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On a radio interview recently I was talking about some of the best credit cards from Credit.com’s Best Credit Cards in America series, including cards with great rewards programs, 0% balance transfers and loads of perks. The host agreed they sounded great, “But they’re only for people with perfect credit, right?” he asked.

It’s a common perception that you need an excellent credit score to get the best credit cards. Yes, card issuers love to give the best deals to those with the best credit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get one if you don’t fall into that category.

“I do not believe that the best credit cards are too hard to get,” says credit card expert and Credit.com contributor Jason Steele. “Many of the best cards in every category I examine for our Best Credit Cards in America series do require that applicants have high credit scores, but many offer a range of interest rates. This is an indication that applicants with less than perfect credit are being accepted.”

In other words, lenders have the ability to adjust for risk by offering a range of interest rates. The card you’ll get will depend on the information in your credit reports and on your application. 

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Not that long ago, an offer for an airline miles credit card with a big sign-up offer crossed my desk. (Normally this program offers 30,000 miles when you sign up. but every once in a while they up the ante to 50,000 miles.) I was concerned about applying because I was in the midst of a credit report dispute. But I went ahead, and guess what? I got the card. My credit wasn’t perfect (the dispute involved recent late payments that shouldn’t be there) but I still qualified.

While you don’t want to waste time, or create unnecessary credit inquiries, by applying for cards you can’t qualify for, don’t automatically assume you are out of the running just because you don’t have perfect credit. Card issuers know there are plenty of profitable customers among consumers with good but not exceptional credit. 

Still, it’s wise to do your homework first. Get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com and review your credit scores so you can get an idea of how strong (or not) your credit is. While your score is valuable information, even more important is to look at how you compare to other consumers. Are you in the excellent, good, fair or poor category? (You can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

While issuers are reluctant to spell out the exact qualifications they require, you can check Credit.com’s credit card comparison tool or a similar search engine to see what kinds of customers lard issuers are looking for. Another strategy is to call your current card issuer and see if you can switch to a program that is a better fit for you. For example, perhaps you have an airline rewards card but you never use those points. You might be able to get a cash-back card to replace that one.

If at First You Don’t Succeed… 

If you are turned down for a card you really want, you don’t have to take no for an answer. Most card issuers are willing to reconsider your application. Perhaps they will want you to close another account to get this one. Or maybe they can start you off with a lower credit line. The answer may not always be “yes” but there’s no harm in asking them to take another look. You can find a list of credit card issuers’ reconsideration hotlines here.

Keep in mind throughout this process, issuers want customers. Give them a reason to say “yes” to your application. “Having a credit card is a privilege, not a right, and card issuers are acting in their interest by only issuing their top cards to consumers who have a record of paying their bills on time and avoiding excessive debt,” says Steele. “Those who follow these two rules will be nearly guaranteed to be approved for any card they apply for.”

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