Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Have bad credit? Here are the top offers designed to help you rebuild your credit and improve your score. Make sure to pay on time and keep a low balance (relative to your credit limit) and this may improve your credit report each month. New to credit cards? See offers from our partners for students or those with no credit. Looking for more credit card options? Check out our experts' list of the best credit cards of 2019.

Have bad credit? Here are the top offers designed to help you rebuild your credit and improve your score. Make sure to pay on time and keep a low balance (relative to your credit limit) and this may improve your credit report each month. New to credit cards? See offers from our partners for students or those with no credit. Looking for more credit card options? Check out our experts' list of the best credit cards of 2019.


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Tell us a little about yourself and get matched with credit cards that, if used responsibly, can help you improve your credit score.

Discover it® Secured
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

No Credit History

Rewards Rate

2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically.
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Intro APR
10.99% for 6 months
Regular APR
25.24% variable
Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

No Credit History

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
See Terms*
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
See Terms*
Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

Bad to Fair

Rewards Rate

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 Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
$0 - $99
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
20.24% - 26.24% variable
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

No Credit History

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
19.64% variable
Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

Bad to Fair

Rewards Rate

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 Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
$0 - $99
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
20.24% - 26.24% variable
Surge Mastercard Credit Card
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

No Credit History

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
See Terms*
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
See Terms*
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

Bad to Fair

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
$0 - $99
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
23.90% fixed
Self Lender — Credit Builder Account
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

No Credit History

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
One Time $9 - $15 Account Fee (Varies by Product)
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
12.03% - 15.98% variable
Milestone® Gold Mastercard®
Apply Now

Recommended Credit

Bad to Fair

Rewards Rate

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

This Card at a Glance

Annual Fee
$35-$99 (varies by credit level)
Balance Transfer Intro APR
Regular APR
23.90% (Fixed)

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Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

Comparing Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Updated: April 1, 2019

OK, so your credit isn't at its best. Maybe you don't have much experience with paying bills, or perhaps you've had a couple of late payments. Well, we've got your back.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best and fastest way to firm up that sagging credit is with a credit card. That's right. Believe it or not, with the right credit card, you can improve your credit in a few short months. The trick is to know how. We'll tell you what you need to know and how to do it so there aren't any surprises along the way. Here's what we look at:

Not sure where to start? We can help.

What is bad credit?

A "bad credit" FICO score is typically under 580 out of a range of 300-850, with 850 as the best. With the same scale, a poor VantageScore is usually below 550.

To get a good or excellent rating, you'll want to shoot for at least 700. Below that, you'll be offered higher interest rates and other not-amazing financial products.

That's the bad news. The good news is that it takes a few short months of good consumer behavior to improve your score. But beware: Once you're on the path to good financial habits, you'll want to keep it up, because one misstep can drop your score quickly, in fact considerably more quickly than when you were improving your credit.

Bad credit is determined by how you have handled your credit over the years. If you have missed payments or even just don't have a lot of information in your file, your credit may not be great. The two most important components of your FICO score are on-time payments (35% of your score) and how much you owe compared to how much credit you have available (30% of your score). That means if you have had late payments, that is likely the primary cause of your poor credit, but if you have a high balance on the credit cards you have, that can be a heavy weight as well.

Best credit cards for bad credit of 2019

Best For...Credit CardAnnual FeeDeposit Requirement
No annual feeCapital One® Secured Mastercard®$0$49, $99, or $200 (Refundable)
Cash backDiscover it® Secured$0$200 (Refundable)
Fast responseTotal Visa® Unsecured Credit Card$75 first year, then $48None
Building creditCredit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card$0 - $99See Terms
No credit checkOpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card$35$200 (Refundable)

Research methodology: how we got to our top picks

Credit cards for bad credit analyzed: 269

Criteria used:

Credit needed – This is likely the most important of the criteria. A card issuer will expect you to fall in a credit score range, depending on the features of the card, annual fee and more.

Deposit required (if any) – Some cards, called secured cards, require a refundable deposit, sometimes starting as low as $49, which you will be essentially borrowing off of.

Annual fee – Not all cards for bad credit have annual fees, which is a huge plus, provided there are no other fees.

Regular APR – This is the APR you will pay if you carry a balance.

Other rates and fees – There can be a number of other APRs, including for balance transfers and cash advances, and fees, such as for late payments and cash advances. Some cards, such as the Capital One Secured Mastercard, have few fees, while others have fees for seemingly everything you do, including charges for copies of documents.

Customer service – Some cards, such as the Discover products, advertise 100% U.S.-based service. Most offer online services and apps.

Ability to improve credit line – Some cards may grant you a higher credit line after you make your first few monthly payments on time.

Tools to track credit score – Some cards grant you monthly or quarterly access to your FICO score.

Rewards rates – A few cards for bad credit, such as the Discover it Secured card, offer rewards on such everyday spending as restaurants and gas stations.

Security – Cards are required by law to protect you from fraud, but many offer other safety features, such as Discover's tracking of your Social Security number on the dark web.

Miscellaneous benefits – While not common among cards for bad credit, cards might offer access to airport lounges, free checked luggage, travel credits and more. Some cards for bad credit offer benefits such as no foreign transaction fee and extended warranty protection.

Editor's notes on the best credit cards for bad credit

best credit cards for bad credit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

With no annual fee, this card also grants you access to a higher credit line after you make your first 5 months of on-time payments – and no additional deposit is needed. With an initial credit limit of $200, you can pay a refundable deposit of as little as $49, depending on your creditworthiness.

Why you should consider this card: This card offers a variety of travel and retail benefits offered by its big brothers, including no foreign transaction fees and extended warranty protection.

Discover it® Secured

Even though this card is for bad credit, it acts like its big brothers with ample rewards, such as 2% back at gas stations and restaurants up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% back on all other purchases. While this card is secured, your account will be reviewed after 8 months to assess whether you are ready for an unsecured account.

Why you should consider this card: What's not to love? There's no annual fee and you get double cash back after your first year of card membership.

Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card

This is a basic credit card, perfect for improving your credit score with responsible usage. While you are required to have a checking account, no deposit is required. Be aware that there's a one time $89 program fee when you open the account.

Why you should consider this card: With this card, you can get approved in as little as 60 seconds with an easy online application. Add to that, there is no security deposit, a plus for a card designed for folks with bad credit.

Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card

The Credit One Bank Visa offers 1% cash back on such spending as gas, groceries and bills such as mobile phone, cable, internet and satellite TV. It can have an annual fee, depending on your profile, but you get your Experian credit score each month. It's a good starting point to help you build up your credit history.

Why you should consider this card: This card adapts to your needs in many respects, such as offering a variety of designs for your card; allowing you to pick your monthly due date; and giving you the ability to set up custom emails and alerts to remind you of due dates and tell you if your available credit is low.

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

Your refundable deposit decides the amount of your credit limit, and within 6 months you can land a credit score. The OpenSky Secured Visa's fees, including the $35 annual fee, can be onerous if you don't pay attention. For example, there's a garnishment fee of $150 per incident that is a bit unusual.

Why you should consider this card: This card offers credit tips and a dedicated credit education page on its website to provide credit-building support, which can prove invaluable when trying to improve your credit standing.

Implications of having bad credit

Credit bureau Experian studied data from scoring model FICO and found that 17% of consumers have bad credit. More than a third of the population has what lenders call a subprime score, which includes the fair and poor categories. At the other end, Americans with exceptional scores make up 19.9% of the population.

But what do those scores mean for you? Here, we look at the percentage of people with each scoring range and what that score means for them.

Credit score ranges

Credit ScoreRating% of PeopleImpact
300-579Poor17%Credit applicants may be required to pay a fee or deposit, and applicants with this rating may not be approved for credit at all.
580-669Fair20.2%Applicants with scores in this range are considered to be subprime borrowers.
670-739Good21.5%Only 8% of applicants in this score range are likely to become seriously delinquent in the future.
740-799Very Good18.2%Applicants with scores here are likely to receive better than average rates from lenders.
800-850Exceptional19.9%Applicants with scores in this range are at the top of the list for the best rates from lenders.

FICO data, from Experian

Types of cards to avoid if you have bad credit

Before you go any further, keep in mind that when you have poor or bad credit, your credit product options are severely limited. Even if you could scrape through and land a card for better credit, if you have a bad track record with your finances, there are cards you'll want to avoid:

  • Balance transfer cards – If you already have an issue with paying bills in full, a balance transfer card isn't going to solve the problem. It can actually exacerbate the issue if you transfer from a card with a lower APR to a 0% offer with a higher APR after the 0% offer ends, should you have a balance at that point. Instead, get a handle on your budget, pay more than the minimum and don't add debt to your card.
  • Cards with high annual fees – As tempting as a card may be, with an annual credit, generous ongoing rewards and other goodies, avoid cards with high annual fees, because if your cash output is limited, you aren't going to be able to take full advantage of the card's features. Instead, work on building your credit with a more simple card.
  • Cards that require high credit scores – There's no point is applying for a card that requires a high credit score if your score is rock-bottom, because all you'll achieve is a ding on your credit score for the honor of providing your personal information.
  • Cards that require high initial spend – As amazing as a 50,000-point sign-up bonus may seem, keep in mind that with it comes a required spend that you may not be able to afford. You definitely don't want to commit to spending money you don't already have in the bank for things you don't need.

Danger signs of credit cards for bad credit

There are a few warning areas of a credit card for bad credit. One issue is fees, which can be for something as innocuous as copies or a lost card. The trick is to know how to look for them before committing to a card.

Take a look at the rates and fees document – there will be a link to it on the application page. While the primary fees (late fee, foreign transaction, etc.) are displayed at the top of the document, which is called the Schumer Box, lesser-known fees may appear lower in the document in the text. That's why it's important to read the fine print, and Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and financial planner Rachel Podnos advises that you do outside research on the lender. What do other customers say about them? Have they been flagged by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)?

Another concern should be interest rates. "Someone with bad credit is likely to only qualify for loans or credit with relatively high interest rates," says Podnos. "This is also a red flag but may be unavoidable. If someone with bad credit must apply for credit at high interest rates, my advice would be to never ever carry a balance. Carrying any balance in this situation can quickly become crippling and impossible to tackle because it grows exponentially."

A 2015 CFPB study looked at the vulnerability of subprime consumers (consumers with a FICO score of 659 or below) and found that cards that specialize in these products are significantly more expensive – fees and interest exceeded 40% of those consumers' year-end balances in 2013 and 2014.

The CFPB also found that agreements for credit card products marketed primarily by subprime specialist issuers are particularly difficult to read.

Finally, watch out for mailings that target your situation. The CFPB found that banks send these mailings disproportionally to consumers with lower levels of formal education.

How do I get out of debt?

If you think you'll never get out of debt, you're not alone. In fact, many people are pretty darned pessimistic about paying off debt.

Poll: I don't know when or if I'll ever get out of debt...

  •  62%
  • Millennials
  •  63%
  • Gen X
  •  70%
  • Baby Boomers
  •  81%
  • Silent Generation

But you don't have to be among the multitudes who are hopeless about debt.

Whether your car broke down, you struggle with keeping track of your card payments or your spouse incurred debt you didn't know about until now, it's time to make things right.

No matter the reason, changing your behavior is the only way you'll be able to get out from under the debt in the long haul. Here are different ways to achieve that goal.

You incurred sudden debt

Maybe you had a medical emergency or perhaps the roof had a leak. Whatever the reason, recognize that it's the lack of an emergency budget that got you into this mess.

Your way out? Starting today, set aside something, anything each month just for the unexpected. Make it the first thing you take out of your paycheck – before the night out, even before that café latte. Just $200 a month will save you almost $2,500 in a year.

Now, calculate how much you can put toward your balance by cutting back in the short term. Remember that paying more than the minimum is the only way you can get out from under that debt in a reasonable time, and the more you put toward it, the better.

You can't manage your card

Owe thousands on your credit card and don't know how you got there? It's time to make a budget.

For at least a month, track your spending – jot down absolutely everything. Make a separate list for credit card spending. You should see a pattern for how you are using your card.

Now, stop spending on your card immediately, and begin paying down each month more than the minimum. Once you've paid it off, only use your card for one small charge each month, paying off in full and early each time. That way you build your credit while avoiding incurring debt or rendering your account inactive.

Your spouse has a card you didn't know about

This situation is more complicated, because it involves another person, but it's doable.

A whopping 29 million Americans, or 1 in 5 who are married or living with a partner, are currently hiding a checking, savings or credit card account from their live-in spouse or partner, according to a new report. But there's more.

We also found that 20% of consumers believe financial infidelity is worse than physical infidelity.

Is financial infidelity or physical infidelity worse?...

  •  8%
  • Strongly feel financial infidelity is worse
  •  12%
  • Somewhat feel financial infidelity is worse
  •  35%
  • Feel financial and physical infidelity are about the same
  •  20%
  • Somewhat feel physical infidelity is worse
  •  25%
  • Strongly feel physical infidelity is worse

"Talking about money with your spouse isn’t always easy, but it has to be done,” said industry analyst Ted Rossman. “You can still maintain some privacy over your finances, and even keep separate accounts if you and your spouse agree, but you need to get on the same page regarding your general direction, otherwise your financial union is doomed to fail."

First, you need to have a sit-down. Get to the root of the reason. Do they feel financially controlled? Is there an underlying addiction that needs to be addressed? Once you understand how you got in this situation, it's easier to fix it.

After you've gotten your loved one and you the help that you need, it's time to attack the debt. But don't fix this for them. They need to do the work to make things right. Encourage them to take a break from the card and together figure out a payment plan that will ensure they are paying more than the minimum each month.

What you need to know about credit scores

Credit bureaus do not assess your creditworthiness. That's the job of credit scores.

Your credit report is the accumulation of credit behavior in the last 7-10 years. Your credit score is a measurement of the data from the credit report.

Lenders send your credit data to the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Each bureau generates a report, which includes personal information, such as your name and past addresses, your accounts and whether you paid bills on time.

Credit score models FICO and VantageScore use a formula with 5-6 major components, including on-time payments, a debt-to-available-credit ratio, and other credit habits. The data for the components come from the credit reports.

What's in a credit score?

You actually have more credit scores than fingers and toes, but no need to worry. There are more than a dozen credit scores for each credit bureau, many for different industries, such as auto, mortgage and credit cards. But the scores you'll want to worry about for now are the consumer versions available to you through FICO and VantageScore.

The most valuable aspect of the FICO scoring model, the model most used by lenders, is payment history, making up 35% of your score. The same is true of VantageScore. That's why it's so important that you pay your bills on time each month. Here is what the scoring models care about:

  • Are you paying on time? This is the most important element of your credit score. One missed payment can drop your score quickly, while it can take months and even years to build your credit.
  • Are you keeping your balances low? Both FICO and VantageScore want you to keep your balances low, thereby lowering your utilization ratio.
  • How old is your credit history? Credit scores like it when you have a long history of credit. That's why it's a good idea to keep your oldest credit card open and active.
  • Have you recently applied for new credit? Avoid applying for multiple cards in a short amount of time, because that can negatively impact your score.
  • Do you have a mix of credit types? One way to give your score a little boost is to take out a small installment loan, such as a car loan or a credit-builder loan.

What does a credit score NOT include?

Credit bureau TransUnion found that a surprising number of consumers misunderstand what is used to generate their credit reports and scores. From marital status to income to whether you have kids, Americans wrongly think that their credit data are influenced by characteristics that have little to do with financial health. Here are 6 myths TransUnion discovered in its study:

  1. Myth #1: More than one-third (35%) of consumers wrongly believe closing a credit card account decreases a credit score.
  2. Myth #2: Nearly half (48%) of respondents said you can protect all of your credit reports at once, but there is actually no tool that protects all 3 credit reports at once.
  3. Myth #3: Some 44% of all consumers don't know that marital status isn't on a credit report.
  4. Myth #4: Almost a third of consumers (31%) wrongly believe that healthy credit is required to enter a foreign country.
  5. Myth #5: More than two-fifths (43%) of consumers incorrectly think that your credit is impacted when you check your own credit score.
  6. Myth #6: More than half of consumers (51%) wrongly think that late payments like utility bills are always included in credit scores. That's not always true.

How do I get a free credit score?

Credit cards sometimes offer free credit scores, so check if the card you are eyeing offers that feature.

How do I get a free credit report?

You are legally allowed to access each report for free once a year on Some credit experts recommend that you pull one of your reports every 4 months, staggering the requests.

The portal will ask for personal data, such as your birthdate and your social security number, ask you to choose which credit bureau's report you want, then ask you a series of detailed questions only you would know, such as payment amounts for past loans, past addresses and other information. It helps to have this information handy when you pull a report. If you answer incorrectly, you may be shut out of the system for that bureau, and you may have to apply by snail mail.

Check the report thoroughly for inaccurate information, such as unknown accounts. Request that the bureau correct any inaccurate information, preferably by snail mail, so that you don't lose any negotiation rights.

Tips to improve your credit score

Ready to build your credit? There are a number of tricks to increase your score to one you love, and it only takes a few months, if you do it correctly. Once your score is at about 700 on a scale of 300-850, your credit card options will open up considerably. But first, follow these steps:

  1. Check your credit reports for errors. First things first – check the reports of the 3 major credit bureaus for mistakes and inaccuracies, which can sometimes be a sign that your credit has been highjacked. Have the credit bureaus change any errors. Clean up your report by having errors corrected and own up to any unpaid bills or collections.
  2. Check your credit score. With your credit score, you can assess which credit cards or lending products you qualify for.
  3. Take out a credit card. The easiest and fastest way to building credit is by taking out a credit card and using it every month.
  4. Don't apply for multiple cards. Every time you apply for a card, your credit takes a small, temporary hit, typically about 5 points. If you take out multiple cards in quick succession, it can be a signal to lenders that you are desperate for cash.
  5. Make a charge each month. If you put your card in your sock drawer and forget about it, you run the risk of having your account closed for inactivity. Instead, put a small charge on it each month.
  6. Pay on time and in full. This is the single most important thing you can do with your card to ensure your score keeps climbing.
  7. Build a mix of credit. If you want to give your credit an extra boost, consider taking out an installment loan, such as a credit-builder loan. Mortgages and car loans are the most common types of installment loans. A mix of credit makes up 10% of your FICO score, while it's highly influential on VantageScore.

Remember, the key to beginning the credit recovery process is to identify the cause of bad credit. "It's important to figure out what hurt your credit in the first place," advises Ted Rossman, industry analyst at "Late payments and running up too much debt are the two biggest culprits. Consider working with a non-profit credit counselor to reduce debt and boost your credit score."

What to look for in a credit card if you have bad credit

If you have bad, thin or no credit, don't despair. There is a card for pretty much every circumstance, from great credit to none. You just need to make sure you apply for the right card for your credit.

Credit cards for bad credit have a number of features that mimic the cards reserved for consumers with excellent credit. But they also have features and downsides tailored to the consumers whose credit may not be their best.

Here's what to look for:

  • Does the card require a bank account? For example, Total Visa Unsecured requires that you have a checking account. While having a bank account doesn't directly help you build credit, it shows that you have managed your finances in some fashion.
  • Does the card allow you to prequalify? If so, that is an excellent way to check if you can get the product without impacting your credit, because hard pulls, a type of credit check, impact your score in a temporary way to the tune of about 5 points. Some card issuers advertise quick pre-qualification with no impact to your credit score.
  • Does the card require a credit check? The no credit check feature is quite rare. One card that doesn't require a credit check is the OpenSky Secured Visa, although it has some fees you should watch out for.
  • Have you checked the fees? There can be little-known fees with ill-defined descriptions, such as certain cards' "account opening fee." There can also be various "maintenance fees" and other surprises hidden in the fine print, such as an increase in annual fee after the first year. Read the terms and conditions carefully before you apply.
  • Does the card issuer report to the credit bureaus? Usually, card issuers report to the 3 major credit bureaus, but check just to make sure.
  • What's the credit range required? Don't apply until you know your credit score and what the card issuer requires. You don't want to be rejected and also have a ding on your credit.
  • Are there rewards? Some cards have rewards, such as the Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa with Cash Back Rewards, which offers 1% cashback rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV.

Cards for bad credit with rewards...

CardCredit RequiredRewardsAnnual Fee
Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa with Cash Back RewardsBad Credit1% cashback rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV; terms apply$0-$99
Discover it SecuredLimited/Bad Credit2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter$0
  • Is it a secured or unsecured card? Note that this doesn't indicate whether there are add-on fees, what credit is required or other provisions. Always read the fine print carefully.
  • Is there fee forgiveness? Some cards are forgiving with paying late or going over your limit, such as the Discover it Secured. However, that shouldn't be a deciding factor, because if you really want to improve your credit, you need to pay on time and in full each month, and never go over the limit. If you do, you run the risk of losing your card, or worse, experiencing a drop in your credit score. Also, while a card may forgive the first late payment, don't count on avoiding a fee the second or third time.

Secured cards vs. unsecured cards

Bad credit doesn't have to dog you forever. In fact, cards that accept consumers in the "bad" category can help you build your credit within months. Two different types of "bad credit" cards are secured cards and unsecured cards.

Secured credit cards

Secured cards are credit cards that require a refundable deposit, usually the same amount as your credit limit. Perhaps the best known type of card for people with bad credit, they are an excellent way to build credit, provided the card issuer reports your good credit habits to the 3 major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. It typically works like this: You pay a refundable deposit, say $200, then you are allowed to borrow off of that amount on your card. Some cards require you to have a bank account.

As Ted Rossman explains, "This is similar to a debit card, but better because it will report to the credit bureaus and help improve your credit history (as long as you pay on time). You can use the secured card to make purchases in-person and online, in some cases even earning rewards. After 6-12 months of on-time payments, you should be able to get your deposit back and graduate to a traditional (unsecured) credit card with a higher limit."

Example of secured cards for bad credit:

CardCredit NeededAnnual Fee
Capital One Secured MastercardLimited/Bad Credit$0
Discover it SecuredLimited/Bad Credit$0
First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured Credit CardBad Credit$49
OpenSky Secured Visa Credit CardNo Credit Check$35

Unsecured credit cards

An unsecured card is best known as a rewards, travel or cashback card, but in this case, it is a credit-builder card without the required deposit of a secured card. While the credit limit will likely be low, these cards can have small cashback benefits of about 1%.

Examples of unsecured cards for bad credit:

CardCredit NeededAnnual Fee
Total Visa Unsecured Credit CardBad/Fair Credit$75 first year, then $48
Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa with Cash Back RewardsBad Credit$0-$99
Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa with Free Credit Score TrackingBad Credit$0-$99

What is the difference between a secured card, a prepaid card and a debit card?

A secured card is a credit card that can be used to build credit.

A prepaid card acts like a credit card, but you "load" money in it periodically for spending purposes, so it isn't truly a credit card, which lends you the money for charges. Prepaid cards are a great tool for budgeting and managing your spending, particularly if you've had trouble with finances in the past.

A debit card is a card attached to an account with cash in it, such as a checking account. Debit cards may not have the protections of credit cards because they are not protected by the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Rules vary among banks and credit unions. Debit cards are a good option for convenience.

Do prepaid cards and debit cards help build credit?

Prepaid cards are not credit cards, and they don't help you build credit. If you want to build credit, a secured credit card is a good start. Just make sure you put a small charge on the card each month to keep the account open and active. And of course, pay in full and on time so that you take full advantage of your credit building.

A debit card, which is attached to a bank account, also cannot be used for building credit.

What do I do if I miss a payment?

You get your new credit card; you put purchases on it; you make payments each month; then you forget one. What happens next?

Most card issuers charge a late fee, and they might also increase your purchase APR. Repeated offenses can cause you to lose the account. Finally, late and missed payments impact your credit score, and that's what you should care about most.

Missed payments can quickly drop your credit score by dozens of points and it can be months before you see an improvement. The good news is that the older the missed payment is on your credit report, the less importance it has.

If you've missed a payment, call your card issuer immediately. Explain your circumstance, work out a payment plan and see if they'll waive the late fee. You might even be able to get them to not report the late payment to the credit bureaus. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Now, going forward, put a reminder on your Google calendar that goes to your email to make sure you pay on time each month. For good measure, pay in full each month to keep your credit utilization ratio low, an important part of your credit score.

How do I talk to my card issuer about a delinquent account?

If you've missed payments or gotten in over your head, it's time to own up and call your card issuer. The bottom line is that you are ultimately responsible for the debt you've incurred. You spent the money, and now you need to own up.

A number of things may be happening with your account at this point. Your purchase APR may have increased. Your credit limit may have dropped. The account may have even been closed. The sooner you talk to your issuer, the less damage will be inflicted.

First off, stay calm when you call. Raising your voice and making accusations will achieve nothing. Explain your circumstance, tell them what you are prepared to do to make it right, and ask if the APR can be lowered/the account can be reopened/your credit limit can be returned to the original amount.

In fact, more than 8 out of 10 consumers polled said that their issuer granted them a late payment waiver when they asked. Here's what learned from 1,589 American cardholders:

When consumers asked card issuers...

  • 85% received a higher credit limit.
  • 84% received a late payment fee waiver.
  • 70% had their annual fee waived or reduced.
  • 56% got a lower interest rate.

Also, if the issuer is sending late payment notices to the credit bureaus, make a deal with them so that they stop. If you can't pay the owed amount in full, arrange a payment schedule. But, you'll want to pay off the debt as soon as possible so the damage to your credit score is not so severe.

What to do if your application is denied

So, you picked out a card, you did your research, yet you were denied. What to do?

Actually, there's not a lot of guesswork here, because issuers are required by law to send you an adverse action notice to explain why you were denied a card.

Here are some reasons why you might be denied and what you can do about them:

Too much debt – This one's pretty straightforward – your balances are too high. Before applying for another card, establish a budget and pay more than the minimum each month to pay down your debt.

Limited credit history – This is easy to fix. Simply wait a couple of months, then apply for a secured card designed for credit building. Within months, your score will improve and you'll have on-time payments under your belt.

Low income – You may have overshot. Next time, try a card that is not a premium product, but has the features you are looking for.

Too many applications – Went a little crazy? Here's what to do: Take a break from applying for cards for several months and focus on building your credit with a credit-builder loan. Then, when you reapply, make sure it's a card you are reasonably sure you will get.

Too young – The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires people under 21 to have an independent source of income to get a card, but you can be an authorized user and build credit. Just make sure the holder of the account is responsible with the account and pays on time and in full each month.

Negative information on reports – Late payments or judgments, such as bankruptcies, take time to drop off your reports, but know that the older the negative activity, the less important it is. If you are paying on time and in full going forward, that will help your credit tremendously.

Score too low – If the issue is your credit score, you can look at a credit-builder loan at your credit union. About one in five credit unions offer credit-builder loans. These loans are offered a number of ways: For example, there are unsecured credit-builder loans that provide a lump sum upfront that can be used for an emergency expense. With another type, the loan proceeds are held by the lender until the total amount is paid.

What do the credit bureaus collect?

Here is what Experian, one of the 3 major credit bureaus, shows in its sample credit file:

  • Name or names
  • Addresses
  • Personal information such as Social Security number variations and birthdate or birth year
  • Current or former employers
  • Public records, including judgments, tax liens or bankruptcies
  • Accounts, including account name, amount, recent balance, date opened, account type, credit limit, payment history, whether open or closed
  • Negative accounts, including account name, recent balance, date opened, account type, credit limit/original amount, date of status, balance, payment status
  • Credit inquiries

Heads up that medical details are not released, although the name of a provider may indicate treatment type, and marital status is not a factor in credit building. Also, while age is not a factor, there are protections in place for those under 21, such as the requirement that you have your own source of income to qualify for a credit card.

How to properly use a bad credit card

It's worth your while to improve your credit score – for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.

Not only lenders look at your creditworthiness, but also landlords, employers, your cellphone company and insurance company – and even your date on Friday night. In fact, Bankrate found this to be a pretty big issue for singles in the market in a 2017 poll.

A Bankrate Money Pulse survey found that a full 50% of women would be influenced by a credit score when deciding to date someone, while 35% of men said the same thing.

So, yes, it is definitely worth your while to work on improving your credit.

There are a few rules to responsible card use. To use your credit card wisely, do this:

  • Don't take out a credit card with an annual fee unless you need it to build credit or you are planning to maximize points or benefits.
  • Never carry a balance from month to month. Credit cards should not be used for long-term loans. Interest rates on credit cards average just over 17% APR, but credit-builder cards can be almost 25%. That means if you carry $500 on your card, it will take you 27 months to pay the minimum amount and you will pay $153 in interest. Yuk.
  • If you are building credit, put a small charge on your card each month to keep the account active and open, and pay in full and on time.
  • Once you have built your credit to at least a FICO score of 700, only take out a rewards card if you have a working budget and you feel you can accurately track your charges and payments.

Credit-builder cards' APRs compared to excellent cards' APRs

One very compelling reason to improve your credit is so that you can take out a card with a better APR. While you don't want to carry a balance if at all possible, you definitely don't want to be saddled with a debilitating interest rate.

For example, here is a comparison of APRs for cards with bad and excellent credit.

CardCredit NeededAPR
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardExcellent, Good14.24%-24.24% Variable
Credit One Bank Visa Credit CardBad20.24%-26.24% Variable

As you can see, the cards that require good or excellent credit have considerably lower starting points on their APRs.

Related bad credit categories:

Laura is an editor and writer at She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.

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