A bad credit score, or any score below 579, can put a wrinkle in nearly any financial plan, including if you want to get a credit card. Like it or not, most credit card issuers require good or excellent credit (670 to 850) to qualify for their best offers. However, if you have at least fair credit, or a FICO score ranging from 580 to 669, you’ll likely have more offers available to you, especially in terms of unsecured credit cards.

Secured credit cards are a popular option for people with bad credit, but these cards require a security deposit upfront. If that doesn’t sound appealing, there are some unsecured credit cards for bad credit to consider, all of which let you borrow money and build credit without putting down a security deposit.

The best unsecured credit cards for bad credit in 2023

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that aren’t many unsecured credit cards available for bad credit. Those that do exist are more likely to come with annual fees, low credit limits and little to no perks.

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit: Best for earning cash back

The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit* is a popular unsecured credit card available for consumers with bad credit. This card lets you earn 1 percent in cash rewards on eligible gas and grocery purchases and mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV services (terms apply). You’ll also get free credit score access, which can help you track your progress to better credit.

Don’t let the cash back distract you from a significant downside, though: This card comes with a $75 annual fee for the first year, then an annual fee of $99. You would have to spend $9,900 per year within the eligible 1 percent cash back categories to make that $99 fee up, so it probably doesn’t make sense to choose this card for the cash back. You may want to consider a no-annual-fee option, or a lower-annual-fee option, instead.

Pros:

  • 1 percent cash back within popular spending categories
  • Free credit score access
  • Get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report

Cons:

  • Credit limit can be as low as $300
  • Charges a $75 annual fee the first year, then $99 annually ($8.25 per month)

Mission Lane Visa Credit Card: Best for a lower annual fee

If you’re looking for a straightforward unsecured card that will help you to build credit, the Mission Lane Visa® Credit Card could be a good fit for you. It’s a notable unsecured credit card for bad credit because it comes with a lower annual fee of up to $59 and no hidden fees, which are common with many subprime cards. Plus, depending on your creditworthiness, you may qualify for a $0 annual fee.

Pros:

  • $0 annual fee depending on creditworthiness
  • Could get a credit limit increase after seven months of on-time payments
  • Reports to all three credit bureaus

Cons:

  • Up to $59 annual fee (offer through Bankrate; up to a $75 annual fee through other methods)
  • Minimum starting credit limit of $300
  • No rewards

Indigo Mastercard: Best for traveling abroad

If you have a very low credit score or have declared bankruptcy, you may want to consider the Indigo® Mastercard®. In general, it comes with few perks, but it’ll help you to build your credit so you’ll be able to qualify for better cards down the line.

However, if you travel abroad frequently, it’s worth noting that this card comes with a 1 percent foreign transaction fee. This fee is much lower than other similar cards, which typically charge a foreign transaction fee of 3 percent. But if you have at least fair credit, you may be able to qualify for a card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.

Pros:

  • $0 annual fee depending on creditworthiness
  • 1 percent foreign transaction fee
  • Reports to all three credit bureaus

Cons:

  • Up to $99 annual fee
  • No rewards
  • Maximum credit limit of $300

Petal 1 ‘No Annual Fee’ Visa Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

The Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card is recommended for consumers with no credit history, but consumers who are working on rebuilding their credit may still qualify for this card. Best of all, the Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card may consider alternate data like banking history for approvals, so credit mistakes from the past may not hold as much weight.

This card lets you build credit with no security deposit and no annual fee required. Credit limits range from $300 to $5,000, and you may qualify for a credit limit increase when you make on-time payments for at least six months.

Pros:

  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Helps build credit by reporting to the three credit bureaus
  • Get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report

Cons:

  • Potential for a high interest rate (variable APRs range from 24.24 percent to 33.74 percent)
  • Credit limit can be as low as $300
  • Rewards limited to special offers with specific retailers

Capital One Platinum Credit Card: Best for fair credit

You might put yourself in the “bad credit” bucket because you know your score isn’t ideal, but there’s a big difference between having bad credit and fair credit in terms of which cards you qualify for. The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is available for consumers with fair credit, which includes FICO scores from 580 to 669.

While this card doesn’t offer any rewards, you can get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and you can qualify for a higher credit limit in as little as six months. Best of all, there’s no annual fee.

Pros:

  • Get prequalified online without a hard inquiry on your credit report
  • Potential for a higher credit limit in as little as six months
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees

Cons:

  • High variable APR of 28.49 percent
  • No rewards on spending

What to look for in an unsecured credit card for bad credit

Unsecured credit cards for bad credit aren’t all the same, so you’ll want to compare cards and all their details to find the right fit.

What you want:

Automatic review for a credit line increase. Unsecured cards for bad credit are likely to start you out with a low credit limit. However, many give you the chance to qualify for a higher credit limit in as little as six months, which could boost your credit score in addition to expanding your purchasing power.

An application process that reviews factors other than your credit score. Some cards for bad credit, including the Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Card, look at factors such as your banking history to see if they can approve you. This can be useful if your credit score is really low or if you have no credit score at all.

Reporting to the major credit bureaus. You want to make sure cards you consider report balances and payments to the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Ultimately, this reporting is what will help you to build credit over time.

What you don’t want:

  • High annual fees. Unfortunately, annual fees are common with unsecured credit cards for bad credit. If possible, you should strive to pick a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee or charges a lower annual fee.
  • Hidden fees. In addition to looking for cards that don’t charge high annual fees, watch out for hidden charges such as application fees or monthly account fees. If you travel internationally, you should also consider a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • High interest rates. Look for a card with a reasonable variable interest rate if you plan to carry a balance from time to time.

How to repair your credit with a credit card

Repairing your credit with a credit card can take some time, but the steps are the same for everyone. The following tips can help you get the best results in the shortest amount of time.

  • Always pay your bill on time. The most important factor that makes up your FICO score is your payment history, so you should strive to pay all your bills early or on time each month. Where on-time payments can be a boon to your score, late payments can have disastrous effects.
  • Keep debt levels at a minimum. The second most important factor that makes up your FICO score is how much you owe in relation to your credit limits, or your credit utilization ratio. For the best results, keep your balance below 30 percent of your available credit. So if you have a credit limit of $300, keep your balance below $90.
  • Ask for a higher credit limit as soon as you can. If you carry a balance, getting a higher credit limit can lower your utilization rate by default. If you are eligible for a credit line increase at any time, you should take one. However, make sure to avoid racking up more debt or you won’t be any better off.

When a secured credit card might make more sense

If your credit score is poor and you can’t get approved for an unsecured credit card, don’t be afraid to look for a secured credit card. While putting down a cash deposit may not seem ideal, secured credit cards give you the chance to build credit when other cards won’t. Plus, many secured credit cards offer rewards and no annual fee, and you can upgrade to an unsecured credit card once your score has improved.

Finally, remember that your security deposit isn’t lost. When you close or upgrade a secured credit card in good standing, you’ll get your entire security deposit back.

The bottom line

The best unsecured credit cards for bad credit may not be exactly what you want, but they do let you borrow money and build credit, and some even offer rewards. More importantly, cards in this niche give you the chance to build credit so you can get a better credit card later on. However, make sure to look at some of the top credit cards for bad credit and fair credit before you choose a card.

*The information about Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.