Updated on Jul 5, 2017

The Best Cards for Bad Credit (2017)

Looking to improve your credit score? You’ve come to the right place.
Mike Jelinek
By
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If your credit needs some work, don’t give up! Making on-time payments — and keeping your credit utilization low — is the best way to improve your score. Unfortunately, it can be harder to open a new account once your credit has been damaged. But here’s the good news: the cards on our shortlist are perfect for rebuilding credit. They have more relaxed requirements than most cards do, so it’s easier to get approved. Choose any card on our list, and focus on paying off your balance monthly to show lenders you’re a responsible borrower.

Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit (2017)

Unsecured Credit Cards

Secured Credit Cards

Types of Cards for Bad Credit

Not sure which type of card you need? Start here.
Secured Cards

Secured credit cards require a security deposit as collateral — and often, your credit limit will be equal to your deposit. If you can’t qualify for an unsecured card, you may still be able to get a secured card.

Unsecured Cards

While unsecured credit cards can be more difficult to qualify for, they usually offer lower ongoing fees and upfront charges. Take advantage of prequalification to find out if you’re likely to be approved.

Heads up!

Cards on our list appear in order of recommendation, starting with our Top Pick. Keep an eye out for Secured and Unsecured labels as you explore all the options.


The Simple Dollar's Top Pick
Apply Now on Credit One Bank's secure website.
Unsecured

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®
Upfront fees$0 – 99 annual fee
APR16.74% – 24.74% Variable

Pre-qualification available?Yes
Previous bankruptcy OK?Not specified
Rewards program 1% cash back on eligible purchases. (Terms apply.)
Highlights Provided by Credit One Show Highlights
  • No security deposit required. Get a 100% unsecured card that can help grow and build credit.
  • Focused on growing or rebuilding your credit? We report account activity to all three major credit bureaus each month to help keep your credit score up-to-date.
  • Find out if you're Pre-Qualified without harming your credit score. It's fast, easy, and secure.
  • Looking for more credit? Get credit line increase opportunities, a fee may apply
  • Get 1% cash back on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV. Terms apply.
  • Your account is safeguarded against unauthorized charges with Zero Fraud Liability at no additional charge
  • Stay in-the-know about your account with custom email and text alerts that remind you of your payment due date, notify you when a payment posts, or warn you if your available credit runs low
  • Show off your style with a premium card design, a fee may apply.

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You’re looking for a card with low upfront cost and access to a rewards program.

How to use it
  • Get pre-qualified without harming your credit score.
  • Don’t charge anything you couldn’t pay for outright. Budget to pay off your entire balance each month to build credit and avoid interest payments.
  • Use this card on eligible purchases like gas, groceries, and internet to earn cash back.
The fine print

There’s an annual fee of up to $99. While this means fairly low initial cost, it could mean a larger cost long-term, depending on the fee amount and how long you own the card. (Compare with the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, which offers the opportunity of a deposit refund in as few as seven months — and no annual fee.)

Why you'll love it

The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® offers a lower barrier to entry than secured cards, with a small annual fee and no security deposit. It also boasts one of the more reasonable APRs in its category. Add all that to 1% cash back on common purchases, and this card is definitely a contender.

Start your application now
Apply Now on Genesis Bankcard Services' secure website.
Unsecured

Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®
Upfront fees$0 – 99 annual fee
APR23.9% Penalty APR: 29.9%

Pre-qualification available?Yes
Previous bankruptcy OK?Yes
Highlights Provided by Genesis Bank Show Highlights
  • Pre-qualification available with no impact to your credit score
  • Previous bankruptcy OK
  • Easy pre-qualification process with fast response
  • Free online account access (mobile friendly)
  • Protection from fraud, if your card happens to be lost or stolen
  • Accepted at over 35 Million Locations Worldwide!

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You’ve had a previous bankruptcy and need a no-frills card to rebuild your credit score.

How to use it
  • Answer a few pre-qualification questions to find out if you’re likely to be approved.
  • Pay your balance on time each month to strengthen your credit score and avoid the high penalty APR.
  • Once your credit score is where it needs to be, consider switching to a card that offers a rewards program.
The fine print

The annual fee varies based on creditworthiness. You could pay up to $99/year to use this card, depending on your credit score. Watch out for the penalty APR; if you make a late payment, your APR increases to 29.9%. According to the terms, this rate “may apply to your account indefinitely.” So be careful!

Why you'll love it

The Indigo® Platinum MasterCard® is accepted at over 35 million locations worldwide. And because it’s an unsecured card, it doesn’t require a deposit to get started. But this card’s relaxed application guidelines are the real headline: even a previous bankruptcy won’t necessarily disqualify you. Get pre-qualified, then apply to enjoy the convenience of a credit card and the opportunity to strengthen your credit score.

Start your application now
Apply Now on Genesis Bankcard Services' secure website.
Unsecured

Milestone® Gold MasterCard®
Upfront fees$35 – $99 annual fee
APR23.9% Penalty APR: 29.9%

Pre-qualification available?Yes
Previous bankruptcy OK?Yes
Highlights Provided by Genesis Bank Show Highlights
  • Quick pre-qualification available with no impact to your credit score
  • Easy pre-qualification process with fast response
  • Choose your custom card design - Free
  • Free online account access
  • Protection from fraud, if your card happens to be lost or stolen
  • Accepted at over 35 Million Locations Worldwide!
  • Previous bankruptcy OK

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You have a bankruptcy in your credit history and prefer an unsecured card.

How to use it
  • Take advantage of pre-qualification to check your eligibility without a hard inquiry on your credit score.
  • Budget to pay off your balance monthly (or bi-monthly!) to build credit and avoid the higher penalty APR.
  • After your credit score improves, make the switch to a card with a rewards program.
The fine print

The annual fee varies from $35 – $99 based on your credit score. Be careful to make on-time payments; if you pay late, your APR will increase to 29.9%, and the new rate “may apply to your account indefinitely.”

Why you'll love it

Because this card is backed by MasterCard®, it’s accepted just about anywhere. And with an annual fee of $99 or less, the Milestone® Gold MasterCard® makes it relatively inexpensive to get started rebuilding your credit score ASAP — without a security deposit.

Start your application now
Apply Now on Mid America Bank & Trust's secure website.
Unsecured

Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card
Upfront fees$89 processing fee; $75 annual fee for first year (then $48)
APR29.99%

Pre-qualification available?No
Previous bankruptcy OK?Not specified
Highlights Provided by Mid America Bank & Trust Company Show Highlights
  • Checking Account Required
  • Fast and easy application process; response provided in seconds
  • A genuine VISA card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online
  • Manageable monthly payments
  • If approved, simply pay a Processing Fee to open your account and access your available credit
  • Reports monthly to all three major credit bureaus
  • Select your favorite card design from our gallery, for free!
  • No-Fee credit line increase opportunities!

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You want an unsecured credit card with a reduced annual fee after the first year.

How to use it
  • This card has an initial credit limit of $300. To keep your credit usage low, think carefully before making any large purchases.
  • Pay your entire balance monthly (or more often) to avoid interest at this card’s high APR.
  • Once your credit score improves, switch to a card with fewer fees and a rewards program.
The fine print

This card has a few fees to watch out for. The annual fee is highest for the first year ($75). There’s an $89 processing fee after your application is approved; and after that, you’ll pay a monthly servicing fee of $6.25/month (waived the first year). There’s also a $37 fee for late payments and returned payments.

Why you'll love it

You can use the Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card anywhere VISA® cards are accepted. If you keep your credit usage low and make payments regularly and on time, this card can help you establish positive credit over time.

Start your application now
Secured

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee
Upfront feesRefundable deposit equal to credit limit ($200 minimum)
APR23.99% variable

Pre-qualification available?No
Previous bankruptcy OK?Not specified
Rewards program 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations; unlimited 1% on all other purchases. Terms applyGet a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • A security deposit of $200 or more will establish your credit line (up to the amount we can approve). Automatic monthly reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an account with no security deposit.
  • Reports to the three major credit bureaus. Plus, get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Tools to assist you; email alerts, text reminders and 24/7 customer service.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You can come up with the initial deposit. If you can, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a credit card with a $0 annual fee and a rewards program!

How to use it
  • Monitor your FICO® Credit Score for free in your account or on your monthly statement.
  • Pay off your balance on time and in full. Starting at seven months, Discover will review your credit management across all credit cards and loans (including those backed by other banks.) If your accounts are in good standing, Discover may refund your security deposit.
  • Use this card at restaurants and gas stations to earn extra cash back.
The fine print

Once approved, you’ll have to provide a deposit equal to your credit limit ($200 – 2,500). If you’d prefer a card without a security deposit, check out our next pick, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.

Why you'll love it

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a standout for several reasons. It has no annual or monthly fees. It offers a rewards program with first-year Cashback Match™. And you could get your deposit back in as few as seven months! If you can swing the deposit upfront, this card is an excellent option for rebuilding your credit score (and earning some cash back while you’re at it).

Start your application now
Apply Now on USAA Savings Bank's secure website.
Secured

USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card
See Rates & Fees
Upfront feesSecurity deposit to 2-year CD ($250 minimum); $35 annual fee
APR10.90% to 26.90% variable

Pre-qualification available?No
Previous bankruptcy OK?Not specified
Highlights Provided by USAA Savings Bank Show Highlights
  • Best for members rebuilding or establishing credit.
  • Determine your own credit limit ($250 to $5,000) with an interest-earning CD.
  • No foreign transaction fees when you travel outside the United States.

Our two cents

Consider this card if...

You’re a member of the armed forces — and can afford to place a deposit (minimum $250) in a two-year CD.

How to use it
  • Make as large an initial deposit as possible. Your deposit will determine your credit limit (up to $5,000.)
  • Leave your security deposit in your CD for the full two-year term to avoid early withdrawal penalties.
  • Pay your balance on time and in full to boost your credit score.
The fine print

While your deposit is refundable, you’ll pay early withdrawal penalties if you take it out of the CD before two years are up. Your deposit amount will determine your credit limit, so it’s smart to come up with as much as you can upfront.

Why you'll love it

If you’re a member of the armed forces, the USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card is absolutely worth a look. It boasts extra-low APR (just 4%!) during deployment or PCS, as well as a special SCRA rate. If you can part with your security deposit for two years, you’ll enjoy a card with solid perks (like $0 foreign transaction fees) and low APR while you’re rebuilding your credit.

Start your application now

Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit: Summed Up

Simple Rules For Applying For A Card With Poor Credit

Getting a credit card for bad credit is one of the best ways to begin repairing any credit mistakes you may have made in the past. However, there are a few “rules” that can help guide you towards the best outcome possible. Before you apply, here are some basic tips to consider:
  • Know your credit score
  • Decide if you want a card or if you really need a short term loan. If its the latter, check out the Best Bad Credit Loan options.
  • Sign up for a credit monitoring service
  • Don’t apply for the best rewards cards, travel cards, or cash back cards
  • Consider using a prepaid debit card if you find yourself falling behind
You first need to understand your credit before you can start improving it. How else would you know what improvements to make? Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting agency, which enables you to ensure the information on all of your credit reports is correct and up to date. To get a copy of your free credit report from the three credit reporting agencies, visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you pour through your credit report and analyze the factors that may be negatively impacting your credit score, you can also consider using a credit monitoring service as your next step. Not only can credit monitoring services help you understand what goes into your credit report, but they can also protect you from future negative impacts from fraud or identity theft. In a post on the best credit monitoring services, we recommend Identity Guard as the top choice, but I’ve included others for you to consider.
Identity Guard 30-day free trial $14.99/month
LifeLock 30 day risk-free* trial $19.99/month
IdentityForce No free trial $23.95/month
Experian 7-day free trial $19.95/month
TransUnion 7-day free trial $16.95/month
* Credit card required at enrollment. If you’re not completely satisfied within your 30-day risk-free period, call 1-800-LifeLock to receive a full refund. At enrollment, your credit card will be billed automatically ($8.49mo/$93.41yr for LifeLock Standard™ or $16.99mo/$186.91yr for LifeLock Advantage™ or $25.49mo/$280.41yr for LifeLock Ultimate Plus™, plus applicable sales tax). Further details about automatic charges will be provided at enrollment. You can cancel LifeLock services anytime without penalty by calling 1-800-LifeLock. Offer is for new LifeLock members only. Offer is available for LifeLock Standard™, LifeLock Advantage™ and LifeLock Ultimate Plus™ memberships only. Not combinable with other offers.

Research More Credit Cards to Rebuild Your Credit

Below is a directory with the most popular credit cards for bad credit in the marketplace. These include the best secured credit cards and unsecured credit cards for lower credit. Sometimes, credit card issuers bring new cards to the market and sometimes they choose to discontinue certain cards. All changes are reflected in real-time in this directory.

Directory of Credit Cards for Bad Credit

To develop an overall rating for each credit card shown, I analyzed the features of each card. After that, I considered the importance level of each feature my measuring how much it matters to the average consumer who is researching credit cards for bad credit. The most heavily weighted features of a credit card for bad credit are Deposit Requirement, Ease of Qualification, and Initial Credit Limit. I also considered the Credit Reporting, Annual Fee, and APR associated with each card. The rating I developed for each card provides an objective basis for comparison based on the features we decided are most valuable to the majority of customers with below-average credit. Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best credit card for you.
Sort By Card Name
Issuer
Rewards Tier Level
Common Filters No Annual Fee
Search Do you know of a card that is not in our directory? Suggest a Card Here
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Secondary Card Type
Issuer
Rewards Tier Level
Apply Online
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Secondary Card Type
Issuer
Rewards Tier Level
Apply Online
$0-$99
Low Credit
Credit One
Poor
* (?)
$35 - $99
N/A
Genesis Bank
None
$0 - $99
N/A
Genesis Bank
None
$0 the first year, then $25
Secured
U.S. Bank
Average
* (?)

Rating Methodology

To help explain what I looked at when rating these cards, a more detailed outline is included below.

Deposit Requirement

Deposit Requirement is the amount of money the cardholder must deposit in order to qualify for a secured credit card. Since credit card companies take a perceived risk by extending credit to someone with a low credit score, many require this deposit. If you should happen to default on your balance, you should expect your card issuer to keep your deposit. In most cases, there are better uses for the money you would need to deposit to qualify for a secured card. If you’re carrying high-interest debt from another card, for example, you may want to consider using that money to pay down your debt and getting a prepaid debit card to use instead.

Ease of Qualification

Ease of Qualification carries a high importance rating because credit cards for bad credit can’t help you if you can’t qualify in the first place. And while almost anyone can qualify for a secured credit card if their deposit is large enough, not everyone has enough money to put down a deposit. That’s why the ability to qualify easily is so important. To improve your credit in the long run, you need to be able to qualify for the card of your choosing and start using credit responsibly right away. Prequalification makes the process easier by allowing you to answer a few simple questions that will give you a pretty good idea of whether or not you will be accepted. An added advantage of prequalification is that it doesn’t cause a hard inquiry on your credit report. Avoiding a hard inquiry may make it easier for you to sign up for a secured card if you get rejected.

Initial Credit Limit

Initial Credit Limit is the amount you can borrow immediately upon opening an account. This amount is usually low. Most often, the limit is below $500. In contrast, initial credit limits for those with excellent credit can be thousands of dollars. Initial Credit Limit is important because the more you can start with the better. For example, if you have to deposit $300 for a $300 Initial Credit Limit, it might not make sense to open that card. The good news is that many of the best credit cards for bad credit provide a clear path to increasing your credit line. If you can manage to pay your bills on time and stay current on your account, you will likely qualify for a credit line increase after your first year.

Credit Reporting

Credit Reporting encompasses both the tools available for you to monitor your credit score and the way the card interacts with the credit reporting agencies. Many of the best credit cards for bad credit provide your credit score on your monthly statement. While not a complete rundown of your credit history, it is nice to see the changes in your score from month to month as you build your credit profile back up. Simply put, the best cards not only help you build your credit, but also provide online tools that can help you monitor your credit score. Another important factor to consider is the fact that not all credit cards report your financial history to all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. If you have bad credit, look for a card that reports to all three credit reporting agencies. Remember, a new credit card can only help you if your credit activities are actually being reported.

Annual Fee

Annual Fee refers to the fee charged each year by the credit card company to maintain your line of credit. Typically, annual fees are charged on rewards credit cards or cards that offer certain other valuable travel perks. Unfortunately, almost all credit cards for bad credit charge an annual fee. Although paying this fee may not be ideal, you should consider it as the price you pay for the opportunity to rebuild your credit or establish a positive credit history. Once you repair your credit and build your score over time, you can always cancel your current credit card and apply for one that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

APR

The APR refers to the interest rate charged on your balance when you do not fully pay the balance off each month. Unfortunately, most credit cards for bad credit charge higher interest rates than average. To avoid paying these charges, all you need to do is pay your balance in full each month. Doing so will not only help you avoid paying interest, but it will also demonstrate that you have learned to use credit responsibly.

The Best Way To Build Your Credit

There are several steps you can take to rebuild poor credit, but the easiest path involves applying for a credit card for bad credit and slowly proving yourself over time. There are two types of credit cards that can help you achieve this goal:
  1. Secured
  2. Unsecured
Choosing which type of credit card will largely depend on how bad your credit score is and how badly you need a credit line.
Keep in mind that your main goal here is to build your credit back up or establish a positive credit history. Choosing a card that helps you accomplish that goal is the number one priority.

Secured Credit Cards

Most credit cards for people with bad credit are secured credit cards. These cards require you to deposit a certain amount of money with the credit card company as collateral. Usually, your credit line is commensurate with the amount you deposit. In other words, your credit line will be equal to your deposit. At this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone would put down a $500 deposit in exchange for a $500 credit line. The main reason people take this route is because they cannot qualify for an unsecured card and they desperately want the opportunity to prove themselves. Remember, the end goal with a secured credit card is to make your payments on time and slowly build your credit over time. If you continue to use credit responsibly, you will likely be able to qualify for a credit card with better terms down the line.

Unsecured Credit Cards

Most credit cards you’re familiar with are unsecured, meaning the line of credit extended to you is not secured by any deposit or other collateral. The credit card issuer is simply trusting your history of responsible repayment and your means to repay. Because lending money to people with lower credit is perceived as riskier, there are some very big differences between unsecured cards targeted to this group vs. unsecured cards targeted at people with higher credit.
  • Fees: Unsecured credit cards for people with bad credit usually come with higher fees.
  • Lower credit limit: If approved, your limit will be much lower, usually less than $500, while people with good credit might get approved for several thousands of dollars depending on their income.
  • Interest rate: Again, because of perceived risk, interest rates on these cards are substantially higher.

Making The Right Choice

Although you may find conflicting advice on which type of card is best, you should ultimately choose the card that benefits you the most. In most cases, your “ideal card” will come with low fees and the potential for rewards. That is why I recommend the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®. If you’re still having trouble figuring out which path to take, consider these strategies:

Strategy #1: Try To Get An Unsecured Credit Card

Before you do anything else, you should first determine if you could qualify for an unsecured card. Although they are typically harder to qualify for, they often come with the lowest fees and will save you from having to put down a deposit upfront. If you’re worried about getting rejected and incurring a hard inquiry on your credit report, try prequalification first. As mentioned above, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® offers a prequalification option. Just answer a few simple questions that will give you an idea of whether or not you can qualify before the actual application goes in.

Strategy #2: Go Secured For A Limited Time

If for some reason you can’t qualify for an unsecured credit card, I suggest getting a secured card. Remember, secured credit cards do not require a lifetime commitment. Even though you have to put down a deposit, you will ultimately get your deposit back if you pay your balance in full and on time. Once your credit score starts improving, you can simply cancel your secured card and apply for an unsecured credit card with better terms. If you choose a secured credit card, make sure you get an updated credit score each month with your statement. For example, the One United Bank Unity Visa Secured Card provides your FICO score each month to help you see your progress. This will help you know when you are ready to apply for a better card that doesn’t require a deposit. Also, make sure that you are utilizing your secured credit card as much as you can. If you want to begin building a credit history, you need to use your card frequently and prove that you can pay your balance in full.

Strategy #3: Use A Prepaid Debit Card As A Short-Term Solution

If you don’t have a bank account, you might have trouble qualifying for a secured credit card. If this is the case, you may want to consider using a prepaid card for a limited time. Unlike secured and unsecured credit cards, prepaid cards are only funded when you make a deposit. Meanwhile, prepaid cards provide the convenience and appearance of credit without many of the risks. Unfortunately, there are downsides that come with using prepaid cards. For example, since they don’t extend credit, they cannot help you rebuild your credit over time. Also, prepaid cards are known to charge various fees for use. Those fees can include balance inquiry fees, transaction fees, application fees, and monthly maintenance fees.

Research Recap

Rebuilding your credit is a slow process that won’t happen overnight. To get started, you simply need to figure out why your score is low in the first place and take actionable steps to repair any lingering issues. The best credit cards for bad credit can also help you prove your creditworthiness over time. All of these steps will take some initiative on your part, but the end result will definitely be worth it. The keys to getting the best credit card when you have bad credit are:
  1. Always make sure you know your credit score.
  2. Get a bank account. Use a prepaid debit card until you can open one.
  3. See if you can qualify for an unsecured card on your own.
  4. If you can’t, then plop down the deposit needed for a secured card.
  5. Keep making your payments on time!
If you understand and implement these steps, you’ll be heading in the right direction to rebuilding your credit score and improving your financial future. Just remember, your credit will not repair itself on its own. Credit cards for bad credit can help, but only if you take that first step.

Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our rankings and recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view a list of partners, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser's page for terms & conditions.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.