Alexandria is a credit card writer covering everything from the latest credit card news, individual card reviews, and Best Of roundups to tips for getting the most value out of your card. Her work appears on MagnifyMoney and CompareCards.
Unsecured cards are the most popular type of credit cards available â€” they are simply regular credit cards. The term â€śunsecuredâ€ť means that you donâ€™t need to deposit money or use any other collateral in order to receive a line of credit â€” credit card issuers extend credit based on your credit history and various other factors.
Thatâ€™s why, if you have bad credit, it can be difficult to qualify for most good credit card deals. Poor credit is considered at or below a 579 credit score, and it signals to lenders that youâ€™re a high-risk borrower.
Poor credit doesnâ€™t make it impossible to access credit cards, however, but the key is to use credit responsibly so your credit score will improve and youâ€™ll have a chance at qualifying for better deals.
Weâ€™ve put together this guide to help you understand the best options for people with bad credit.
Our top picks
Unsecured card: Credit One BankÂ® Platinum VisaÂ® with Cash Back Rewards
Credit One is hardly the best credit card out there, with a host of potential fees that make it expensive to carry. On the plus side, however, it is accessible to those with poor credit. It offers several cards that carry the potential for 1% on eligible purchases, terms apply. People with bad credit will find it hard to qualify for credit cards and harder to qualify for cards with rewards. Therefore, the cashback feature is a good perk of Credit One cards. But remember â€” not everyone will qualify for a cashback card.
Regular purchase APR: 20.24% – 26.24% Variable
Cash advance APR: 26.24% Variable
Annual membership fee: $0-$99 Depending on your account, the annual membership fee will be divided into 12 equal portions and billed monthly or it will be billed yearly for the second and each following year your account is open
Authorized user participation fee: $19 annually (if applicable)
Cash advance fee: Either $5 or 8% of the amount of each Cash Advance, whichever is greater, or $10 or 3% of each Cash Advance, whichever is greater.
Late payment fee: Up to $39
Returned payment fee: Up to $39
What to watch out for
The annual fee will hit your account right away â€” eating into your total available limit. The fine print of the terms and conditions explains:
â€śNOTICE: If your Account has an Annual Membership Fee, it will be billed to your Account when it is opened and will reduce the amount of your initial available credit. For example, if your Account is established with a credit line of $300 and your First year Annual Membership Fee is $75, your initial available credit will be $225.â€ť
This is key to realize if you are charged an annual membership fee. You can quickly see your credit limit decrease when opening your account; especially if you are charged the highest annual fee.
Another term to be aware of is the authorized user participation fee at $19 annually. Most personal credit cards do not charge a fee for authorized users so this is an added fee Credit One charges if you decide to add an authorized user.
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.
The Discover itÂ® Secured is our top pick for secured cards for numerous reasons â€” from the automatic monthly account reviews starting at 8 months to the cashback program, this card provides exceptional benefits for cardholders.
Automatic monthly account reviews: Starting at 8 months, Discover will review your account to see if you qualify for receiving your security deposit back. If you have responsible credit management across all your credit products, you may be graduated to an unsecured card and recieve your security deposit back.
Cashback program: This card has a unique feature thatâ€™s uncharacteristic of secured cards â€” a cashback program where you can earn 2% cashback at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cashback on all your other purchases.
Free FICOÂ® Credit Score: You receive your free FICOÂ® Credit Score with Discover Credit Scorecard as well as other credit information, like recent inquiries and revolving utilization. This is a great way to track your credit progress and checking your score doesnâ€™t affect hurt your credit.
High APR: Most secured cards have high APRs, and this one does, too. But, if you pay your balance in full each month, you wonâ€™t be charged interest.
The majority of unsecured cards that accept people with bad credit have numerous fees that can have you questioning if the card is really helping you.
Here are several drawbacks you may see with unsecured cards for bad credit:
High APRs: Typical cards have APR ranges that max out around 25%, but unsecured cards for bad credit can have APRs near 30%. Also, since you have bad credit, you most often will receive the highest APR listed in the terms and conditions.
Annual fee: Many credit cards in general have annual fees, but this can often be outweighed by the added benefits provided. However, unsecured cards for bad credit often lack the added benefits that cards for good credit offer.
Program or processing fee: Unsecured cards for bad credit often charge a program or processing fee that serves to open your account and lets you access your credit. This is something you wonâ€™t find with unsecured cards from major banks and credit card issuers.
Monthly service fee: This fee is characteristic of some unsecured cards and is another cost you have to keep in mind before applying since it can effectively lower your line of credit.
Credit card options when you have bad credit
Store credit cards
Odds are youâ€™ve been asked to apply for a credit card while checking out at a store or online. The card offers often entices you with a rewards program or discount on your current purchase, and gets you thinking if you should apply. The card that youâ€™re being offered is a store credit card and these cards can only be used at the issuing store. Since they are more likely to approve you compared with regular credit cards, they may seem like an easy way to establish credit, but there are some pitfalls to keep in mind.
Good approval odds: Store cards are more likely to extend you credit than regular credit cards.
Rewards and discounts: Store cards often give you rewards for each purchase you make and send you card member discounts. This can be a great way to save money at stores where you frequently shop.
Limited use: You most likely can only use your card in the issuing store. For example, a Target REDcardTM Credit Card can only be used for Target purchases.
High interest rates: Store cards tend to have higher interest rates than regular cards, so make sure you pay your statements in full and on time to avoid interest charges.
Get 5% off your eligible purchase or order charged to your Loweâ€™s Advantage Card.
Secured credit cards
A secured credit card requires you to deposit money upfront, which acts as collateral in case your account defaults. The amount you deposit typically becomes your line of credit. For example, if you put down a $200 security deposit, that means you likely have a $200 credit limit; deposit more and your credit limit will increase. Typical security deposits are $200, but you can be asked to deposit more or less depending on the card.
Less chance of overspending: Since your credit limit is equal to the amount you deposit, itâ€™s unlikely you will have a high credit limit. This can prevent you from charging large amounts and falling into debt.
Great way to build or improve:Secured cards are our favorite way to build or improve credit since you are more likely to be approved for a secured card with bad credit, and you can see your score rise with proper credit behavior and spending as little at $10 a month.
Security deposit required: You may not have the money available for the required security deposit, therefore possibly ruling out your chances of a secured card.
Low credit limit: Your line of credit is equal to your security deposit and most people donâ€™t have the money available to deposit hundreds or thousands of dollars, making your available line of credit lower than unsecured cards.
Secured card options
The Capital OneÂ® Secured MastercardÂ® is a good option for people who may not be able to afford a $200 security deposit since they also offer a $49 or $99 deposit â€” but take caution that you donâ€™t choose your deposit, Capital OneÂ® does. So you may not receive the lower deposit.
Potentially low security deposit: You may qualify for a $49 or $99 deposit instead of the $200 deposit depending on your creditworthiness. If you qualify for one of the lower deposits, you will still receive a $200 line of credit.
Access to a higher credit line: When you make your first 5 monthly payments on time, you receive a higher credit line.
Account reviews: Capital OneÂ® reviews your account to see if you can be transitioned to an unsecured card and receive your deposit back. However, there is no set time frame for when your account will be reviewed.
High APR: Similar to other secured cards, this card has a high APR that can be an issue if you carry a balance. A good rule of thumb is to pay each bill in full and on time to avoid interest charges.
A credit builder loan is when a lender (typically a credit union) puts funds into a savings account or CD and a borrower makes monthly payments until the amount is paid off. Typically, the borrower cannot access the funds until the balance is paid in full. Your savings act as collateral for the lender, so if you donâ€™t make payments they know they wonâ€™t lose money.
The monthly payments you make include interest fees and often occur over a 12-, 18- or 24-month term. Credit builder loans can be a good way for you to improve your credit score and act as a forced savings since you canâ€™t withdraw funds until you repay the amount you borrowed.
Report to the credit bureaus: Credit builder loans report to the major credit bureaus, allowing you to rebuild or establish credit history â€” as long as you follow the terms of your loan and make timely payments.
Source of savings: Since the funds are placed in a savings account or CD, you have a forced savings that is accessible at the end of the loan term.
Funds are locked: You canâ€™t withdraw money borrowed until your loan is paid off. So if you need money upfront, a credit builder loan isnâ€™t a good option.
Credit builder loans at Self Lender offer 12 or 24 month loans where you pay back a loan from $526 to $1,700. Funds are deposited into a CD thatâ€™s FDIC-insured and earns interest. However, you cannot access the funds until the loan is paid off. There is a $15 non-refundable administration fee that you pay when you open your account. After that, you pay equal monthly payments for the term of your account (these payments include interest charges). Once you pay off the amount borrowed, you can access your funds plus interest earned.
At Republic Bank, you can take out a credit builder loan for 12, 18 or 24 months with loan amounts of $500, $1,000 or $1,500. Your funds are placed in a CD that earns interest and is only accessible once the loan is paid. There is a $10 processing fee when you open your account. When you complete your monthly payments (which include interest), you can either withdraw your funds or leave them in a CD.
Unsecured credit card options for bad credit
An unsecured credit card is simply a regular credit card. Unlike secured cards, there is no minimum security deposit required to access a line of credit. These cards often provide higher credit limits than secured cards and can help you build credit when used responsibly.
You wonâ€™t need to make a deposit to access your line of credit.
Unsecured cards typically have higher credit limits than secured cards. And, the two cards mentioned below both have credit limits starting at $300.
Many secured cards for bad credit come with annual fees, so youâ€™ll have to make sure the fee is worth it. If the unsecured card has an annual fee but no rewards, look for alternatives.
The Capital OneÂ® QuicksilverOneÂ® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good unsecured card for those looking to earn cash back while building credit â€” just watch out for the $39 annual fee.
You can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. This is a decent rate considering this is a card for those with average/fair/limited credit.
When you make your first five monthly payments on time, you receive a higher credit line.
This card comes with a $39 annual fee. Annual fees are common for cards aimed at people with poor credit, but you can find cards without annual fees like the Capital OneÂ® Platinum Credit Card mentioned below. With this card, if you spend $2,600 a year, youâ€™ll earn enough cash back to recoup the fee.
This card comes with a high APR that can be an issue if you carry a balance. Try to always pay on time and in full so you donâ€™t incur interest charges.
The Capital OneÂ® Platinum Credit Card is a decent option if you want a no-frills, unsecured credit card that can allow you to build credit without the distraction of rewards.
This card is no-frills, but that may be the best option for you if you think you may be tempted to overspend with a rewards card. You can use this card to build credit and work toward a higher credit score.
Similar to most cards for less-than-stellar credit, there is a high APR. However, if you pay your balance on time and in full each month, this wonâ€™t be an issue.
Total VISAÂ® Credit Card
The Total VISAÂ® Credit Card is also accessible to those with poor credit, but it comes at a steep price â€” a long list of fees. Apply with caution.
Regular purchase APR: See Terms
Cash advance APR: See Terms
Program fee: If approved, just pay an $89.00 program fee to open your account and access your available credit.
Annual Fee: See Terms
Monthly servicing fee: None for first year (introductory). After that, $75 annually ($6.25 per month).
Additional card fee: $29 annually (if applicable)
Cash advance fee: None for first year (introductory). After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater.
Late payment fee: Up to $39
Returned payment fee: Up to $39
What to watch out for
The Total VISAÂ® Credit Card has numerous fees that make this card quite expensive to use, and many fees are not typical of mainstream credit cards. The APR is one of the highest on the market (See Terms for APR), and typical credit cards have APRs that max out around 25%.
Similar to Credit One, the annual fee (See Terms) for the Total VISAÂ® Credit Card is deducted from your initial credit line, lowering your available credit until the fee is paid off:
â€śNotice: The Annual Fee will be assessed before you begin using your card and will reduce the amount of credit you initially have available. Based on your initial credit limit of $300.00, your initial available credit will only be $225.00 (only $196.00 if you choose to have an additional card).â€ť
There is a monthly servicing fee of $75 annually ($6.25 per month) associated with this card that is quite steep and characteristic of cards for bad credit. Also, if you take out additional cards, you will be charged $29 annually. Considering the program fee, annual fee and monthly service fees, youâ€™re looking at a jaw-dropping amount of fees with this card. In the first year, if youâ€™re only considering the program and annual fee, you would be charged $164 and subsequent years would incur $123 in fees from the annual fee and monthly servicing fees.
Finally, watch out for the credit limit increase fee. Once your account has been open at least a year, Total VISA can charge you a 20% fee on credit limit increases. For example, if your limit is increased by $100, thatâ€™s a $20 fee.
How to build credit
As someone with bad credit, itâ€™s important to practice responsible credit behavior and follow several rules so you can improve your credit.
Pay your bills on time: When you receive a bill, pay it as soon as possible and always before the due date. By paying on time, you wonâ€™t be charged a late payment fee and the lender wonâ€™t have to report your bad credit behavior to the credit bureaus. Use autopay features or set calendar alerts so you donâ€™t forget.
Pay your statement balance in full every month: Donâ€™t carry a balance on your card because youâ€™ll be charged interest on any overdue amounts and can fall into debt.
Donâ€™t max out your card: If you receive a $500 credit limit, donâ€™t spend the full amount each month because that shows lenders youâ€™re a risky client and negatively impacts your credit score. The amount of your available credit you use is known as utilization and the goal is to have a 20% or lower utilization rate â€” so spend $100 on a card with a $500 credit limit.
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