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Everything you need to know about credit cards for bad credit
A bad credit score can be a result of insufficient credit history, past financial mistakes, a high debt balance or a combination of circumstances. Whatever the reason, a low credit score can prevent you from getting many credit cards. Credit cards for bad credit typically come with fewer qualification requirements, different fee structures and specific features to help your credit-building journey along. The key is to choose one that best fits where you are financially and where you want to go. Many cards for bad credit are secured, meaning they require an initial deposit that often serves as your credit limit, but they are otherwise similar to a traditional credit card. The more commonly-carried option, unsecured cards, are available for bad credit as well, but avoiding the initial deposit often leads to higher interest rates and unfortunate fees.
Personal finance experts at Bankrate have evaluated today’s best credit cards for bad credit and chosen the top options. We also offer tips on qualifying for a credit card and improving your credit score. Use this information to make the best choice for your financial future.
Compare Bankrate’s best cards for bad credit
|Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
||Best for rebuilding credit
||4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Credit One Bank® Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
||Best unsecured credit card with rewards
||3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Self – Credit Builder Account + Secured Visa Credit Card
||Best for building credit with savings
||3 / 5
(Read full card review)
|OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
||Best for credit educational support
||3.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card
||Best for local cash back offers
||3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card
||Best for flexible payments
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card
||Best secured card with rewards
||4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Free Credit Score Access
||Best for free credit score tracking
||3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
A closer look at top credit cards for bad/poor credit
Secured Mastercard® from Capital One
Why we rate it best for rebuilding credit
The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One is one of the only secured cards with a deposit requirement that could be lower than your limit. This card also comes with an option to pay the opening deposit in installments over a 35-day period.
Read our Secured Mastercard® from Capital One Review.
Self – Credit Builder Account + Secured Visa Credit Card
Why we rate it best for building credit with savings
Improving bad credit doesn’t happen overnight. However, the Self – Credit Builder Account + Secured Visa Credit Card could help you get on the right track in a matter of 12 to 24 months. The first step is starting a credit-building savings account with Self and paying it off gradually until you qualify for the Secured Visa Credit Card.
Review for Self – Credit Builder Account + Secured Visa Credit Card coming soon.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
Why we rate it best for credit educational support
Zero or very little credit history does not put the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card out of reach. In fact, they won’t do a credit check or even require you to have a checking account, a lifeline for someone in a credit jam who is trying to get a card. Cardholders’ habits will be regularly reported to the three major credit bureaus, so a good routine will be rewarded — the OpenSky Secured Visa reports that 99 percent of its users coming in with no credit history are able to build up a credit score within six months of card usage.
Read our OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card Review.
Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card
Why we rate it best for flexible payment
Credit One Bank allows you to set your own payment due date, a useful feature if there’s a certain time each month that works best for you. To help rebuild credit, cardholders will have their account regularly reviewed for a credit line increase. They can also earn 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases. Monthly reporting to the major credit bureaus can help you reap the rewards of making payments on time and in full — which you should always do to avoid paying APR.
Review for the Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card coming soon.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Why we rate it the best secured card with rewards
If you don’t have a robust credit history, finding a card that offers a substantial rewards program can be difficult. With the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, you’ll earn 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases, and Discover will match all of the cash back that you earned at the end of your first year — automatically.
Read our Discover it® Secured Credit Card Review.
Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Free Credit Score Access
Why we rate it best for credit score tracking
With this unsecured card from Visa and Credit One, cardholders will receive a free Experian credit score and credit report summary each month. As you build credit, consistent check-ins on your score can help you see the effects of good credit habits. The card also features 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases, zero fraud liability and automatic reviews of your account for credit line increases. Potential downsides include an annual fee of up to $99 based on creditworthiness and a regular APR of 17.99% – 23.99% (variable).
Read our Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Free Credit Score Access review.
What is considered a bad credit score?
Bad credit is typically defined by FICO® as a credit score lower than 579. Major credit bureaus determine your credit score by measuring your ability to keep up with credit agreements such as credit card bills, loans and utility bills.
The five factors that determine your credit score carry different weights:
- Payment history (35%): Your track record of consistent, on-time payments is the most important factor credit bureaus look at to calculate your score. Tools like autopay and account alerts can nip late payments in the bud. If you’re new to credit, becoming an authorized user on a responsible cardholders’ account could give you a solid head start in this department.
- Credit utilization (30%): How much of your available credit you’re using counts for nearly one-third of your credit score. The amount you owe won’t automatically hurt your score, but the lower your utilization ratio is, the better. A higher credit limit could help reduce your ratio below the recommended 30% threshold.
- Length of credit history (15%): FICO considers the age of your oldest and newest accounts, the age of your other credit accounts, the average length of your accounts and how long it’s been since you’ve used them. Instead of canceling cards, people with limited history can build credit by keeping their oldest account occasionally active.
- Credit mix (10%): You can bump up your score a bit by successfully maintaining different types of credit — like mortgage or car installment loans — on top of your card. Although FICO doesn’t require multiple credit lines, a credit builder loan may be an option if you need the boost.
- New credit (10%): This fraction of your score is reserved for new credit inquiries you’ve made over the past 12 months. Be careful since each credit application could temporarily shave around five points off your score for a few months.
It’s important to keep in mind that credit scores are flexible and can change often depending on your individual credit activity.
How bad credit affects credit cards
Addressing bad credit can be a savior in your financial situation. Bad credit can lead to complications when applying for a loan or job or when it comes insurance policies. Bad credit has negative implications for credit card usage, too:
- Higher interest rates: Credit scores are meant to gauge how likely it is that you will default on a credit card, so creditors and lenders often charge a higher interest rate to account for the riskiness of a cardholder with bad credit. This can be devastating to an outstanding balance, but proper card habits over time can earn you a friendlier rate.
- Lack of rewards: Credit cards designed for bad credit seldom feature rewards like cash back, travel points, introductory offers or sign-up bonuses. As you work towards better credit, cards with these enticing features become a possibility.
- Lower approval odds: When on the search for a credit card, a low credit score will narrow down your choices immediately. Although there are less viable options, a card designed for poor credit could eventually open the door for a more exclusive plastic for your wallet.
- Leeway from issuers: Although it will vary card-by-card, bad credit options are typically less generous when it comes to penalties and fees. Also, if you ever need to negotiate with your provider, a bad credit score may keep you on a shorter leash as you try to plead your case.
How to get a credit card with bad credit
Following the steps above will help you as you’re looking to apply for a card, but actually getting a card with bad credit shouldn’t be too difficult. Sometimes there are larger obstacles to take care of to boost your chances at approval, but lots of secured cards, cards for bad credit scores and credit cards for no credit history make it easy to be approved.
Before anything, check your credit report for any mistakes and try to catch up on any outstanding late payments to improve where you stand in the eyes of the card issuers. Recent delinquencies will surely hurt your odds of approval, even with some of the most accessible cards.
In the meantime, sort through your options to find cards that fit your budget and credit score. Once you’ve narrowed your search and cleaned up your manageable debts, focus on approval odds, affordability and any incoming impact on your credit score.
Depending on your situation, consider secured cards and those with near-certain approval as a starting point to rebuild credit. It’s rare to find a full-on guarantee in the credit card approval process, but some options come close. If you’re able to show commitment to your financial future and keep the disqualifying items off of your credit report, there’s a credit card option available for you.
Alternative options to consider are to find a co-signer or to be made an authorized user through a family member. If possible, applying for a credit card with a co-signer who has good credit could open doors to better options. This can be a great way to increase chances at approval, but also presents risks — both parties are responsible for the debts and purchases charged to the account, along with any impact made to credit scores. Becoming an authorized user through a family member offers similar opportunities, but authorized users aren’t given a credit card account of their own, making their credit reporting less impactful than the other options provided.
Things to do before you apply for a new credit card with bad credit
Getting credit is never a sure thing, especially when the economy is in a state of uncertainty. A recent Bankrate survey found that 21 percent of consumers have had an application for credit denied in recent months because of a low credit score. Thirteen percent of that group had been rejected for a credit card.
Try not to get discouraged, though. Even if you have bad credit, credit cards aren’t necessarily out of your reach. Consider these four tips for finding a card that fits your needs.
- Check your credit score first. Knowing your credit score will give you a better idea of which cards you might qualify for, as well as your overall financial standing. Most credit card offers specify a range of recommended credit scores.
- Do your research. Be thorough in your research before applying and ensure it’s the right card for your needs. Look closely at any fees and interest rates.
- Be selective with applications. An application that involves a hard inquiry on your credit will temporarily lower your credit score. You can use features like CardMatch™ to compare pre-approval offers that don’t require a hard credit pull.
- Consider secured credit cards. If you’re finding it difficult to find a card that you qualify for, take a look at secured cards. These cards require a deposit up front, but with on-time payments and other types of responsible credit behavior, these cards could help you build your credit score.
What’s the easiest credit card to get approved for?
Although many of our listed cards have low barriers to entry, finding guaranteed approval in the credit card world is a near-myth. The closest thing you’ll get are options that let you bypass a credit check, such as the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card. To take a broader approach on finding the easiest credit cards to be approved for, here’s some types that make it much simpler than others:
- Secured cards: Submitting a deposit lessens the risk taken on by card issuers, so these types of cards are often much more accessible than their unsecured counterparts. You can get your deposit back after closing or upgrading your account, so these more inclusive options can be an excellent starting point to increasing a bad credit score.
- Student credit cards: There may be certain requirements to be approved, such as proving you have independent income or finding a co-signer, but these cards are specifically designed to help those who are just starting their credit journey. This often means no credit history is required, making options like the Discover it® Student Cash Back and the Discover it® Student chrome accessible to many.
- Store cards: These cards are typically easier to qualify for than typical credit cards, and can be used as a credit-building tool with the right habits. However, their often low credit limits and high interest rates raise valid questions around whether store cards are worth it.
The difference between secured and unsecured credit cards
Secured credit cards require an initial deposit, which serves as a layer of protection for the card issuer in case you miss payments. The deposit you make often becomes your credit limit. But you may receive a credit line that is greater than the initial deposit.
A secured credit card otherwise operates in a way that is similar to a regular, unsecured credit card. You’ll be able to purchase items with the card and then make payments. Interest is charged on balances carried month-to-month.
If you’re curious to learn more about these options, check out our picks for the best secured credit cards available from our partners.
Unlike secured credit cards, unsecured credit cards don’t require a deposit. They allow you to buy items, charge them to the account, and then pay off the balance. However, unsecured credit cards for bad credit tend to include additional fees and higher-than-average interest rates.
How to build your credit score
With time, careful decision-making and the right credit card, you can make a bad credit score better and gradually build a healthier credit profile.
Start by following these five tips for improving a bad credit score:
- Check your credit report. Credit report errors are common, so obtain your credit report and check it thoroughly. If you see any, be sure to submit a dispute.
- Clear debts. Catalog all of your debts and create a plan of attack to clear them. Prioritize your debts and stick to a payment schedule to pay everything down. Of course, this is easier said than done, but managing debt is a big step forward in improving your score.
- Spend smart. Ensure you’re making all of your payments on time and in full. Keep a healthy amount of available credit, maintain low balances when possible and do your best not to spend beyond your means.
- Stick to a plan. Although you can quickly find yourself with a low score, the time it takes to raise your credit score can be a bit longer. Avoid opening and closing credit accounts unless it makes sense.
- Keep climbing. Length of credit history plays into your score, but recent activity also carries weight. Your continued good credit behavior will be rewarded as enough time passes for past debts to fall off your credit report.
How we chose our list of top cards for bad credit
Bankrate uses a 5-star scoring system that evaluates credit cards based on annual fees, APR , sign-up bonuses, rewards programs and other features. For credit cards tailored to people with poor or bad credit, we focus on the attributes you might be most concerned about when selecting a new credit card.
Getting charged a fee every year for being a cardholder can eat into the value you’re getting from your card. We look for benefits that help make up for the cost of an annual fee.
0% introductory APR offer
The annual percentage rate is the rate of interest you’ll have to pay on your outstanding balance. The longer the period without APR, the better.
Balance transfer offer
When you move part or all of the outstanding balance you owe from one lender to another, this is called a balance transfer. Some cards offer a low fee on transferred balances — usually around 3%-5% of the transferred amount. Transferring a balance can be a tool to consolidate debt, pay down what you owe at a lower rate and improve your credit score.
Even if your credit score isn’t perfect, there are cards that offer fantastic rewards that help you earn cash back, points, or miles on what you’re spending every day. We evaluate the rewards and identify which card is a good fit for different types of spenders.
Additional research to help you improve your credit score
Check out these informative Bankrate resources, plus in-depth reviews of credit cards designed for people with bad credit:
Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to email@example.com.
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