Key takeaways

  • While qualifying for a credit card with bad credit is challenging, it’s still possible with certain cards and credit-building strategies.
  • You can start building your credit score by using tools like Experian Boost or by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card.
  • Prequalifying for credit cards lets you see your approval odds without impacting your credit score.

You may have a harder time getting approved for a credit card if you have a bad credit score — or a score under 580, according to FICO.

Data from Bankrate’s CardMatch tool, which matches participating users with personalized offers from credit card issuers, shows that users with excellent credit had a 75 percent approval rate for all available CardMatch cards in 2023. Users with no credit or a limited credit history had a 29 percent approval rate, and users with bad credit faced a 23 percent approval rate.

Without access to credit that you can use responsibly, it can be difficult to build or rebuild credit. But while you may not qualify for the best credit cards on the market yet, there are ways to get approved for a credit card with bad credit. Check out these six tips:

1. Give Experian Boost a try

Experian Boost can help you increase your score with minimal effort.

Information about rent, utilities and subscription payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus. Experian Boost adds that alternative data to your credit report, which can quickly raise your credit score — but only if it reports positive data. To make sure Experian Boost has nothing negative to add to your credit report, you’ll have to continue to pay your bills on time and in full every month.

2. Consider a secured credit card

With a low credit score, you may have a better chance at getting a secured card than an unsecured. This type of credit card requires a cash deposit as collateral. The best secured cards report your responsible credit use to the three main credit bureaus, which can help increase your credit score over time.

Your security deposit should be fully refundable when you graduate to an unsecured card or close your account in good standing.

Many secured cards even offer rewards for spending with no annual fee. For example, the Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card 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. The minimum $200 deposit becomes your credit limit — with a clear path to a higher limit.

3. Research credit cards for bad credit

In addition to secured cards, there are 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 a chance to prove your creditworthiness when others won’t.

4. Apply for a store credit card

Store cards — or retail credit cards — can be another option if you have poor or limited credit. These cards can be relatively easy to qualify for, although you’ll typically start out with a low credit limit.

It’s worth noting that many store credit cards are “closed-loop cards,” meaning they can only be used in one brand of store. If you apply for a store card from Kohl’s, for example, you can only use it for purchases at Kohl’s. But there are store cards that are “open-loop” and can be used anywhere; these cards will have Visa or Mastercard or another mainstream processor printed on them.

Equally as important, store cards report your activity to the credit bureaus. This can help you build credit if you use the card responsibly. Just keep an eye out for things like high interest rates and deferred interest promotions, which can be both misleading and costly to consumers.

5. Prequalify without hurting your credit

If you’re unsure whether you’ll be approved for a card, you can get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report. Many card issuers let you check for preapproval or prequalification for certain cards. Note that it doesn’t guarantee approval for the card.

You can also start with Bankrate’s CardMatch tool, which shows you which cards you’re likely to be approved for. And it won’t impact your credit.

6. Become an authorized user

Finally, consider asking a trusted family member or friend if you can become an authorized user on their credit card account. It doesn’t require an application or credit inquiry, and you’ll have access to a credit card to use and build credit with.

The credit card’s usage — including the usage from the primary cardholder and other authorized users — will likely be reflected in your credit history. This means that if the primary cardholder uses their card irresponsibly, it can affect your score, and vice versa. The primary cardholder is solely responsible for payments, but it’s important to use the card responsibly to keep your relationship and your credit intact.

The bottom line

Credit card options can feel limited when you have a low credit score, but they’re out there. Finding ways to build credit and boost your score is a great place to start.

When you do get approved for a credit card, remember that the one you get doesn’t have to be your only card forever. With on-time payments and other credit-building habits, you can graduate to a card with better rewards and benefits in time.