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Lenders who extend you credit — whether it be in the form of a car loan or a new credit card — look at your credit score to decide how likely you are to pay back what you borrow. Your credit score falls between 300 (bad) and 850 (excellent).
But to make lending decisions easier, financial institutions categorize what kind of borrower you are by dividing consumers into five categories based on credit score.
If you have a credit score, your profile falls into one of the following categories: super-prime, prime, near-prime, subprime and deep subprime.
These names describe where you stand in comparison to the types of borrowers who qualify for the best or "prime" interest rates and financial products.
In recent decades, banks have fallen under scrutiny for using these categorizations to justify discriminatory mortgage lending and predatory lending (characterized by unreasonable fees, rates and payments) — two issues at the center of the 2008 subprime housing crisis.
However, the categorizations are meant to help both lenders and borrowers understand what kinds of credit products you qualify for, what kind of risk both parties take on and how terms like APR and the size of your loan are determined.
So before you borrow money, it's helpful to know what kind of borrower you currently are.
Using the most recent data from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Select breaks down the five different types of borrowers by credit score. Below, we take a look at the credit scores that make up these five categories of borrowers, why it matters and what kind of credit cards options are probably available to you.
The CFPB Consumer Credit Panel defines the five different types of borrowers by the following credit score ranges.
- Deep subprime: Credit scores below 580
- Subprime: Credit scores between 580 and 619
- Near-prime: Credit scores between 620 and 659
- Prime: Credit scores between 660 and 719
- Super-prime: Credit scores of 720 or above
These definitions can vary across different organizations. For example, the credit bureau Experian classified subprime borrowers with FICO credit scores between 580 and 669. A prime borrower, in that case, is anyone with a score above 669.
Not only is it important to be aware of what level of risk you pose to lenders, but knowing your borrower classification helps you when applying for loans or credit cards.
During a recession when credit is tight, certain borrowers have more access to new and cheaper credit.
Super-prime and prime borrowers are more likely to qualify for the best credit cards, higher credit limits, lower interest rates and more favorable terms. They'll have an easier time financing a college education, purchasing a home or earning generous sign-up bonus offers, like an introductory 0% APR period.
On the other end, subprime and deep subprime borrowers are less likely to qualify for new credit cards and more likely to receive much higher interest rates or have to make higher down payments to finance something like a new home.
Though a prime borrower with good or excellent credit has better approval odds than someone who is subprime, there are credit cards that exist specifically for those with bad credit or no credit history at all.
Now that you know the different types of borrowers, here are some examples of the best credit cards for each kind so you can compare and contrast their features.
- For deep subprime or subprime borrowers: If you're new to credit or you're working on rebuilding bad credit, start with a secured credit card. These cards are for beginners and don't require a high credit score to qualify, but you will likely need to pay a security deposit upfront (usually $200) that acts as your credit limit. Some cards to consider are the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card for a low deposit (see rates and fees), the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card for a low variable APR (if you carry a balance, which we don't recommend) and the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card for no credit check when you apply.
- For near-prime borrowers: For those with fair or average credit who are not yet considered a "prime" borrower but working their way there, you can move on from secured to an unsecured credit card. The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card offers no fees, the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) has a cash-back rewards program and the Capital One Platinum Credit Card comes with travel benefits and no annual fee; (see rates and fees).
- For prime borrowers: If you have a good credit score, you're likely considered a prime borrower, which opens the doors to many different types of credit cards. A few of our favorites are the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for travel; (see rates and fees), the Chase Freedom® for a cash-back welcome bonus and the Citi Simplicity® Card for an introductory interest-free period on both balance transfers and purchases.
- For super-prime borrowers: You don't need to have excellent credit in order to qualify for the best cards, but it can help you when it comes to earning a lower interest rate. And if you do have an excellent credit score, you might as well take advantage of it. The American Express® Gold Card is great for frequent travelers, while the Citi® Double Cash Card (see rates and fees) offers cash back. Terms Apply. Two popular cards in this category are also the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (excellent/good) and Chase Sapphire Reserve® (excellent), which come with welcome bonuses and luxury perks.
Once you qualify for one of the credit cards available to less-than-prime borrowers, you can work your way toward building a better credit score and moving your way up. When using your credit card, keep your balances low and make sure to always pay your bills on time.
Information about the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card and Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Petal 2 Visa Credit Card issued by WebBank.
Click here to view the Cardholder Agreement for the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card.
Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.