The Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Improve your credit score with the right credit card.

When your credit is limited, it may seem like your options for credit cards are limited as well. You may even consider not using a credit card altogether. However, finding the right credit card and using it responsibly may be the key to rebuilding poor or damaged credit. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best credit cards for bad credit.

Apply Now on Credit One Bank's secure website

Our top pick – the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® – offers free credit score updates, cash back on eligible purchases, fraud protection, and more. Each card on our list is designed to help you rebuild your credit when used responsibly.

Check out our list and get details on each card, as well as tips for how to use them from The Simple Dollar team. Found a card that meets your needs? Great! Many offer free pre-qualification checks that won’t hurt your credit score. Or you can apply online directly – it’s fast and easy.

Best credit cards for bad credit (2017)

Unsecured cards

Secured cards

Types of cards for bad credit

Before you get started, there are two types of cards—secured and unsecured. Here’s what you need to know about each:

  • Secured: Secured credit cards are backed by a cash security deposit you put down as collateral. A secured card reduces the risk to the card issuer, allowing them to use your cash deposit if you don’t make a payment. This makes secured credit cards great for people with limited or negative credit history. Typically, the deposit matches your credit limit. So, if you put down $500, you’ll have a $500 credit limit. 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: Most credit cards you’re familiar with are unsecured, meaning the card issuer trusts you to make a payment based on your history of being responsible with credit. With an unsecured credit card, you won’t need to put down a cash security deposit; however, you will likely need to have some established credit to qualify. Unsecured cards are sometimes harder to qualify for, and those with poor credit may end up with a higher interest rate or additional fees with an unsecured credit card.

Pre-qualification and credit scores

Getting pre-qualified for a credit card will not hurt your credit score since it is a “soft” inquiry. These “soft” inquiries only stay on your credit report temporarily, unlike “hard” inquiries, such as opening a new credit card or applying for a loan, that do factor into your credit score.

Top unsecured credit cards of 2017

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®

Apply Now on Credit One Bank's secure website

Our top choice, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®, offers you an easy and convenient way to rebuild your credit, plus a lot of perks. Signup is easy with very few upfront costs – free pre-qualification, no security deposit, and a small annual fee of up to $99. Once you’re a cardmember, you’ll enjoy benefits like cash back rewards on eligible purchases, free monthly credit score updates, account alerts via email or text, fraud protection, and more. The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® makes it easy to manage your account, improve your credit score, and earn rewards!

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best Use

Consider this

Consider This

Our verdict

Our Verdict

  • 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.
  • Check to see if you’re pre-qualified—it won’t hurt your credit score.
  • Earn 1% cash back on your eligible purchases like gas, groceries, mobile phone, internet, cable, and satellite TV. Terms apply.
  • Keep an eye on your balance and consider big purchases carefully to keep your credit utilization rate low.

The card does have an annual fee of up to $99, so it may not be the best long-term option. If you’re looking for no annual fee, consider the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee. With this card, you could be eligible for a refund of your security deposit after a credit review process.

There’s a reason we chose the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® as our top pick of credit cards for bad credit. The card combines ease of use with the best combination of features of any unsecured card on our list. Be sure to take advantage of 1% cash back rewards on a variety of everyday purchases—a perk that many competitors don’t offer.

Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®

Apply Now on Indigo's secure website

If you want to keep things simple while rebuilding your credit, look no further than the Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®. This card is all about offering you a straightforward opportunity to meet your everyday needs while reestablishing your credit. They’re forgiving of past bankruptcy, you can get pre-qualified in minutes, and you can monitor your account through online or mobile banking. Use your card to focus on the basics – building positive credit and keeping credit utilization low – and you’ll be on your way to improving your credit in no time.

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best Use

Consider this

Consider This

Our verdict

Our Verdict

  • 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!
  • Check to see if you’re pre-qualified—it won’t hurt your credit score.
  • Pay your balance in full every month to build credit and avoid interest penalties.
  • As your credit score improves, consider “upgrading” to a card with cash back or other rewards.
Be prepared: Your annual fee and APR may not be the most favorable terms, depending on your credit. For instance, the annual fee can range from $0 to $99. Also, be sure to make payments on time to build credit and avoid a 29.9% penalty APR that may be applied to your account indefinitely.
The Indigo® Platinum MasterCard® may not have all the bells and whistles of other cards, but it will offer you a sensible, no-hassle means to improve your credit score. One major perk: they’re forgiving of past bankruptcy. Use it at more than 35 million locations worldwide, and make payments on time and in full to rebuild your credit.

Milestone® Gold MasterCard®

Apply Now on Milestone's secure website

Another great option for credit that’s been severely damaged, especially by a previous bankruptcy, is the Milestone® Gold MasterCard®.

Like other cards, you can get pre-qualified almost instantly without hurting your credit score, and no security deposit is required. You’ll also benefit from identity theft resolution services, extended warranty coverage, price and fraud protection, as well as free online account access to easily manage your account.

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best use

Consider this

Consider this

Our verdict

Our verdict

  • 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
  • Check to see if you’re pre-qualified—it won’t hurt your credit score.
  • Pay your balance in full every month to improve your credit score and avoid a high-interest penalty APR.
  • As your credit score improves, consider “upgrading” to a card with cash back or other rewards.
Be sure to pay on time! There is a penalty APR for late payments, and you may end up with the higher interest rate applied to your account indefinitely. Also, like other cards, your credit score determines your annual fee, which varies from $35 to $75 for the first year (then $99 after).
For anyone with less than perfect credit, the Milestone® Gold MasterCard® can be an effective tool on your way to rebuilding your credit. Enjoy the convenience of a credit card at more than 35 million locations worldwide backed by MasterCard®. Pay your bill in full and on time each month to improve your creditworthiness.

Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card

Apply Now on TotalCreditSolution.com

For anyone who wants to take a disciplined approach to credit, consider the Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card. The ideal cardholder will need to overlook a few flaws. For instance, the card does have a processing fee, monthly servicing fee, and higher interest rates. However, with a credit limit of only $300, it should be easy to pay your balance off in full and on time each month. One thing to keep in mind: with a smaller credit limit, you’ll need to keep an eye on your balance. Keep your credit utilization low to boost your credit score.

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best use

Consider this

Consider this

Our verdict

Our verdict

  • 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!
  • Keep the card’s $300 limit in mind when making purchases, especially larger items.
  • Avoid the higher penalty APR by paying your balance on time and in full.
  • As your credit score improves, consider “upgrading” to a card with cash back or other rewards.
There are some trade-offs with this card—no security deposit, but some fees. Once approved, you’ll pay a one-time $89 processing fee, then you’ll have a $6.25 monthly servicing fee applied after your first year. Pay your balance on time, or you’ll face a fee of up to $38 for late or returned payments. If you want an option with fewer fees, consider the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.
The Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card isn’t for everyone, but can provide a structured and disciplined approach for anyone who’s cautiously approaching their credit score. While your credit limit is capped at $300, you’ll get plenty of chances to use your card at more than 30 million locations where VISA® is accepted. Remember: pay off your balance in full and on time each month to avoid interest payments and rebuild your credit.

Top secured credit cards of 2017

Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

In some cases, your credit may require you to consider a secured card with a deposit. In that situation, consider the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee. While a security deposit of $200 or more is required to establish your credit line (what you put down is equal to your credit limit), Discover gives you the chance to receive a refund of your deposit after eight months responsible card usage. Additionally, the card features no annual fee, cash back rewards, and automatic dollar-for-dollar cash back matching at the end of your first year­—benefits that set it apart from other secured cards.

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best use

Consider this

Consider this

Our verdict

Our verdict

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.
  • Use for purchases at restaurants and gas stations to earn 2% cash back up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. (Purchases elsewhere will earn you 1% cash back.)
  • Pay your balance on time to build your credit and potentially qualify for a security deposit refund.
  • Keep an eye on your credit score with free FICO® credit score reporting on your monthly statements.
Your credit limit will depend on your security deposit amount. The minimum amount is $200, but it could be up to $2,500, depending on your income and credit history. If you want to avoid a security deposit, consider the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.
There’s a lot to love about the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee – refundable security deposit, no annual fee, cash back rewards, automatic cash back matching, FICO® credit score reporting for free, and more! With this card, you’ll have the ability to rebuild your credit and earn rewards, too.

USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card

Apply Now on USAA's secure website

While not everyone will qualify, the USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card is one of our top picks among secured cards for members of the armed forces.

A security deposit is required; however, that deposit is made through an interest-earning two-year certificate of deposit (CD) of $250 to $5,000 that is guaranteed to grow. Additionally, the card features a lot of military friendly perks, like 4% APR for up to 12 months during deployments and PCS and $0 foreign transaction fees.

Highlights

Highlights

How to use it

Best use

Consider this

Consider this

Our verdict

Our verdict

  • 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.
  • Your credit limit will depend on your security deposit amount ($250 to $5,000). To give yourself a higher credit limit (and make it easier to keep credit utilization low), make your initial deposit as large as possible.
  • Make sure to pay on time and in full. There’s no penalty APR, but late payments carry fee of up to $35 and can still lead to interest charges at the regular APR.
  • Avoid penalties for early withdrawal by leaving the CD untouched for two years.
Think twice about balance transfers, cash advances, and convenience checks, since they can carry a 3% fee. Also, a balance transfer can’t be made from another USAA account.

If you’re a member of the armed forces and you’re looking to rebuild your credit, consider the USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card. You can choose your credit limit based on your security deposit of $250 to $5,000, which will earn you money as a two-year CD, making it a worthwhile investment. Also, take advantage of extra-low APR and $0 foreign transaction fees during deployments and PCS.

Best credit cards for bad credit (2017): summed up

Unsecured cards

Secured cards

Credit card application “rules” for when you have poor or bad credit

It may seem contradictory, but using a credit card is one of the best ways to begin repairing any credit mistakes. The trick is to pick a card for poor or bad credit (like the ones above) and follow a few simple “rules.”

Here’s what you need to consider before applying:

  • Know your credit score.
  • Decide if a card or a short-term loan for bad credit would be better.
  • Sign up for a credit monitoring service.
  • Choose your card carefully. A low credit score will decrease your likelihood of being approved for top rewards, travel, or cash back cards — and a hard inquiry during the application process could hurt your credit, whether or not you’re approved.
  • Consider using a prepaid debit card if you find yourself falling behind.

First and foremost, you need to understand what your credit looks like, and that starts by knowing your credit score and getting a credit report. The Federal Trade Commission allows you to request a free credit report from one, or all three, of the major credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—once every 12 months. You can request a copy from one or all of these bureaus online at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

Your credit report will show your entire credit history and give you an idea of where you can improve. For instance, do you make late payments regularly? If so, you’ll want to set up automatic payments or payment reminders. Your credit score is determined by several “good” and “bad” credit actions.

Good for credit:

  • Making payments on time each month.
  • Paying the minimum or full balance.
  • Establishing a long credit history.
  • Keeping a low credit utilization rate.
  • Paying down or off a credit card.
  • Disputing any errors on your credit report.

Bad for credit:

  • Making late payments or skipping deadlines.
  • Maxing out a credit card or going over the limit.
  • Keeping a high running balance on your card.

Additionally, you may want to consider a credit monitoring service to better understand your credit report and protect against future negative impacts from fraud or identity theft.

Secured vs. unsecured: making the right choice

As mentioned above, there are two types of credit cards—secured and unsecured. In most cases, your “ideal card” will come with low fees and the potential for rewards. That is why we recommend the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.

If you’re still not sure which to choose, consider these strategies:

  • Strategy #1: Try to get an unsecured credit card. Unsecured credit cards are usually harder to qualify for but come with lower fees and upfront costs. If you’re worried about rejection or a hard inquiry on your credit report, try pre-qualification first. The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® offers a pre-qualification option with just a few simple questions.
  • Strategy #2: Go secured for a limited time. If you don’t quite qualify for an unsecured card just yet, start with a secured card. Choose either of the secured cards on our shortlist, and you can get your deposit back if you pay your balance in full and on time, which will also build your credit. Also, secured cards aren’t forever—once your credit starts improving, you can “upgrade” to an unsecured account (preferably with a rewards program).
  • 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. In this case, start with a prepaid debit card for a limited time. Unlike secured and unsecured credit cards, these types of cards give the appearance of credit but are only funded when you make a deposit. However, since they don’t extend credit, you can’t rebuild credit over time, and they are known to have various fees attached.

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.

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Research recap: the best credit cards for bad credit

Rebuilding your credit is a slow process that won’t happen overnight. To get started, you need to figure out why your score is low in the first place and take actionable steps to repair any issues. The best credit cards for bad credit can also help you prove your creditworthiness over time. These steps take some initiative, 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 a bank account.
  3. See if you can pre-qualify for an unsecured card.
  4. If you can’t, then put down the deposit needed for a secured card.
  5. Keep making your payments on time!

With 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. Credit cards for bad credit can help, but only if you take that first step.

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.

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