How to get a credit card with bad credit

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The best way to improve your credit score is by proving that you can use credit responsibly. But if you have bad credit, you might find it difficult to get lenders to offer you new credit accounts. Knowing how to get a credit card with bad credit is essential to rebuilding your credit.

It’s a good idea to have at least one credit card, even if you have bad credit. Credit cards offer more consumer protections than debit cards, for example, giving you more online shopping security.

Credit cards also give you the ability to make purchases right away and pay them off when your statement is due—And if you pay off your statement before your grace period ends, you won’t pay interest on your purchases. Many credit cards even offer rewards, helping you save money as you shop.

But how do you get a credit card with bad credit? And what are the best credit cards for people with bad credit? We’ve got advice on how to find a credit card with bad credit, as well as tips to help you build your credit after you get approved.

Check your credit score

Even if you’re sure your credit score is less than ideal, you should find out the exact number and the quality range it falls within. You might actually have fair credit, which can qualify you for many more credit cards than bad credit.

And if you truly have bad credit, it’s important to know that so that you don’t apply for cards you’re not likely to qualify for. Each application will trigger a hard credit inquiry, which typically dings your score by a few points. Hard inquiries aren’t inherently bad, but it’s important to be intentional about when you trigger them.

You can get your credit score for free in a few ways.

  • Most big banks and credit card issuers, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Capital One, offer free credit scores to their customers. If you have an existing banking or credit relationship, check if the institution offers free credit scores.
  • MyCredit Guide is a tool created by American Express that provides your TransUnion credit score and report for free. You don’t have to be an American Express customer to use it.
  • You can also purchase your credit score from any of the big three bureaus: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.

Apply for a secured credit card

Secured credit cards are one of the best ways to get a credit card with bad credit. That said, these cards come with a caveat: You have to put down a security deposit before you’ll be able to use the card. In many cases, your line of credit will be equal to the deposit you put down. This means that if you make a $100 deposit, you’ll receive a secured credit card with a $100 credit limit.

Once you have a secured credit card, make sure to make on-time payments each month and avoid exceeding your credit limit. If you want to build your credit score and graduate from a secured to an unsecured credit card, you’ll need to prove that you can manage small amounts of credit responsibly. It matters less how much credit you have and more how well you use your available credit.

The best secured credit cards connect you with apps and educational tools to help you quickly build credit. These cards include:

Pros of secured credit cards

  • Access to credit, which can otherwise be difficult for those with a low credit score or no credit history
  • Build your credit score through responsible credit use
  • Graduate to an unsecured (standard) credit card after you’ve proven your ability to manage credit

Cons of secured credit cards

  • Require a security deposit
  • A low credit limit, usually equal to your deposit
  • High interest rates make it very expensive to carry a balance on the card
  • Limited opportunity to earn rewards on purchases

Apply for a credit card specifically designed for poor credit

There are many credit cards specifically designed for people with poor credit. Some of these cards are secured credit cards, but others are standard credit cards that you’ll be able to access without having to put down a security deposit.

Credit cards for people with bad credit tend to have low credit limits, but if you use your card responsibly, you can start working your way toward good credit—and you might even get upgraded to a better credit card.

The best credit cards for bad credit help you to build your credit score while earning rewards on everyday purchases. One example includes:

Pros of credit cards for bad credit

  • Access to credit without a security deposit
  • Build your credit score through responsible credit use
  • Graduate to a better credit card after you’ve proven your ability to manage credit
  • Earn cash back rewards on purchases

Cons of credit cards for bad credit

  • A low credit limit, making it difficult to finance large purchases on your card
  • High interest rates make it very expensive to carry a balance on the card
  • Potential to rack up debt if you spend more than you can pay off

Open a store card

If you’re wondering how to get a credit card with bad credit, the answer might be as close as your nearest checkout lane. Retail credit cards tend to have more lenient application requirements than other types of credit cards, which means that you might be able to qualify for a store credit card even if your credit isn’t very good.

That said, just because retailers offer credit cards for people with bad credit, doesn’t mean that store credit cards are necessarily your best option. Most retail credit cards charge significantly higher interest rates than standard credit cards, and your retail credit card might include a deferred interest plan that could cost you a lot more money than you realize.

If you are thinking about applying for a store card, read our guide to shopping for a retail credit card first. That way, you can choose a store card that can help you build your credit without weighing you down with high fees, limited rewards or complicated deferred interest policies.

Pros of retail credit cards

  • Better chance of getting approved than a regular credit card, even with poor credit
  • Build your credit score through responsible credit use
  • Earn discounts and rewards

Cons of retail credit cards

  • High interest rates make it very expensive to carry a balance on the card
  • Rewards are often retailer-specific, making store credit cards less flexible than standard credit cards

Become an authorized user on someone else’s card

If you want to build your credit score without having to be responsible for your own line of credit, you might want to consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. Becoming an authorized user is a great way to piggyback on a spouse or parent’s good credit habits. If they use their credit card responsibly, your credit score could go up.

What does that mean? Many credit card issuers report authorized user accounts to the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). When the primary user makes an on-time payment, it gets recorded as an on-time payment in your credit report as well. You can also benefit from the primary user’s credit utilization ratio and length of credit history.

If someone you trust is willing to make you an authorized user, suggest that they add you to their rewards credit card. Why? Because authorized users earn rewards on every qualifying purchase—so together, you can rack up even more points.

Here are a few rewards cards to consider:

Pros of becoming an authorized user

  • Build credit without being responsible for your own credit card
  • Get started even if you have no credit history
  • Parents can add teens as authorized users to give them a credit-building head start

Cons of becoming an authorized user

  • If the credit card issuer doesn’t report authorized user accounts to the credit bureaus, your credit score won’t improve. Always check with the issuer.
  • If the primary user doesn’t manage their credit account responsibly, your credit score won’t improve and may even go down.
  • Since both you and the primary user are drawing from the same line of credit, you’ll need to check in with each other to ensure you aren’t overspending your shared credit limit or taking on too much debt.

The bottom line

Bad credit does limit your credit card options, but there are plenty of accessible credit-builder cards on the market. First, check your credit score to make sure you actually have bad credit. Then, apply for a card that’s geared toward your credit range and start using it responsibly.

If you can’t find a credit card that meets your needs, consider becoming an authorized user. This way, you can build your credit score until you qualify for the cards you’re interested in.