The best credit cards for bad credit give people the tools to build their credit history without charging unfair fees.
2021’s Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit
When you have bad credit or are trying to rebuild your credit, getting approved for a credit card can be challenging. According to Experian, 1 out of every 6 people in the U.S. have a very poor FICO score (300 to 579), so you're not alone. There are many reasons people have poor credit, such as job loss, emergency bills, divorce and economic hardship.
In today's society, having a credit card is necessary for shopping online, buying gas, booking travel and more. And responsible use of credit cards is one of the best ways to increase your credit score. Our experts at MoneyGeek understand your situation, so we've picked the best credit cards for bad credit to help you improve your credit without paying a lot of fees. We'll share the pros and cons of the easiest credit cards to get with bad credit so you can find one that works best for you.
- I’m looking to find and compare different credit cards for bad or limited credit.
- I’m here to learn more about my different options and how to improve my less than optimal credit.
MoneyGeek Quick Tip: Secured credit cards are great options for people with limited credit because they only allow for so much spending. Unsecured credit cards, while they have a credit limit, the card will not limit your spending which could cause issues if the cardholder spends beyond their means. Compare the top secured credit cards at our partner site, CardRatings.com.
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MoneyGeek’s Take: Good Credit Cards for Bad Credit
To pick our winners for the best credit card offers for bad credit, we analyzed over 100 credit cards designed to help consumers improve their credit. While analyzing these cards, our MoneyGeek experts reviewed all of the card details that are important to readers like you, such as annual fees, credit limits, rewards on purchases, interest rates and more. We then picked the top four based on the value that they offer our readers.
Best Secured & Partially Secured Credit Cards for Bad Credit
- Citi Secured Mastercard: Open your account with a refundable security deposit of $200 or more. This card reports to all three credit bureaus and offers free access to your FICO score without paying an annual fee.
- Merrick Bank Double Your Line Secured Visa: Start your account with a refundable $200 security deposit. After paying at least your minimum payment due for the first seven months, your credit line will double.
Best Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit
- Principal Platinum Merchandise Credit Card: Instant access to a $750 credit line that you can use to make purchases at the Horizon Outlet. There is no interest charged on purchases, but there is a monthly fee.
- Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit: Earn unlimited 1% cash back on eligible gas, grocery, internet, cable and cell phone purchases. Annual fees range from $0 to $99, depending on your credit, and the bank will automatically review your account for future credit limit increases.
Some credit card issuers offer better annual fees or APR rates for military members or veterans so be sure to read the fine print when comparing credit cards. This information can be found in our more detailed lists below.
Best Credit Card Offers for Limited Credit as of September 2021
We've separated the best credit card offers for bad credit into two types — those that require a deposit and those that do not. Our MoneyGeek experts prepare detailed reviews of every card and include their opinion on the pros and cons of each card's offer and key details of fees and benefits.
Best Secured Credit Cards to Build Credit
The best secured credit cards for bad credit require a refundable security deposit to get approved for the card. In most cases, you can receive a higher credit limit by depositing more money, and your deposit will be refunded when it is converted to an unsecured card or if you close your account.
FEATUREDCiti Secured MastercardBest credit card for building credit with no or limited credit history
- $200 minimumSecurity Deposit
- $0Annual Fee
- 22.49% VariableReg APR
- 3# of Reporting Bureaus
- Merrick Bank Double Your Line Secured VisaBest credit card for training good financial habits
- $200 minimumSecurity Deposit
- $36 for the first year*Annual Fee
- 17.45% VariableReg APR
- 3# of Reporting Bureaus
Unsecured Cards Approved for Below Average Credit
Our choices for the best unsecured credit cards for bad credit allow you to get approved for a new credit card without having to deposit any money. These cards are an excellent choice for people who don't have the ability or desire to make a security deposit.
FEATUREDCredit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding CreditBest credit card for prequalifying with bad credit
- $75-$99*Annual Fee
- 23.99%Reg APR
- 3# of Reporting Bureaus
- Principal Platinum Merchandise Credit CardBest credit card for online spending if you have bad credit
- $177.24Annual Fee
- 0%Reg APR
- 3# of Reporting Bureaus
How We Rank Credit Cards Approved for Lower Credit Scores
We compile and rank our lists of suggested credit cards based on publicly available data from card issuers and other reputable sources like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Using a standardized spend profile based on the mean American household from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we projected the expected annual spend across multiple categories of purchases. Using those calculations and assumptions, we determined the approximate 3-year value of holding a card, based on the expected benefit of the card's rewards less the cost of maintaining that card (such as by annual fees). Learn more about our credit card ranking methodology.
Top Rating Criteria for Travel Cards
10 Things to Check When Comparing Credit Cards for Bad Credit
There are many good credit cards available for those with bad credit. If you're looking to build or repair your credit history, it's important to choose a card that best fits your needs and financial situation. So to cut through the noise, you'll want to pay close attention to certain features and criteria that will help you decide which card is right for you.
What to Compare
- Application fees — Is there a fee to apply for the credit card or to open your account?
- Annual or monthly fees — Does the credit card charge any fees to keep the account open?
- Interest rates — What is the interest rate on purchases and balance transfers? Is the card issuer offering a promotional rate for new cardholders? If so, what are the terms?
- Security deposit amount — How much does the credit card require as a security deposit, and is it refundable?
- Earn rewards on purchases — Does the card earn rewards on your purchases? If so, does it earn cash back, miles or points? Are there any bonus categories or limits on how much you can earn, and do your rewards expire?
- Initial credit limit — What is the minimum credit limit, and can you get a higher limit by increasing your security deposit?
- Credit limit increases — Does the bank automatically increase your credit limit after you've used the card responsibly? If so, how long until that happens?
- Conversion to an unsecured card — Will your secured credit card convert to an unsecured card after you've built good credit habits?
- Free credit score — Does the card provide free access to your credit score so that you can monitor your progress towards building your credit history?
- Additional benefits — Are there any other benefits when using the card, such as no foreign transaction fees, purchase protection or zero liability for unauthorized purchases?
Secured & Unsecured Credit Cards At A Glance
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- Card NameCard Type# of Reporting BureausReg APRAnnual Fee
- Citi Secured MastercardSecure322.49% Variable$0
- Merrick Bank Double Your Line Secured VisaSecure317.45% Variable$36*
- Credit One Bank Platinum Visa for Rebuilding CreditUnsecured323.99%$75-$99*
- Principal Platinum Merchandise Credit CardUnsecured30%$177.24
MoneyGeek’s Guide to Understanding & Responsibly Using Credit Cards
Getting a new credit card is the first step towards improving your credit. How you use the card makes a big difference in how quickly and how much your credit score can improve. In this guide, you'll learn why credit scores are important, how to choose a new card and tips to build your credit.
Importance of Good Credit History & Score
Having a good credit score makes life easier in so many ways. Not only does it make it easier to get approved for popular credit cards, but you'll also receive better terms on mortgages and car loans. Credit scores can even affect whether or not you can move into an apartment, the rates you pay for insurance and if you'll get hired for a new job.
Credit scores are broken down into five groups, ranging from very poor to exceptional. The FICO score ranges are:
- Exceptional (800 to 850)
- Very Good (740 to 799)
- Good (670 to 739)
- Fair (580 to 669)
- Very Poor (300 to 579)
MoneyGeek Quick Tip: Generally, the higher your credit score, the likelier you are to get approved for the best credit cards and the most favorable terms on other loans, like a mortgage. Getting into the highest credit score category can take time, but you can take steps to improve your score right away.
5 Factors That Impact Your Credit Score
Credit scores reflect how you handle both the credit available to you and your debts by taking into account five factors. These are:
Payment history (35% of your score)
Paying your bills on time every month builds a positive payment history that shows lenders your ability to repay your debts.
Amounts owed (30%)
Keeping your balances low compared to your credit limits gives lenders confidence that you will not max out your credit cards, which can be a sign of financial distress.
Length of credit history (15%)
Building long-term relationships with creditors proves that you can handle the responsibility of debt over a long period of time.
Mix of accounts (10%)
Lenders like to see that you have a mixture of loans and credit cards to show that you can manage both types responsibly. Loans demonstrate that you can make regular payments over time, while credit cards display your ability to resist spending up to your credit limit.
New credit (10%)
Each time you apply for credit, the inquiry stays on your report for up to two years. Applying for multiple credit accounts in a short time makes lenders worry that you are in financial trouble.
When combined, your payment history and the amount you owe (also referred to as your credit usage) determine approximately two-thirds of your score. So focusing on keeping your payments current and balances low are the two most critical steps you can take to improve your score.
What to Look for in a Card to Help Build Credit More Easily
When looking for a credit card to build your credit, it pays to look at the basic features of each card. Ideally, you'll find a credit card with no annual fee and a low APR on purchases that earns attractive rewards and offers useful benefits, like free access to your credit score.
Good credit cards for bad credit usually have no annual fee, but it is OK to pay a fee if the card earns rewards or includes benefits that make paying the fee worthwhile. You should try to pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges, but that may not always be possible. If you have to carry a balance over to the next month, having a card with a low APR means that you'll pay less interest than you would on other credit cards that charge a higher interest rate.
Beyond these standard features, you also want to dig deeper into the credit card's details to avoid unfriendly terms and fees.
What to Be on the Lookout For
- Hidden fees. While some credit cards do not charge an annual fee, they may charge an application fee or monthly fees.
- Grace period. The grace period is the number of days after the statement closes that you have to pay the balance without being charged interest. Longer is better for this feature, and the best credit cards provide a grace period of up to 25 days.
- Foreign transaction fees. When you travel internationally or buy something online from another country, banks can charge up to 3% of the transaction amount as a fee. The best credit cards waive this fee completely.
- Penalty APR. Paying late or having a payment returned by your bank for insufficient funds can increase your interest rate. But there are some secured credit cards that do not raise your APR if you pay late.
- Late fees. How much does the credit card charge if you pay late? Late fees can vary, but most charge about $40 for late payments, but there are a few issuers that waive late fees.
- Over-the-limit fees. Because many subprime credit cards have low limits initially, it can be easy for consumers to go over the limit. Pay attention to the fees that the credit card charges and use your credit card sparingly to avoid going over the limit.
Comparing Different Cards for Subprime Credit
There are a variety of credit cards available for people who are building their credit. While some require a security deposit, many do not.
- Card TypeDescription
- Secured credit cardsThese cards require a deposit to open your account, and the credit limit is equal to your deposit. Many cards, like the Merrick Bank Double Your Line Secured Visa, have a minimum security deposit amount but also allow you to deposit more money to receive a higher limit.
- Partially secured credit cardsCustomers have to provide a security deposit, but the credit limit is more than the security deposit. The Secured Mastercard from Capital One requires a security deposit of $49, $99 or $200 to receive an initial credit line of $200. Your account may receive a credit limit increase in as little as six months without requiring a larger security deposit.
- Unsecured credit cardsUnsecured credit cards do not require a security deposit for approval. The Petal 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa Credit Card has no annual fee and does not require a security deposit.
- Store cardsThese cards help build your credit by reporting your payments to the credit bureau, but the card can only be used for purchases at that store. For example, the Home Depot card cannot be used to make purchases at Lowe's, Target or a gas station.
4 Tips for Improving Your Credit with Your New Card
Getting a new credit card is the starting point for improving your credit. Now that you've been approved, you must use it responsibly to increase your credit score. Build your score by following these tips:
Make all payments on time
Be sure to make your minimum monthly payment before the due date. Setting up an automatic payment of the minimum due from your bank account ensures you will never miss a payment.
Use the credit card regularly
By making a few small purchases each month and then paying them off quickly, you're showing the bank that you can use the card responsibly. This behavior is usually rewarded with an increased credit limit or upgrading your secured card into one that is unsecured.
Keep your balances low
When the amount you owe is low compared to your credit limit, that can increase your credit score. Consider limiting your purchases to only the amount that you can pay in full each month.
Avoid fees and penalties
Whenever the bank charges a fee or penalty, it is that much harder to keep your balances low and pay off your balance each month. Avoid late payment fees, over-the-limit fees and other fees to keep your money in your pocket.
Other Ways to Build/Rebuild Credit Without Getting A Credit Card
While getting approved for a new credit card is a popular way to build credit, it is not the only way to do so. There are several alternatives available that will help you build your credit history so that you can get a new card in the future.
Alternatives to Building Credit without a Card
- Use a credit builder loan. Credit builder loans are similar to a traditional loan, but the payout is at the end. You pay monthly payments for a period of time. Then, when the term is over, you receive a check for the loan amount. These lenders charge a small fee for the service and report to the credit bureaus to show your positive payment history.
- Rent payment services. While most landlords do not report rent payments to the credit bureaus, some companies do so for a fee. When you sign up for one of these services, your positive rent payment history can help you build your credit.
- Get added as an authorized user. By adding your name as an authorized user on someone else's credit card, you'll benefit from their payment history and responsible use of the card. Because you can make purchases against their credit limit and the account owner is responsible for your charges, this can be a risky decision for them.
- Turn on Experian Boost. Experian Boost allows payments to telephone companies, utilities and select streaming services to report to your credit report. There is no fee for this service, but it only affects your Experian credit history.
Top Questions About Credit Cards for Bad Credit & Rebuilding History
After learning about credit card options for people with bad credit and tips for rebuilding your score, you may still have additional questions. To help with this dilemma, the MoneyGeek team has compiled advice from personal finance advisors, credit counselors and other credit card experts along with answering the most common questions about getting a card with bad credit.
- Are there many unsecured credit cards that accept applicants with fair credit?
- Are there any unsecured credit cards that will accept applicants with lower-than-fair credit?
- If the issuer of an unsecured credit card accepts someone with fair credit, should consumers expect to see higher interest rates and/or lower credit limits for that card than what would be offered to a consumer with better credit?
- What red flags should credit card shoppers with poor or fair credit look for in unsecured credit card offers?
- If someone has fair or poor credit, would that person be better off getting an unsecured credit card (if approved) or a secured credit card? Will one affect a person's credit score more positively than the other?
Vice President of Communications, National Foundation for Credit Counseling
Bad Credit FAQs Answered by the Geeks
Some of the most common questions about credit cards for bad credit are focused on how to get approval when your credit score is low and what to do if your application is declined.
About the Author
Advertiser Disclosure: MoneyGeek has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. MoneyGeek and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. To ensure thorough comparisons and reviews, MoneyGeek features products from both paid partners and unaffiliated card issuers that are not paid partners.