FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS:BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BAD CREDIT
Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Our pick for: Rewards and upgrading
Like other secured credit cards for people building or rebuilding credit,theDiscover it® Secured Credit Cardrequires a cash security deposit. Unlike most others,it offers rewards. But what really makes it stand out from the competition is its upgrade possibilities. The issuer has a process in place for automatically reviewing accounts for possible transition to an unsecured card.Read our review.
Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our pick for: Rewards and upgrading
TheCapital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Cardoffers an impressive combination of features for those with poor credit. A deposit is required, but in exchange you get a$0-annual-fee card that reports to all three credit bureaus; an automatic credit limit review after six months; and a possible upgrade path to an unsecured Capital One card. Oh, and 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, plus 1.5% back on all other purchases, which equals what you'd find on many unsecured cards.Read our review.
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Our pick for: Low deposit
TheCapital One Platinum Secured Credit Cardrequires a security deposit, as do all secured credit cards. But while most cards require you to put down a deposit equal to your credit line, this one allows some qualifying applicants to get a $200 credit line with a deposit starting at $49. Further, you can be automatically considered for a higher credit line with no additional deposit in as little as six months.Read our review.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
Our pick for: No credit check + lower deposit
TheOpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Cardcharges an annual fee, but a lot of people will still want to take a look at it for two reasons. First, there's no credit check required. Second, you don't need a traditional bank account; you can fund the deposit or pay your bill with a money order or Western Union payment.Read our review.
OpenSky® Plus Secured Visa® Credit Card
Our pick for: No credit check + no annual fee
Like the regular OpenSky card, theOpenSky® Plus Secured Visa® Credit Carddoesn't require a credit check or a bank account. This card, however, charges an annual fee of$0— at the cost of a higher minimum deposit and a higher interest rate.Read our review.
Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card
Our pick for: No credit check and easy account management
This card has no minimum deposit requirement, charges neither an annual fee nor interest, and doesn't require a credit check, and you can automate your payments so you're never late. But to get it, you must be a Chime banking customer, which is an extra hoop to jump through — and whichcomes with its own considerationswhen it comes to customer service.Read our review.
Self Visa® Secured Card
Our pick for: No upfront deposit or credit check
The TheSelf Visa® Secured Cardoffers a unique path to building credit. Unlike typical secured cards, it doesn't require an upfront security deposit or a credit check. But it does make you jump through some hoops that other secured cards don't. You start by making payments on a secured loan, which become savings that you can use for your deposit. It's complicated, but for those struggling to establish a credit history, it can be efficient and effective.Read our review.
Mission Lane Visa® Credit Card
Our pick for: No-deposit alternative
Although it usually charges an annual fee, theMission Lane Visa® Credit Cardcould be a reasonable option for someone building or rebuilding credit who doesn't want to tie up money in a security deposit. Not everyone will qualify, but the issuer lets you see whether you do before you apply.Read our review.
Grow Credit Mastercard
Our pick for: No credit check, annual fee, security deposit or APR
TheGrow Credit Mastercarddoesn’t require a security deposit or a credit check. It allows you to establish a credit history by paying for qualifying subscriptions like Netflix or Spotify, and it doesn’t charge any interest or fees. There's no APR because you cannot carry a balance on the card.Read our review.
Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card
Our pick for: Adjustable credit limit
TheCredit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Cardfrom Armed Forces Bank makes it easy to increase your credit line over time to give you greater flexibility and keep your credit utilization low. You can increase your limit in $50 increments simply by depositing more money at any time.Read our review.
DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
Our pick for: Low fees and interest
TheDCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Cardis a secured card for bad credit, but it offers a lower interest rate than many unsecured cards for people with good credit. You must be a member of Digital Federal Credit Union to get this card, although you can join by becoming a member of a partner organization for as little as $10.Read our review.
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ByPaul Soucy, NerdWallet
How to tell if you need a credit card for bad credit
When you apply for a regular credit card, you're essentially asking the card issuer to lend you money without any guarantee (besides your promise) that you'll pay it back. Unlike with a mortgage or car loan, there's no collateral backing up the deal. If an applicant doesn't have a good credit score, the issuer considers the risk to be too big, and that's why it rejects the application.
Credit cards for bad credit, however, have features that reduce the risk to card issuers, so they can approve more people. The application process for credit cards for bad credit is more "forgiving" than for regular credit cards. Credit cards for bad credit might be a good fit for you if:
Your credit score is below 630
In general, a credit score below 630 (on a range of 300-850) is considered bad credit or poor credit. If you don't know your credit score, you can get it for free through NerdWallet.Get your free credit score here. If you have a bad score, a credit card specifically designed for people in your situation is one of the best tools for rebuilding your credit.
You have no (or very little) credit history
The term "bad credit" is commonly associated with mistakes, such as missing payments or having accounts turned over to collection agencies. But people who have a thin credit history or none at all can also benefit from a credit card for bad credit, since they, too, are considered risky borrowers.
What causes bad credit?
Multiple factorsgo into credit scores. Some are relatively minor — applying for a new credit card, for example, can knock a few points off anyone’s score temporarily because it suggests a need for more financial resources. Others are more serious. Bankruptcy, charge-offs or missed payments can do major damage to credit scores.
Here are the main factors in your credit score and how they can add up to bad credit:
Payment history.This is the single biggest factor in your score. Are you paying your bills on time? Paying a bill a couple of days late might not affect your credit score at all (although you might get hit with a late fee). But once a bill is more than 30 days late, expect it to show up on your credit report and affect your score. Even a single late payment can make a major dent in your score. That damage lessens with time, but if you're repeatedly missing payments, it gets much worse.
Amounts you owe.Your overall debt load matters, but scoring systems pay special attention to credit utilization — the amount of your credit limit you're using. The closer someone is to "maxing out" a line of credit, the more likely it is that they're in a bad financial position. A $190 balance on a card with a $2,000 limit isn't going to raise a lot of red flags, but a $190 balance against a $200 credit line suggests someone pushing the limits of their means.
Length of credit history.If you haven't had credit very long, that can be reflected in low scores. A common mistake people make is closing old accounts that they're not using, which affects this portion of their score. A 10-year-old credit card account is valuable from a scoring perspective, even if the card is just sitting in a drawer. If it doesn't have an annual fee, keep it open and use it once a year so the issuer doesn't shut it for inactivity.
Types of credit.Scoring formulas like to see a mix of different types accounts — credit cards, loans and so on. Obviously, you have to start somewhere, but it's best not to let a single account be your entire credit history.
New credit applications.Expect every application to knock a few points off your score temporarily. However, if you're applying for multiple cards at once, the effect is multiplied, because that can suggest someone desperate for money. This is why it's important to "call your shots" and apply only for cards when you have a good chance of approval.
What's the easiest credit card to get approved for?
Approval for any credit card is never guaranteed. In addition to your credit history, issuers look at your income and other factors. Still, some cards have standards that are not as difficult to meet as others'.
The lower the risk to the credit card issuer, the easier it is to get approved. That's whysecured credit cardsare a recommended starting point for people working to build or mend credit. These cards require you to put down a cash security deposit, which the issuer holds as collateral in case you don't pay your bill (and which you get back when you close or upgrade your account). The deposit reduces the risk, so issuers can make these cards available to more people. The cards on this page are all secured cards.
Store credit cardsare also generallyeasier to qualify for than bank cards. They tend to have low credit limits and high interest rates, but they're a viable credit-building tool provided you keep your balances low relative to the limit and pay them off each month.
In general, NerdWallet does not recommendunsecured cards for bad credit.An unsecured card is one that does not require a security deposit. All "regular" credit cards are unsecured. But unsecured cards marketed to people with bad credit are notorious for high fees and confusing terms. Further, issuers of such cards usually don't have good cards to upgrade to, meaning you're stuck with either keeping a high-fee card open (which costs you money) or closing it (which could hurt your credit score). Most of the options in our "Credit Cards to Avoid" section below are unsecured.
If you've begun to build credit and have a score in the mid-600s, look atcredit cards for fair credit. These provide more benefits but don't require a top-tier credit score. See ourbest credit cards for fair credit.
» MORE: What's the easiest credit card to get?
The costs of bad credit
Credit scores are designed to measure one thing: How much of a risk it is to lend someone money. The lower the perceived risk, the higher the score. Having bad credit limits your options for borrowing money: If you can get a loan at all, you’ll pay higher interest.
There are other costs, too. Even though they’re not designed as such, credit scores have come to be interpreted as a general measure of reliability. Employers, landlords, insurers, cell-phone providers, utility companies and others use them to evaluate customers or applicants.
A NerdWallet survey found that many people are unaware of these effects. Significant numbers of Americans didn’t know that bad credit could prevent them from renting an apartment (23%), raise their car insurance costs (43%), limit their options for cell-phone service (49%) or force them to provide security deposits for utility service (52%). Further, 1 in 5 respondents thought a score of 600 — which is bad credit — was enough to qualify for any credit card.
If you have bad credit, or no credit, a card designed specifically for someone like you is usually the quickest and easiest way to build credit.
Choosing a credit card for bad credit
Credit cards for bad credit typically come with low credit limits and high interest rates. That’s OK for now, because the primary purpose of these cards is to help you build credit or rebuild credit. When choosing a card, focus on:
Reporting to credit bureaus.A card will help you build credit only if it reports your payments to the companies that assemble the credit reports that are the basis of credit scores. Look for a card that reports to all three major credit bureaus. Note that prepaid cards do not report to the credit bureaus because they do not involve borrowing money.
Low fees.Unsecured credit cards for bad credit often boast that you can apply for them with no deposit. But then they hit you with annual fees, maintenance charges and other credit card fees that can easily top $100 a year. Good secured credit cards have either no annual fee or a fairly small one, and no hidden charges. You do pay a deposit — but you can get that money back.
Free credit score.Look for an issuer that provides free access to your score so you can track your progress. Ideally, the issuer would also offer other resources such as debt-payment calculators and free financial education programs.
A path to upgrade.Once your credit improves, it’s nice to be able to convert your account to a card with better terms. If you have a secured card, will the issuer transition you to a regular unsecured card? If you have an unsecured card for bad credit, can you move up to a version with no fees or one that offers rewards?
Read more in ourguide to choosing a credit card for bad credit.
How to apply for a credit card for bad credit
1. Know your credit score
One of the biggest mistakes people make with credit card applications is choosing cards they don't qualify for. Applying for a card that requires good credit when you have a score of 580 is a guaranteed rejection. That wouldn't be so bad except that each application goes on your credit report and can hurt your score. Multiple applications can just compound the damage. Before you apply, know where you stand. You can get yourfree credit scorethrough NerdWallet.
2. Find a card that suits your score
Cards on this and other NerdWallet pages have a "recommended credit score" graph that shows what kind of credit you'll need to qualify. If you're logged in to NerdWallet with your free score, you'll be able to see where your score lands on that graph. If you're not logged in but know your score, check how it compares to the recommended range.
Clicking the "apply now" button for a card takes you to the application. You'll usually have to provide your name, address, phone number and email address. Your Social Security number is necessary to check your credit and for government financial reporting rules. The application will usually ask about your income as well.
4. Fund your security deposit
With a secured credit card, the issuer won't open your account until you're provided your security deposit. Most cards have a minimum in the range of $200 to $300. Your deposit typically determines your credit limit, so if you deposit $500, you'll have a credit limit of $500; deposit $1,000, and you'll get a credit line equal to that amount. Issuers let you fund the deposit with a direct transfer from a checking account; some allow you to pay by money order if you don't have a bank account.
5. Receive your card
Once you fund your deposit, you'll get your card. Start using it to build a positive credit history by following the guidelines below.
How to raise your credit score using a credit card
A low credit score isn’t a life sentence. It’s a starting point. Using a credit card responsibly is one of thefastest ways to build credit. Follow these tips:
Use the card.Building a good credit history starts with making on-time payments. So use your credit card regularly and pay your bill before your due date.
Don’t overuse the card.A key element in your credit score is your credit utilization, or how much of your available credit you’re using. A maxed-out card is a sign of someone in financial trouble. So keep utilization below 30% at all times. On a card with a $300 credit limit, for example, that means you should keep your balance under $90.
Pay on time and in full.With any credit card, the best move is to pay your entire balance in full every month. That way, you’ll never pay interest — and the interest rates on credit cards for bad credit are typically very high. If you can’t pay in full, pay at least the minimum amount due by your due date.
Track your progress.Check your credit score and credit report regularly to see whether you’re moving in the right direction or if other things are holding you back. You can getfree access to your credit score and credit reporton NerdWallet
Keep accounts open, if possible.The age of your open credit accounts is a factor in your credit score. So don’t close accounts unless there’s a compelling reason, such as an annual fee on a card you don’t plan to use. When it comes time to upgrade from a secured card to an unsecured one, see if your issuer will let you keep your same account.
CREDIT CARDS TO AVOID
Many credit cards that are marketed to people with bad credit are expensive. These cards might not require a security deposit, but they impose an array of steep fees just for the privilege of carrying and using them. These can include application fees, processing fees, activation fees and monthly “maintenance” or “membership” fees, in addition to annual fees.
Add up those fees, and they can easily cost you more over the first couple of years than the deposit on a good secured credit card — and, unlike a security deposit, the fees you pay are money you’ll never get back. These cards can even cost more to carry than some of the best rewards credit cards on the market. Their ongoing interest rates tend to be high as well.
NerdWallet recommends you steer clear of products like these:
FIRST PREMIER BANK CREDIT CARD
The fees on theFirst Premier Bank Credit Cardare truly eye-popping. For starters, there’s a "program fee" that applies before you even get your card. Then there are ongoing fees that depend on your credit limit. This convoluted fee structure owes its existence to a provision of federal law. Under theCredit Card Act of 2009, the fees on a credit card in the first year the account is open can’t exceed 25% of the credit limit. Processing fees are charged before you open the account, so they don’t count against the 25% cap. After the first year, there are no limits, so that’s when monthly maintenance fees kick in. As a result, you’ll pay between $120 and nearly $175 a year in fees for this card. On top of it all, the APR on this card was 36% as of June 2019 — one of the highest interest rates on any card.
HORIZON GOLD CARD
The banner across the top of this card’s website reads: “Bad Credit, No Credit? Low Score? NO PROBLEM.” In reality, though, there are multiple problems. TheHorizon Gold cardadvertises an unsecured $500 credit limit, but you might have to read the website carefully to recognize that it’s simply a store card that you can use at just one place: the Horizon Outlet online mall. The “membership” fees required to use this card come out to nearly $300 a year, and there’s even a one-time $5 “issuance and account validation fee” just to get the card. This card’s issuer, Horizon Card Services, offers several other cards, all of which can be used only at the Horizon Outlet. They include theNetFirst Platinumcard, the Freedom Gold, the Merit Platinum and the Group One Platinum.
CREDIT ONE CREDIT CARDS
Credit One Bank— not to be confused with Capital One — specializes in credit cards for those with less-than-great credit. Its offerings include the Cash Rewards Visa Card and the Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit, as well as theNASCAR credit card.The Credit One website is maddeningly vague about what kind of card you’ll end up with if you apply. For example, your annual fee could be anywhere from $0 to $75 in the first year and $0 to $99 after that. You may or not get agrace period. You might get rewards on all purchases, or only some, or none. There are also complicated, confusing rules on when your payments will post and when your available credit line is refreshed after making a payment. Our recommendation: Don’t bother trying to figure it out, and don’t bother applying.
SURGE CARDMATRIX CARD
As of June 2019, these cards were charging a $125 annual fee in the first year for a minimum credit line of $500 — 25% of the credit limit, the legal maximum. In the second year, the annual fee drops to $96 — but you start paying $10 a month in maintenance fees, for total fees of $216 a year. The APR, meanwhile, was a whopping 29.99% as of June 2019. TheSurge Cardand Matrix Card are offered by Continental Finance. That company has several other cards with similarly jaunty names and the same janky terms: theCerulean Card,theReflex® Platinum Mastercard®, theFit Cardand theVerve Card.
Like the First Premier Bank Credit Card, theTotal Visastarts laying on fees before you even open your account. If you apply and are approved, you must first pay an $89 processing fee to get your card. The annual fee in the first year is $75. In the second year and beyond, the annual fee drops to $48 — but you start paying a monthly processing fee of $6.25, which comes out to $75 a year. Put them together, and the Total Visa card will cost you $164 in the first year and $123 every year thereafter. To top it off, this card’s APR as of June 2019 was an eye-popping 34.99%. Not acceptable.
LAST RESORT OPTIONS
INDIGO PLATINUM MASTERCARD
According to the website for this card, the annual fee depends on a cardholder’s creditworthiness. It might be $0, it might be $59, or it might be $75 the first year and $99 every year thereafter. Which one will you pay? You have to apply to find out for sure. It’s safe to say, though, that people with bad credit are more likely to end up with a $75/$99 fee than a $0 fee. Even $59 is significantly more than you would pay in annual fees on a good secured card. The APR on theIndigo Platinumas of June 2019 was 24.90%. That’s high but within the typical range for a credit card for bad credit. You can do worse than this card — but you can also do much better.
MILESTONE GOLD MASTERCARD
The Milestone Gold is offered by Genesis Bankcard Services, the same company that’s behind the Indigo Platinum. It, too, has fees that depend on creditworthiness: $35 a year, $59 a year, or $75 in the first year and $99 in subsequent years. Adding a layer of confusion, the first year’s fee might be divided between an “account opening fee,” which you pay before the account goes live, and an “annual fee,” which you pay afterward. This may be a way to avoid running afoul of the 25% rule. The APR is the same as on the Indigo Platinum, and our general assessment is the same: not the worst card, but far from the best.