards points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in net purchases on your card (up to 30,000 points).
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Knowing your credit score is essential to finding the right credit card. Armed with this knowledge, you can better gauge your chances of approval.

If you need to build your credit score, consider a secured credit card. You’ll find many great products that will report your payment history to the credit bureaus.

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