Updated on Aug 16, 2019

Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Improve your credit score with the best credit card for bad credit.
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Independently researched content by us. Free financial advice for you. To do that, we may get compensation when you click on our partners’ products. Our lists consist of the best cards from our partners. Not all cards in the marketplace have been evaluated. View our full advertiser disclosure to learn more.

The best credit cards for bad credit can help you build credit, fix credit mistakes from your past, and create a brighter financial future for you and your family. While there are many credit cards for poor credit available, we suggest looking for a card that has low upfront fees and reports to all three credit bureaus. Some credit cards for bad credit also earned bonus points in our ranking based on the fact they let consumers get pre-qualified online without a hard inquiry on their credit report.

The key to using bad credit credit cards to your advantage is making your payments on time each month, keeping your credit card balances low, and monitoring your credit report for positive changes. Choose one of the secured or unsecured credit cards for bad credit from our list and use it responsibly to start building better credit over time.

The Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit

  • Capital One® Secured Mastercard® APPLY NOW
    Best Credit Card for Bad Credit Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
    Apply Now on Capital One's secure website.
  • Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® APPLY NOW
    Best for Past Bankruptcies Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
    Apply Now on Genesis FS Card Services' secure website.
  • Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards APPLY NOW
    Best for Earning Rewards Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards
    Apply Now on Credit One Bank's secure website.
  • Milestone® Gold Mastercard® APPLY NOW
    Best for Getting Pre-qualified Online Milestone® Gold Mastercard®
    Apply Now on Genesis FS Card Services' secure website.
  • Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card APPLY NOW
    Best for Building Credit Slowly Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card
    Apply Now on The Bank of Missouri's secure website.
  • Discover it® Secured APPLY NOW
    See Rates & Fees
    Best Secured Credit Card for Bad Credit Discover it® Secured
    Apply Now on Discover's secure website.

Pro Tip


Don’t look desperate! When starting your search for credit cards for bad credit, you may be tempted to apply for as many as possible in hopes of getting approved. Don’t do this! Each time you apply, a hard inquiry is put on your credit report and this inquiry negatively impacts your credit score for as long as 12 months. Instead of applying for several different cards, try a pre-qualification option first (which is a soft inquiry), or only apply for cards you are confident you’ll be approved for.
Apply Now on Capital One's secure website.

Best Credit Card for Bad Credit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Upfront fees $0 annual fee
APR 26.99% Variable

Pre-qualification available? No
Previous bankruptcy OK? Not specified
Highlights Provided by Capital One Show Highlights
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide
  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $0
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 26.99% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

Anyone who wants to rebuild or establish their credit with minimal upfront costs should consider the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®. There’s no annual fee, and you can put down as little as $49 to establish a $200 line of credit (depending on your creditworthiness). Use your card responsibly, and you could get a refund on your deposit, plus an increase in your credit line — no additional deposit needed!

How to use it
  • Put down a $49, $99, or $200 refundable deposit (based on your creditworthiness) to establish your line of credit. Plus, deposit more money before your account opens to get a higher credit line.
  • Make payments on time and in full each month to avoid interest and potentially qualify for a credit line increase.
  • Take advantage of CreditWise® from Capital One® to view your credit score and monitor your profile as you make progress.
Consider this

In order to qualify for the credit line increase with no additional deposit, you need to make your first five monthly payments on time. Capital One® lets you pick your own monthly due date so you can make payments in full and on time each month on your schedule.

Why you'll love it

Don’t let the security deposit deter you — the costs are minimal, there’s no annual fee, and you could receive a refund, plus a credit line increase, with responsible use. You can take advantage of Capital One® features (such as personalized payments and CreditWise®) and take control of your credit — once and for all.

Start your application now Back to top
Apply Now on Genesis FS Card Services' secure website.

Best for Past Bankruptcies

Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®

Upfront fees See Terms
APR 24.90%

Pre-qualification available? Yes
Previous bankruptcy OK? Yes
Highlights Provided by Genesis FS Card Services 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!
  • Issuer: Genesis FS Card Services
  • Annual Fee: See Terms
  • Cash Advance APR: 29.9%
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 1% of each transaction.
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 24.90%

Our two cents

Who should get it

Anyone who has previously filed for bankruptcy should consider the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®. While fewer people are filing for bankruptcy, anyone who has filed in the past knows that a bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for seven to 10 years, making it difficult to move past it and rebuild your credit. Fortunately, in these cases, there are cards with relaxed guidelines when it comes to a previous bankruptcy. The Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® won’t disqualify you for a previous bankruptcy and you can even check if you pre-qualify before you apply.

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.
Consider this

If you’re still not sure if you’ll qualify, the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® offers a pre-qualification option to let you know the likelihood of getting approved. Even if they can’t match you to an Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®, they’ll offer you the chance to apply for a credit card from another bank.

Why you'll love it

Anyone who’s filed a bankruptcy knows how limited your credit options can be those first few years. That’s why the forgiving guidelines from the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® make it a desirable option. There’s no security deposit required, and the small annual fee makes this card an affordable option for improving your credit score.

Start your application now Back to top
Apply Now on Credit One Bank's secure website.

Best for Earning Rewards

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards

Upfront fees $0 – 99 annual fee
APR 20.24% - 26.24% 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
  • See if you Pre-Qualify in less than 60 seconds-without affecting your credit score. It's fast, easy, and secure.
  • Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV. Terms apply.
  • This is a fully functional, unsecured credit card-not a debit card, prepaid card, or secured credit card with deposit requirements.
  • Credit One Bank evaluates every account for credit line increase opportunities. We'll let you know as soon as you're eligible for a higher credit line.
  • Take advantage of free online access to your Experian credit score and credit report summary so you can track the key factors impacting your credit health. Terms apply.
  • Zero Fraud Liability protects you if your card is ever lost or stolen. Rest easy knowing you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges.
  • Access your account easily from your computer, smartphone, or tablet at CreditOneBank.com or the Credit One Bank Mobile App. You can make payments, see recent transactions, and update your account preferences all at the click of a button.
  • Carry a card that makes you smile by choosing from over 20 unique card designs in Credit One Bank's card gallery. A fee may apply.
  • Issuer: Credit One
  • Annual Fee: $0-$99
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24% Variable
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 20.24% - 26.24% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards is our top pick for a reason – we’d recommend it to anyone with bad credit! It’s not every day that an unsecured credit card for bad credit comes along that also includes rewards, but with this card, you get just that. As a cardholder, you can earn 1% cash back on everyday purchases, such as gas, groceries, mobile phone service, internet service, cable and satellite TV service, dining, and more. Your cash back rewards will come in the form of an automatic statement credit helping you to pay off your account balance. Remember to pay on time and in full to build positive credit!

In Case You Missed It

Want to change your payment due date to be closer to payday? With the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards, you can! After your initial billing period, call customer service to request your payment due date change to either six days before or after the current date.

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.
Consider this

Your annual fee may affect the amount you have available in credit with the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards since the annual fee is billed to your account when it is opened. For instance, if your annual fee is $75 and your credit line is $500, then your actual available credit is $425.

Why you'll love it

If you’re searching for a credit card that’s more forgiving of a bad credit score and offers rewards, then the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards is one to consider. The combination of great features provided by this card makes it easy to earn rewards while also building your credit in the process.

Start your application now Back to top
Apply Now on Genesis FS Card Services' secure website.

Best for Getting Pre-qualified Online

Milestone® Gold Mastercard®

Upfront fees See Terms
APR 24.90%

Pre-qualification available? Yes
Previous bankruptcy OK? Yes
Highlights Provided by Genesis FS Card Services 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
  • Issuer: Genesis FS Card Services
  • Annual Fee: See Terms
  • Cash Advance APR: 29.90%
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 1% of each transaction
  • Ongoing APR: 24.90%
  • Penalty APR: 29.90%

Our two cents

Who should get it

Another card to consider if you have a previous bankruptcy is the Milestone® Gold Mastercard® since they won’t necessarily disqualify you for having one on your credit report. Milestone also offers a pre-qualification option that won’t impact your credit score and assesses your annual fee based on your credit score.

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.
Consider this

While the Milestone® Gold Mastercard® does have low account opening fees, you will want to keep an eye out for other fees. If you add an authorized user, there’s a $25 fee. If you make a late payment or go over your limit, there’s a fee of up to $39 as well.

Why you'll love it

The Milestone® Gold Mastercard® has a lot of attractive features. It’s forgiving of a past bankruptcy, it offers $0 cash advance fees the first year and 1% foreign transaction fees, it doesn’t require a security deposit, and it’s backed by Mastercard®, allowing you to use it just about anywhere.

Start your application now Back to top
Apply Now on The Bank of Missouri's secure website.

Best for Building Credit Slowly

Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card

Upfront fees See Terms*
APR See Terms*

Pre-qualification available? No
Previous bankruptcy OK? Not specified
Highlights Provided by The Bank of Missouri 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 Program 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!
  • Issuer: The Bank of Missouri
  • Annual Fee: See Terms*
  • Cash Advance APR: See Terms*
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: See Terms*

Our two cents

Who should get it

If the thought of bad credit has turned you off of credit altogether, but you want to dip your toes back in, consider the Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it is a good card to help you become disciplined about credit and minimize the risk of spending too much. With this card, your initial credit limit will be capped at $300 (minus fees), meaning you reduce the risk of overspending. Charge around $100 a month (to keep your credit utilization low) and pay it off in full and on time to start rebuilding or establishing a better credit score.

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.
Consider this

There are a number of fees associated with the Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card. You can expect an annual fee, a program fee, as well as a monthly service fee. Make sure to pay your balance off in full and on time each month to avoid the late payment fee.

Why you'll love it

The Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card isn’t for everyone, but if you want to take a disciplined approach to building credit, or you’re cautious about starting out with a high credit limit, you’ll want to consider this card. If you use it responsibly and keep your credit utilization low, this card can be a valuable tool for rebuilding your credit.

Start your application now Back to top

Best Secured Credit Card for Bad Credit

Discover it® Secured

Upfront fees Refundable deposit equal to credit limit ($200 minimum)
APR 25.24% Variable

Pre-qualification available? No
Previous bankruptcy OK? Not specified
Rewards program 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants; unlimited 1% on all other purchases. Terms apply. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: We automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
  • Cash Advance APR: 27.24% Variable
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 6 months
  • Ongoing APR: 25.24% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

If you like the idea of having perks and rewards, but don’t quite qualify for an unsecured card yet, consider the Discover it® Secured. There’s a reason we named it our best overall secured credit card – it offers you all the benefits of an unsecured card for a security deposit as low as $200 (up to $2,500). Plus, there’s no annual fee, and you will benefit from rewards! As a cardholder, you’ll earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter), plus 1% cash back on all other purchases. Bonus: You’ll also receive automatic dollar-for-dollar cash back matching at the end of your first year!

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 eight 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.
Consider this

A security deposit is required for the Discover it® Secured. However, Discover will review your account starting at the eight-month mark to see if you qualify for a refund. These reviews are based on responsible credit management on your credit card, plus other accounts such as loans or other credit cards not with Discover. This means you’ll want to make sure you’re responsible with all financial accounts.

Why you'll love it

While a security deposit is required, the Discover it® Secured makes up for it with no annual or monthly fees, plus other perks. Benefits like cash back rewards and cash back matching make this card our top choice among secured credit cards.

Start your application now Back to top

Do You Need a Credit Card for Poor Credit? Here’s How to Tell

Credit cards for bad credit can help you improve your finances and your credit score when you can’t get approved for a traditional credit card or a loan. However, that doesn’t mean these cards are ideal for everyone. In some cases, it’s possible you could qualify for a credit card for fair credit or a traditional unsecured credit card without even realizing it. Before you apply for a credit card for bad credit, make sure this is your best next move. Here are some signs a credit card for bad credit is the best option for your wallet:
  • Your credit score is below 650. While there are many credit scores in use today, the FICO scoring model is the most popular. This scoring method assigns scores between 300 and 850, with the highest scores representing the best credit possible. With that being said, a credit score of 650 is usually considered the dividing line between prime and subprime. If your FICO score falls below that range, it’s likely you’ll only qualify for a credit card made specifically for people with poor credit.
  • You don’t have any other way to prove your creditworthiness. When you have poor credit, it can be difficult to find a bank willing to give you a chance to improve your situation. This is ultimately why many people sign up for credit cards for bad credit — even when the terms aren’t ideal. When you really just need to get your foot in the door, there may be no other option.
  • You have financial goals to achieve. Are you tired of struggling to qualify for car loans, apartments without a cosigner, and rewards credit cards that let you earn points and airline miles? A credit card for bad credit may not offer a lot of perks on its own, but it can lay the groundwork for better credit that can benefit you later on.

How to Apply for a Credit Card with Bad Credit

When it comes time to apply for a credit card with bad credit, there are some best practices that can help guide you toward the best possible outcome. Before you apply for a credit card with bad credit, here are some things to consider:
  • Know your credit score. Knowing your credit score helps you narrow down which cards you’re mostly like to get approved for during the process. Check out our list of the best free credit report sites for 2019.
  • Try going unsecured first. Many unsecured credit cards for bad credit offer pre-qualification options that let you check the likelihood of getting approved without hurting your credit. It won’t require a lot of work to see if you can get pre-qualified for a better card, so you may as well give it a try.
  • Avoid flashy cards. The best rewards, cash back, and travel credit cards may be tempting, but you’ll want to focus on credit cards for people with bad credit specifically first. If you are able to boost your credit score over time, some of the top credit cards will eventually become available to you.
  • Go secured for a limited time. If an unsecured card isn’t an option, consider a secured credit card. You’ll need to put down a security deposit, but you’ll still be able to build credit over time. Eventually, you can upgrade your secured credit card to an unsecured option and get your initial cash deposit back.
  • Try a prepaid debit card. You might need a bank account to open a secured credit card. If you don’t have one, use a prepaid debit card until you can open an account. You won’t build credit, but it’s a good short-term solution.

How to Leverage Your New Credit Card to Improve Your Credit Score

In case you haven’t caught on by now, you can definitely use a credit card for people with bad credit to improve your score. However, it’s important to understand all the other steps you can take to help your credit, including understanding your credit history and how credit works in general. These six steps will get you started:
  1. Get a copy of your credit report.
  2. Dispute any inaccuracies on your report.
  3. Pay off any current outstanding debt.
  4. Get a credit card for people with bad credit.
  5. Set up a payment reminder system.
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 as needed.

Step 1: Get a copy of your credit report.

Your credit report will give you insight into how you can improve your credit score. Request a copy of your credit report from all three of the bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com (you can request a copy of one or all three every 12 months for free). Look through everything on the report to find any patterns that may be hampering your efforts (such as making payments late or missing payments).

Step 2: Dispute any inaccuracies.

While you’re looking through your credit report, you’ll also want to make sure everything is accurate and up to date. Having an inaccuracy on your credit report could unnecessarily bring your credit score down. If you find an error, you should dispute it by contacting both the credit reporting agency as well as the company that provided the inaccurate information. You can dispute incorrect information on your credit report online, by mail, or by phone.

Step 3: Pay down debt.

If you currently have any outstanding credit card debt, you’ll want to pay that off before opening a new line of credit. Your credit utilization rate – the amount you have charged in relation to your credit limit – accounts for 30% of your credit score. This means you’ll want to keep balances low or paid off in full each month. After you pay off a card, though, don’t close it out. Having a long credit history is also important to improving your credit score.

Step 4: Get a credit card for people with bad credit.

Now that you have a better understanding of your credit score and credit report history, it’s time to start establishing or rebuilding your credit. Apply for one of the credit cards for bad credit on our list, but be sure to limit the amount of applications you fill out. Too many hard inquiries on your credit report can hurt your score. Not sure if you’ll get approved? Many of the cards on our list will let you know if you pre-qualify without hurting your credit score.

Step 5: Set up a payment reminder system.

Now that you’re rebuilding or establishing credit, it’s time to get on top of things. Making on-time payments accounts for 35% of your credit score, so it’s of vital importance not to miss a payment or pay late. Sign up for reminder alerts, set calendar notifications, use financial tracking software, or download an app that notifies you. You can choose to either make one payment a month or break it up into smaller pieces, such as twice a month or once a week. Just make sure you’re at least the minimum balance (or, ideally, the full balance) on time each payment cycle.

Step 6: Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Once you have the basics down, it’s time to keep repeating them. The only way to build credit is to use credit regularly and responsibly. Charge a small amount each month, pay it off in full, and repeat. Check your credit score every few months to see if it’s increasing. Request a copy of your credit report once a year to review it. Good credit doesn’t just happen, but a credit card for people with bad credit is a good first step. If you’re responsible, persistent, and patient with your credit, you can rebuild or establish good credit in time.

How Long Does It Take to Fix Your Credit?

How long it takes to rebuild credit history will depend on your financial situation. The good news, though, is that you can take steps today that could put you on the path to positive credit in less time than you think. Before you get started, you’ll want to understand what goes into your credit score. FICO® Scores are broken down by:
  • 35% payment history
  • 30% amounts owed
  • 15% length of credit history
  • 10% new credit
  • 10% credit mix
Based on these percentages, the two most important things you can do to improve your credit are to make payments on time and in full each month. You’ll also want to keep all accounts open, even if they don’t have a balance. If you have an unused card with an annual fee, you can request a “downgrade” to an account with no annual fee. As your score improves, you can apply for one of the best unsecured cards for bad or average credit, or even one of the best rewards credit cards if you make good strides. This will help you establish new credit, as well as add to your credit mix. There are plenty of other steps you can take that can boost your credit score in a short amount of time. Here are some of the most important steps you’ll want to consider and how long it might take for them to create a real impact:

Five Steps to Improve Your Credit Score Quickly

  • Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), disputing inaccurate information on your credit report is one of the best ways to repair your credit on your own. Generally speaking, credit reporting agencies are required to investigate disputes within 30 days of receiving them. If you do indeed have incorrect negative information clouding up your credit report, getting it fixed could result in a higher score in a little over a month.
  • Pay down debt. Since your credit utilization makes up 30% of your FICO score, paying down debt is a smart solution to consider. Credit reporting agency Experian suggests keeping your credit utilization below 30% for the best score possible. If you had one credit card with a $10,000 limit, this would mean keeping your balance below $3,000 at all times.
  • Pay off accounts in collections. If you have any accounts with overdue balances in collections, paying them off is a smart idea. The faster you can close out that accounts, the quicker they will stop damaging your score.
  • Start building credit history. Fixing your credit requires you to prove your creditworthiness, which you can only do if you are using credit responsibly. A credit card for bad credit can help you in this respect since all your credit movements will be reported to the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
  • Get added as an authorized user. Another step you can consider is having someone with good credit add you as an authorized user on their account. As an authorized user, you’ll have the benefit of having the primary cardholder’s credit movements reported to your credit report. This may not make a big impact right away, but it can definitely help.

When Should I Pay Off My Credit Card Bill?

Always strive to pay your credit card balance in full by your statement due date. There’s no better way to build a solid credit history and healthy credit score. Credit is a powerful tool when seasoned with self-control, but left unbridled, it can wreak havoc on your financial future. Case in point: The average adult with a credit card owes $5,839 as of late 2018. If your card has an 18% APR and you’re only making the minimum payment (usually around 3% of the total balance) you’ll rack up over $5,000 in interest charges by the time you pay off the debt. Paying your credit card off in full also helps to keep your credit utilization ratio low. Your credit utilization ratio is the percentage of your available credit that you have used. Credit bureaus use this metric to gauge how responsible you are. When it comes to credit utilization ratio, low is best. Credit cards can negatively affect your credit utilization if you continuously run large balances. We recommend keeping your credit utilization for each credit card below 30%. You can track your credit utilization on your credit card with some simple math — (balance ÷ credit limit = ratio).

Pro Tip

Most card issuers report your balance and activity to the credit bureaus once per month. The problem is that the report might be issued before your monthly statement is due. So even if you pay your card in full each month, it will appear to credit bureaus that your utilization ratio is higher than it actually is. If you’re committed to keeping your credit utilization ratio low, call your credit card helpline, ask when your credit activity is reported, and make sure to pay your balance before that date. (Paying off charges immediately isn’t a bad idea either.)

Secured Credit Cards vs. Unsecured Credit Cards

Unlike normal (unsecured) credit cards, secured credit cards require an upfront deposit — most have a $200 minimum and $1,000 max — that also serves as your credit limit. If you miss a payment, the card issuer will settle the account with your deposit and adjust your credit limit accordingly, but you’ll still have to pay interest. If you decide to close a non-delinquent account, your deposit will be refunded. On the flip side, unsecured credit cards don’t require a cash deposit but they are typically more difficult to qualify for. An unsecured credit card gives you a true line of credit you can borrow against without putting up collateral, which can be benficial when you truly need to borrow money.

Both Unsecured and Secured Cards are Great for Building Credit

Secured credit cards are less risky for lenders than regular credit cards because they’re bankrolled by you. Less risk means you don’t have to have a great credit score to qualify. That’s why secured cards are one of the best ways to build and improve credit. And after a few months of disciplined use, you might even be able to upgrade your credit limit — or qualify for an unsecured card with a better rewards program. Of course, unsecured credit cards also help you build credit since, like secured credit cards, they report to the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The key to using either type of card to build credit is using it for purchases regularly to show credit use then paying your balance off on time or early every month. With enough on-time payments and responsible credit use, your credit score should show improvement over time.

Can I Get Approved for a Secured Credit Card? How About an Unsecured Credit Card?

Generally speaking, you need a “good to excellent” credit score to apply for top rewards cards like the Discover it® Cash Back. Secured cards, on the other hand, will consider scores much lower — some cards don’t even require a credit check to apply. But credit isn’t the only factor to consider. Some secured cards, like the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, have other criteria, like having a bank account. Always make sure you understand the requirements before you apply. If you are on the fence about applying and worried you won’t get approved for any number of bad credit credit cards, a secured credit card is usually a solid bet. And remember, a secured credit card doesn’t have to be forever. The goal of getting a secured credit card should be using it long enough to improve your credit score so that you can upgrade to an unsecured credit card with better perks.

Secured Cards are Ideal for College Students

College students have two primary options for building credit: secured credit cards and student credit cards. A secured card is ideal if you don’t have any experience managing money Also, certain secured cards don’t charge a penalty APR if you’re late with one or two payments. Student credit cards have the advantage of rewards and higher credit limits but are best for students who have already begun to build a credit history. Also note that most student credit cards are unsecured, meaning they don’t require an initial cash deposit or any kind of collateral. Unless you’re incredibly disciplined, you should start with a secured credit card.

Will I Get Approved for a Credit Card for Bad Credit?

If your credit is bad, you may be concerned about applying for a credit card — What if I don’t get approved? Many credit cards for bad credit offer free pre-qualification checks. A pre-qualification check allows the creditor to do a “soft inquiry” on your credit report to establish whether you may qualify for a particular card. This soft inquiry doesn’t affect your credit score, but it does allow you to get an idea of what cards may be best for you.

Will a New Credit Card Hurt My Credit Score?

Here’s how a pre-qualification check differs from an actual application: Applying for a new credit card (no matter your credit score) may result in your credit score taking a dip — temporarily. When you open a new line of credit, the process involves making a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. This can result in a slight dip in your credit score for a short period of time. In general, though, adding a new line of credit may increase your score over time since new credit accounts for 10% of your FICO score. The biggest part of your credit score you want to be aware of is payment history and amounts owed. By using your card responsibly, such as making payments on time and in full each month, you will be establishing good credit habits that may increase your credit score over time. If you rack up too many hard inquiries in a short amount of time, your credit score might be at risk. Here’s a list of the best unsecured credit cards that allow you to pre-qualify for approval. That way, you’ll have an idea of which cards you’re likely to be approved for prior to submitting an official application.

Types of Cards to Avoid with Bad Credit

Not all cards touted for those with bad credit will help you improve your credit score. Here are two types of cards that you should avoid:
  • Cards with no grace period: If the card doesn’t have a grace period, don’t sign up. Without a grace period, you’ll begin to accrue interest immediately after your monthly statement processes. It’s also worth noting that card offers change pretty frequently. Sometimes cards have multiple versions as well, so make sure you read the fine print of the current offer before you pull the trigger.
  • Merchandise cards: Merchandise cards (often called online catalog cards) aren’t credit cards at all. They’re lines of credit that you can only use while shopping at specific online marketplaces. Because you can’t use them for everyday purchases, they do not help you rebuild credit. (Not to mention they encourage unnecessary spending.)

What to Look for When Comparing Credit Cards for Bad Credit

In our list of cards at the top of this page, we highlighted the best credit cards for poor credit and the features that help them stand out. With that in mind, it’s crucial to make sure you’re looking for bad credit credit cards with the benefits you value the most. Here are the main factors to compare across all cards in this niche:
  • Low or no annual fees: Ideally, you’ll look for a credit card for poor credit that doesn’t charge an annual fee. However, paying an annual fee is not the end of the world as long as it’s relatively low. Sometimes you need to pay an annual fee to qualify for a card that will help you build credit, and the fee can be a wise investment in the end.
  • Pre-qualification: It’s always a good thing when a credit card allows you to get pre-approved online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This option allows you to gauge your ability to qualify without taking a hit to your credit score or putting yourself at risk. We suggest looking for cards that offer this option if you’re worried about getting approved and want to know for sure.
  • Access to Your Credit Score: The best credit cards for bad credit tend to offer a way to access your credit score for free. Some also offer credit tracking tools that can help you monitor your credit score and its progress over time.
  • Rewards: Several of the best credit cards for poor credit make it possible to earn rewards for each dollar you spend. While rewards shouldn’t be the end goal when it comes to credit cards for poor credit, it’s nice to know you’re getting something in return for your spending.

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. Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best credit card for you.
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