Key takeaways

  • While qualifying for a credit card with bad credit is challenging, it’s still possible. You may have the best odds with a retail credit card or a secured or unsecured card designed for people with bad credit.
  • Before applying for a credit card of your own, consider working to improve your credit score through Experian Boost or by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card.
  • Prequalifying for credit cards lets you see your approval odds without further hurting your credit score.

Bad credit can make life unnecessarily complicated and costly. FICO considers scores of up to 580 “bad credit,” so you’ll face similar consequences whether your score is at 560, 515 or even lower than that.

When extending credit, lenders and creditors consider those with poor credit as risky — meaning a higher likelihood of denied applications. It can toss you into a cycle that makes it difficult to build or rebuild credit. And without credit you can lean on to prove your creditworthiness, it’s easy to stay stuck.

But there are strategies you can use to get approved for a credit card with bad credit. While the tips, suggestions and strategies we recommend won’t necessarily help you qualify for the best credit cards on the market off the bat, they can help you get a credit card you can use to turn your situation around.

1. Give Experian Boost a try

If your credit score is on the low end, consider trying Experian Boost to increase your score with minimal effort. Experian Boost is a credit-building app that helps you get credit for payments you make toward subscription services and utility bills, for example. And it could be worth it to improve your Experian credit score quickly.

Here’s how it works: Rent payments and utility bills can count toward your credit score, but due to systemic lapses in communication, information about those payments rarely makes it to the credit bureaus. Landlords and service providers typically don’t go through the trouble of reporting your bill payments. But Experian Boost can collect that alternative data and take it to your credit report, with the potential to raise your credit score almost instantly.

2. Consider a secured credit card

Whether you experiment with Experian Boost or not, you may have better odds of approval for a secured credit card with a low credit score. This type of credit card requires a cash deposit as collateral, meaning you’re securing your own line of credit. The best secured cards report your responsible credit use to the three main credit bureaus, so your payments can help increase your credit score over time.

Another major benefit of secured credit cards is the fact that nearly anyone can get approved — poor credit or not. Also, note that your security deposit is fully refundable when you get to the point where you can graduate to an unsecured card or close your account in good standing.

3. Research credit cards for bad credit

You’ll find credit cards made for all credit types — including secured and unsecured options for those with poor credit. Even the best credit cards for bad credit tend to be light on benefits and heavy on fees and interest charges, but they can give you the chance to prove your creditworthiness when others won’t.

You might be surprised to find that many secured cards offer rewards for spending with no annual fee. The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers 1.5 percent cash back on all eligible purchases and unlimited 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel with a minimum $200 deposit that becomes your credit limit — with a clear path to a higher limit.

4. Apply for a retail credit card

Retail credit cards can be another option to consider if you have poor credit or no credit history at all. Cards in this niche are relatively easy to qualify for, although you’ll typically start out with a low credit limit at first.

That said, it’s worth noting that many store credit cards can only be used in one type of store or a specific brand of stores, which makes them unlike traditional Visa credit cards or Mastercard products. If you apply for a store card from Kohl’s, for example, you can only use it for purchases at Kohl’s.

On the upside, you can find store cards for use anywhere. Also, retail cards still report your credit balances and payments to the three credit bureaus. This means they can help you build credit when you use them responsibly, and all while you score special store discounts and other loyalty perks.

5. Prequalify without hurting your credit

If you’re skittish about applying for a credit card with bad credit because you’re unsure whether you’ll be approved, look for cards that allow you to prequalify without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a secured card that lets you check your approval odds and prequalify without a hard pull on your credit. And you can begin building credit with a security deposit as low as $200.

If you’re not sure which card you want to apply for, start with Bankrate’s free CardMatch tool, which lets you see if you’re prequalified for credit card offers with no hard inquiry on your credit reports.

6. Become an authorized user

Finally, ask a loved one whether you can become an authorized user on their credit card account. This strategy doesn’t actually require an application, and you’ll end up with a credit card you can use and build credit with.

Becoming an authorized user is a good option if you have a family member or trusted friend who has good credit and is willing to add you to their account. Just keep in mind that the primary account holder is ultimately responsible for paying all charges, and you can easily ruin a good relationship if you use your authorized card for purchases you can’t easily pay off.

The bottom line

Your credit card options are limited when you have a low credit score, but that doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent. There are plenty of ways to get access to credit that can help you boost your score, and some of your options may be more rewarding than you realize.

When you do get approved for a credit card, remember that the one you get right now doesn’t have to be forever. With some patience and plenty of on-time payments made on your current card, you can improve your credit score and graduate to a card with lower fees and stronger rewards in time.