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If you need help dealing with unexpected expenses, you are not alone. According to a survey by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, most Americans do not have enough savings to handle emergencies: Nearly 25 percent of consumers have no savings and 39 percent have less than a month of income saved.
When an emergency happens and you don’t have an emergency fund to help, a credit card may be your next best option. Credit cards offer a line of credit that can help you cover expenses, from home and auto repairs to medical bills. Some have additional features like sign-up bonuses and bonus rewards on everyday purchases. In some cases, you can even work on paying off your debt without having to worry about interest charges for a limited amount of time.
To learn more, including how to choose the right card and possible alternatives, check out our picks for best emergency credit cards.
Comparing the best credit cards for emergencies
|Emergency credit card||Best for||Top features|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Instant access to credit||
|Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card||Food and household emergencies||
|BankAmericard®||Paying off emergency debt||Ultra long intro APR offer for both purchases and balance transfers|
|Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union||High credit
limit and low APR
|Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students||Emergency card for students||
|Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card||Emergency cash advances||
The best credit cards for emergencies
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for instant access to credit
Some emergencies will require you to act fast, and you may not be able to wait until you receive a physical card in the mail. If you need money fast, an instant-use credit card can ensure you’re able to start making purchases as soon as you’re approved.
Like all American Express consumer and charge cards, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express comes with an instant card number upon approval. It’s also one of the best no-annual-fee cards for earning rewards on everyday purchases, offering bonus cash back for groceries, gas and online purchases.
The card’s additional features include a welcome offer and an intro APR offer that gives you more than a year to make payments on your debt without having to pay interest charges. Combined, these two perks could save you hundreds of dollars, making it easier for you to pay off your emergency purchases.
Keep in mind that credit cards with instant-use numbers can only be used at merchants that accept digital wallet payments. If you are making purchases that require you to tap, swipe or insert a physical card, you will likely have to wait until your card arrives in the mail.
Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card: Best for food and household emergencies
Even if you have the funds to cover an emergency, unexpected expenses can make it harder to pay for everyday essentials. That’s why the right grocery credit card can come in handy if you need help keeping food on the table or gas in your car.
The Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card combines convenience with big rewards, offering 5 percent cash back at Walmart.com, including pickup and delivery orders. You also earn 2 percent cash back in Walmart stores and fuel stations, at restaurants and on travel.
The Capital One Walmart Rewards card is more accessible than most other no-annual-fee rewards cards. It’s one of the few grocery cards open to people with fair credit. And if you don’t qualify for the Capital One Walmart card, you’ll automatically be considered for the Walmart Rewards® Card. It’s not a Mastercard, so you can’t use it outside of Walmart. But this card will still come in handy for Walmart purchases made online, in store and at Murphy USA gas stations.
BankAmericard®: Best for paying off emergency debt
The problem with borrowing money to deal with an emergency is that you have to pay it back, usually with interest. Those interest charges can cost you hundreds of dollars or more and can make it harder to pay off your credit card debt. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a plan to pay back what you borrow.
When it comes to an emergency credit card for debt relief, the BankAmericard is one of the best around. It charges no annual fee and gives you 21 billing cycles to make interest-free payments on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 60 days due to its intro APR offers (16.24 percent to 26.24 percent variable APR following introductory period. A 3% fee applies to all balance transfers). Having close to two years to pay off any emergency purchases or debt can make your monthly payments more manageable while also saving you money you would have spent on interest charges.
Information about the BankAmericard® credit card last updated on August 17, 2023.
Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union: Best for high credit limit and low APR
Some emergencies are far costlier than others. Fortunately, a credit card with a high starting limit can offer some much-needed peace of mind in the event that you have to cover large expenses when emergencies arise.
The Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union is a no-annual-fee rewards card that comes with credit limits ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. On top of its high credit limit, the Titanium Rewards Visa card comes with the kind of perks you might expect to find with one of the best credit union cards. It’s a great everyday rewards card, offering bonus rewards for gas and groceries and an above-average flat rate for general purchases.
It also comes with a low variable APR range of 13.74 percent to 18 percent. Even the high end of that range is lower than many of the best rewards cards, making it a great low-interest rewards card.
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students: Best emergency card for students
Student credit cards provide access to a line of credit that college students can use in an emergency. But there are not many that give you the chance to skip interest charges for over a year.
The Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students is a no-annual-fee student rewards card that offers an above-average flat rate for purchases with no purchase categories to track or enroll in. More importantly, it stands out from the crowd of rewards cards for students thanks to an impressive introductory APR offer: 18 billing cycles for purchases and any balance transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening (variable APR of 18.24 to 28.24 applies after the intro period). This could come in handy if you experience an unexpected financial need that you can’t pay for right away.
CareCredit: Best for medical emergencies
Insurance only covers some of your medical costs, and in some cases, it won’t cover certain medical services. If you have a costly medical expense and can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket and don’t have a medical emergency fund set aside to cover the costs, CareCredit could offer temporary relief.
CareCredit is one of the best credit cards for medical expenses. It offers short-term financing for medical expenses not covered by insurance for up to 24 months with no interest charges as long as you pay off your balance completely and on time. It also offers long-term financing from 24 to 60 months at a lower interest rate, currently from 14.90 percent to 17.90 percent based on the amount you borrow. This is more flexible than many of the best credit cards with introductory APR offers, which only give you 15 to 21 months to pay off debt without the hassle of interest charges. And after that promotional period, some people could get stuck with interest rates of 25 percent or higher.
CareCredit is accepted at over 250,000 healthcare providers and can also be used at select retailers like Walgreens and even at Walmart for qualified health, wellness and personal care items. Plus, it isn’t just for you and your family. It’s also a great emergency pet care credit card that helps pet owners finance everything from veterinary appointments to surgeries and treatments.
Just make sure to watch out for deferred interest. This card begins accruing interest the moment you use it. If you pay your balance on time each month and in full by the end of the promotional period, those interest charges are waived. But if you make a late payment or don’t pay the balance off in time, you are responsible for all of the interest that has accrued over time from the start of the loan. This would end up costing you a lot more in interest charges than credit cards that only charge interest on any remaining balance at the end of the promotional period or when you default.
Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card: Best for emergency cash advances
Credit card cash advances typically come with a fee and high interest rates that begin to add up the moment you withdraw the money. But if you find yourself in a cash-only situation and don’t have enough funds in your savings or checking account, the right credit card can help.
The Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card is a solid rewards card — possibly one of the best gas and EV charging cards you’ll find. More than that, it doesn’t charge a cash advance fee, and the cash advance APR is 17.99 percent — the same rate you’re charged for regular purchases. This is much lower than the regular APR and cash advance rates you’ll find on many credit cards, making it a good option to have on hand in case of an emergency.
Just make sure to pay off your cash advance as soon as possible because like all cash advances, there is no grace period, and interest begins to add up the moment you withdraw cash.
How to choose a credit card for emergencies
There are a lot of credit cards available, and not all of them can help you in an emergency. Check out the following advice to find the right emergency card for you.
Know your credit score
Check your credit score to help identify the credit cards you qualify for and the interest rates you’re likely to pay. The better your credit score, the more options available with lower rates.
Determine the type of emergency card you need
Finding that perfect emergency credit card that covers every type of emergency may not be possible. To make sure you apply for a credit card that best fits your needs, know which of the following factors are most important to you:
- Instant use
- High credit limit
- Low- or no-interest payments
- Open to people with no credit, fair credit or bad credit
- Sign-up bonus and rewards
- No penalty APR
See if you prequalify
Prequalifying for a credit card can show you if you are likely to be approved without impacting your credit score. Some credit card issuers let you prequalify on their website, or you can use a tool like Bankrate’s CardMatch to help you find offers you are likely to qualify for.
Pay attention to the rates and fees
Before you apply for a card, take a look at the card’s APR (or interest rate). Then use a credit card payoff calculator to get an idea of how long it will take to pay off potential debt and how much interest you’ll pay. Compare that to what you would pay if you took out a personal loan. Also look to see what additional fees come with the card, like late fees or balance transfer fees. Watch out for penalty APRs — some issuers will increase your APR if you make a late payment, and it could last 12 months or longer.
How to make the most of an emergency credit card
Here are some tips that will help you manage your emergency credit card effectively and protect your credit score.
Pay on time
Always pay your credit card bill on time. Late payments can lead to unnecessary fees and penalty APRs which can make it harder to pay off your debt. It can also lead to negative marks on your credit report that stay there for up to seven years or longer.
Pay more than the minimum
You could be stuck in debt for a long time if you only make minimum payments on a credit card. To avoid the credit card debt cycle, try to make paying off your emergency debt a top priority. To do this, find a budget strategy that works for you so you can track where your money is going. Look for ways to quickly save money that can be put toward paying more than your minimum payments. And for more help, check out our guide to budgeting basics.
Try to avoid paying interest for as long as possible
Credit cards with zero-percent intro APR offers give you time to pay off large purchases or debt — anywhere from 12 to 21 months — without having to spend more money on interest charges. Many of these cards charge no annual fee and are one of the few options available that give you the chance to borrow money from a lender and pay it back without having to pay any fees or charges.
Alternatives to emergency credit cards
Credit cards are good for some emergencies, but they won’t be the best option for everyone. Here are two alternatives that could help when an emergency arises.
An emergency fund is money you set aside for unplanned or emergency expenses. In most cases, it’s the cheapest and best option for handling an emergency since you’re using your own money and won’t have to worry about interest charges.
But for some, saving up money is no easy task. According to a Bankrate survey, just 44 percent of Americans have enough savings to help cover a $1,000 surprise expense.
If you have a high enough credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio, you could qualify for a personal loan with an APR that is much lower than the typical regular APRs of credit cards. It’s also possible to get a personal loan with bad credit, though you’ll likely have to deal with high interest rates.
There will be times when a personal loan can’t compare to a credit card. Unlike instant-use cards, you’ll have to wait one to four days before you can start using the funds from your personal loan. Personal loans may also come with interest rates and fees that could end up costing you more than you would pay with an emergency card. This is especially true if you are able to take advantage of a no-annual-fee credit card with an intro APR offer and additional perks like a sign-up bonus, which could all help you save money.
If you don’t have the funds to cover an unexpected expense, an emergency credit card can help. The best emergency credit cards have features that give you a fighting chance to handle whatever comes your way, including instant card numbers upon approval, high credit limits and forgiving APRs. In some cases, they can be low-cost options that give you time to pay back your debt without the burden of interest charges.
The information about the Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard® , Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union, Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.