If your credit score leaves something to be desired, you’re not alone; credit bureau Experian estimates the number of Americans with bad or poor credit at around 30 percent. Fortunately, there are many tools for improving your credit score, and one of them is the right kind of credit card. The best cards for bad credit have less strict requirements for credit scores.
Consider our top pick in this category, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®. Unlike secured credit cards, it doesn’t require you to pay a security deposit upfront. The card also offers pre-qualification, a quick and easy way to see what your chances of approval look like without undergoing a hard credit inquiry that could negatively affect your credit score.
Those advantages help make the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® our #1 recommendation, along with cash back rewards, a free monthly credit score and more.
One of the best ways to restore your credit over time is paying off your monthly balance in full and by the due date. Choose one of the cards from our shortlist, apply online in minutes, and start building a better financial future today.
Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit (2017)
- Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®
- Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®
- Milestone® Gold MasterCard®
- Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card
Types of cards for bad credit
Before you choose, be aware of the differences between a secured credit card and an unsecured credit card.
With a secured credit card, you’ll need to put up a security deposit as collateral. In many cases, your credit limit will match the deposit. A secured credit card could be another option if you don’t qualify for an unsecured card.
An unsecured credit card offers a trade-off. Although sometimes harder to qualify for, the card doesn’t require a security deposit as a secured card does. For those with poor credit, unsecured cards may carry higher interest rates.
Note: Pre-qualification and credit scores
Getting pre-qualified for a credit card will not hurt your credit score. Why? Pre-qualification involves what’s called a “soft inquiry” with a credit bureau. Soft inquires stay on your credit report only temporarily and don’t factor into credit scoring formulas the way “hard” inquiries do.
Top unsecured credit cards of 2017
Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®
If you’re looking for an easy and convenient way to help you rebuild your credit, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® is an excellent choice.
There’s no security deposit required, a real plus for those who might have trouble coming up with hundreds of dollars upfront for a credit card. This card also offers cash back rewards on eligible purchases, a rarity among cards for bad credit that further sets it apart from other picks on our list. A free monthly credit score and text/email notifications of upcoming payments make it easier to manage your account and changes to your credit score over time.
How To Use It
- No security deposit required. Get a 100% unsecured card that can help grow and build credit.
- Focused on growing or rebuilding your credit? We report account activity to all three major credit bureaus each month to help keep your credit score up-to-date.
- Find out if you're Pre-Qualified without harming your credit score. It's fast, easy, and secure.
- Looking for more credit? Get credit line increase opportunities, a fee may apply
- Get 1% cash back on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV. Terms apply.
- Your account is safeguarded against unauthorized charges with Zero Fraud Liability at no additional charge
- Stay in-the-know about your account with custom email and text alerts that remind you of your payment due date, notify you when a payment posts, or warn you if your available credit runs low
- Show off your style with a premium card design, a fee may apply.
- Get pre-qualified without any harm to your credit score.
- Earn 1% cash back on groceries, gas, cable and satellite TV, internet service and other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
- Carefully consider any big purchases that would force you to carry a balance from month to month. The rule of thumb is: If you can’t pay for it outright, don’t put it on a credit card. (Following this rule will keep your credit utilization low and minimize interest payments.)
With an annual fee of up to $99, you’ll need to think about whether you want to keep this card for the long term. Consider the Discover it® Secured Credit Card – No Annual Fee as an alternative. It has no annual fee, and you could be eligible for a refund on your security deposit after a credit review process that begins at the eight-month mark.
With pre-qualification and no security deposit, it’s easy to get approved and get started with the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®. Once you start using the card, you can benefit from 1% cash back rewards on a variety of everyday purchases — a perk that many of its competitors don’t offer. The Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® simply has the best combination of features of any unsecured card on our list.
Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®
If you’re interested in a solid, no-frills card to help you re-establish good credit, the Indigo® Platinum MasterCard® fits the bill quite well. A previous bankruptcy won’t disqualify you from applying, and pre-qualification won’t damage your credit score.
Although the card doesn’t have a rewards program, its simplicity offers cardholders recovering from past bankruptcy the opportunity to focus on the basics: building positive credit and keeping their credit utilization low. Once your credit score improves, you’ll be more likely to qualify for a card with a rewards program and other perks. Until then, the Indigo® Platinum MasterCard® is a sensible option for rebuilding damaged credit.
How To Use It
- 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!
- Complete a simple pre-qualification process to find out your chances of being approved.
- Help build up your credit score — and avoid an interest penalty — by paying your balance in full every month.
- Once the card has helped you restore your credit, consider graduating to a card that offers cash back or other rewards.
Your annual fee and APR may depend on your credit profile, and not everyone will qualify for the most favorable terms. The annual fee could range from $0 to $99. Make your payments on time or a 29.9% Penalty APR may be applied to your account indefinitely.
With a lenient approach to past bankruptcy, the Indigo® Platinum MasterCard® is a solid choice for consumers working their way back toward creditworthiness. The lack of a security deposit helps reduce the start-up costs, too. Accepted at more than 35 million locations worldwide, the card will give you many opportunities to use it and — with timely payments — rebuild your credit score in the process.
Milestone® Gold MasterCard®
The Milestone® Gold MasterCard® is a good choice to help you correct serious problems with your credit, particularly if you’ve had a previous bankruptcy. For starters, a bankruptcy in your past is OK. A security deposit won’t stand in your way either, since this unsecured card doesn’t require one.
Add in pre-qualification to protect your credit score from a hard inquiry, and you could have an easy path to becoming a cardholder. Once you have the card, fraud protection and free online account access ensure managing your account is a simple process, too.
How To Use It
- 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
- Go through the simple, worry-free application process — pre-qualification won’t damage your credit score.
- Pay off your balance every billing period. Not only will this build your credit, it will also protect you against the higher-interest penalty APR.
- Re-establish yourself as a creditworthy consumer. Once your score improves, consider getting a new card with a rewards program and a higher line of credit.
Be aware of the penalty APR for late payments — the higher interest rate could be applied to your account indefinitely. Also, remember that your credit score determines your annual fee, which can vary from $35 to $75 the first year (then $99 thereafter).
Used correctly, the Milestone® Gold MasterCard® can be an effective and affordable way to help you recover from bad credit history. More than 35 million locations worldwide accept cards backed by MasterCard®, so you should get plenty of opportunities to use it. Fraud protection will help you feel confident to use the card as you build up your credit.
Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card
If you can use some help strengthening your credit with an unsecured card that offers a reduced annual fee after your first year, the Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card might be for you.
Although fairly useful, the card’s low initial credit limit and fee structure could limit its appeal. The ideal cardholder will be able to overlook these flaws and stay very disciplined to avoid late payment fees. Carefully consider any large purchases to stay well below the $300 credit limit. Remember, credit utilization is a factor in credit score calculation. When your credit limit is modest, it’s especially important to keep your balance – and therefore credit utilization – low.
How To Use It
- Checking Account Required
- Fast and easy application process; response provided in seconds
- A genuine VISA card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online
- Manageable monthly payments
- If approved, simply pay a Processing Fee to open your account and access your available credit
- Reports monthly to all three major credit bureaus
- Select your favorite card design from our gallery, for free!
- No-Fee credit line increase opportunities!
- Everyday purchases should be no problem, but be cautious about making large purchases, since the card has an initial credit limit of $300.
- Pay your balance on time and in full. This card has a higher APR than some of the comparable options, so you’ll want to avoid paying high-rate interest.
- Once you’ve improved your credit score, consider applying for a card that comes with a rewards program and fewer fees.
You won’t have to pay a security deposit, but you will deal with some fees. They include the one-time $89 processing fee once your application is approved and a $6.25 monthly servicing fee applied after your first year. Another reason to pay your balance on time is the $37 fee for late payments and returned payments. For an option with fewer fees, check out the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.
More than 30 million merchants accept VISA® cards, so you can use the Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card just about anywhere. Just stay mindful of the credit limit and stick to a timely payment schedule to get the most out of this card’s potential to help rebuild your credit and avoid late payment fees.
Top secured credit cards of 2017
Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee
The Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee is a good choice for consumers who have moderate but not severe credit issues. You’ll need the money for a security deposit upfront, but in return, you’ll get no annual fee and cash back rewards — two benefits that set it apart from many other secured credit cards.
The good news is, the security deposit is potentially refundable. Starting at the eight-month mark, Discover will review how you’ve been managing your credit lines, including all credit cards and loans (even those not financed through Discover). If your accounts are in good standing, you could receive your security deposit back from Discover.
Another factor that distinguishes the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee from competitors is the cash back match. You’ll receive an automatic dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
How To Use It
- No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
- A security deposit of $200 or more will establish your credit line (up to the amount we can approve). Automatic monthly reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an account with no security deposit.
- Reports to the three major credit bureaus. Plus, get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
- Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
- Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
- Tools to assist you; email alerts, text reminders and 24/7 customer service.
- Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
- Earn 2% cash back for purchases at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter), plus unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Pay your entire balance on time to help restore your credit — and potentially qualify for an early refund of your security deposit.
- Take advantage of the free FICO® Credit Score service to keep an eye on your credit.
The amount you pay for the security deposit affects your spending power. As with other secured credit cards, your credit limit will equal your security deposit. The minimum security deposit is $200, and a maximum credit limit of up to $2,500 is determined by factors like your income and credit history. If you’d prefer not to pay a security deposit, consider the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.
The cash back program helps make the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee our top pick among secured credit cards for people facing credit issues. The year-end cash back match is another point in its favor. Even if you’re not a fan of the security deposit, the possibility of getting that money refunded early on offers a strong incentive to handle all your credit responsibly by making timely payments in full.
USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card
If you’re a member of the armed forces, the USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card could be tailor-made for you.
You’ll have to pay a minimum $250 for a two-year CD as a security deposit, with a limit of $5,000. However, keep in mind that the CD is an interest-earning deposit that is guaranteed to grow. The USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card also has other features that distinguish it from competitors, including military-friendly perks such as 4% APR for up to 12 months during deployments and PCS. Plus, service personnel stationed or traveling abroad will benefit from $0 foreign transaction fees.
How To Use It
- Best for members rebuilding or establishing credit.
- Determine your own credit limit ($250 to $5,000) with an interest-earning CD.
- No foreign transaction fees when you travel outside the United States.
- Your credit limit will equal your deposit, so make your deposit as large as you can (without depleting your emergency fund!) to increase the card’s spending power.
- Keep up with your payments — on time and in full — to help your credit score recover. Although the card has no penalty APR, late payments can still lead to interest charges at the regular APR and a late payment fee up to $35.
- Leave the CD untouched for the full two years to avoid penalties for early withdrawal.
With this card, you’ll want to act judiciously when it comes to balance transfers, cash advances and convenience checks. Balance transfers and convenience checks carry a fee of 3%. Also, a balance transfer can’t be made from another USAA account.
If you’re a member of the armed forces trying to repair your credit, consider the USAA Secured Card® American Express® Card. It requires the upfront cost of a CD-based security deposit, but the earned interest could make it a worthwhile investment as you rehabilitate your credit. And if you’re active duty, the extra-low APR during deployments and PCS will come in handy.
Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit: Summed Up
|Credit Cards for Bad Credit||Top Feature||Card Type|
|1||Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®||Automatically earn 1% cash back when you buy gas or groceries. Terms apply.||Unsecured|
|2||Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee||No annual fee. No late fee on your first late payment. Paying late won’t raise your APR.||Secured|
|3||Indigo® Platinum MasterCard®||Previous bankruptcy is OK.||Unsecured|
|4||USAA Secured Card® American Express®||Earn interest on your CD — your deposit is guaranteed to grow.||Secured|
|5||Milestone® Gold MasterCard®||Previous bankruptcy is OK.||Unsecured|
|6||Total VISA® Unsecured Credit Card||A genuine VISA card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online.||Unsecured|
Simple Rules For Applying For A Card With Poor Credit
Getting a credit card for bad credit is one of the best ways to begin repairing any credit mistakes you may have made in the past. However, there are a few “rules” that can help guide you towards the best outcome possible. Before you apply, here are some basic tips to consider:
- Know your credit score
- Decide if you want a card or if you really need a short term loan. If its the latter, check out the Best Bad Credit Loan options.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service
- Don’t apply for the best rewards cards, travel cards, or cash back cards
- Consider using a prepaid debit card if you find yourself falling behind
You first need to understand your credit before you can start improving it. How else would you know what improvements to make? Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting agency, which enables you to ensure the information on all of your credit reports is correct and up to date. To get a copy of your free credit report from the three credit reporting agencies, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Once you pour through your credit report and analyze the factors that may be negatively impacting your credit score, you can also consider using a credit monitoring service as your next step. Not only can credit monitoring services help you understand what goes into your credit report, but they can also protect you from future negative impacts from fraud or identity theft.
|Identity Guard||30-day free trial||$14.99/month|
|LifeLock||30 day risk-free* trial||$19.99/month|
|IdentityForce||No free trial||$23.95/month|
|Experian||7-day free trial||$19.95/month|
|TransUnion||7-day free trial||$16.95/month|
* Credit card required at enrollment. If you’re not completely satisfied within your 30-day risk-free period, call 1-800-LifeLock to receive a full refund. At enrollment, your credit card will be billed automatically ($8.49mo/$93.41yr for LifeLock Standard™ or $16.99mo/$186.91yr for LifeLock Advantage™ or $25.49mo/$280.41yr for LifeLock Ultimate Plus™, plus applicable sales tax). Further details about automatic charges will be provided at enrollment. You can cancel LifeLock services anytime without penalty by calling 1-800-LifeLock. Offer is for new LifeLock members only. Offer is available for LifeLock Standard™, LifeLock Advantage™ and LifeLock Ultimate Plus™ memberships only. Not combinable with other offers.
Research More Credit Cards to Rebuild Your Credit
Below is a directory with the most popular credit cards for bad credit in the marketplace. These include the best secured credit cards and unsecured credit cards for lower credit. Sometimes, credit card issuers bring new cards to the market and sometimes they choose to discontinue certain cards. All changes are reflected in real-time in this directory.
Directory of Credit Cards for Bad Credit
To develop an overall rating for each credit card shown, I analyzed the features of each card. After that, I considered the importance level of each feature my measuring how much it matters to the average consumer who is researching credit cards for bad credit. The most heavily weighted features of a credit card for bad credit are Deposit Requirement, Ease of Qualification, and Initial Credit Limit. I also considered the Credit Reporting, Annual Fee, and APR associated with each card.
The rating I developed for each card provides an objective basis for comparison based on the features we decided are most valuable to the majority of customers with below-average credit.
Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best credit card for you.
Rewards Tier Level
To help explain what I looked at when rating these cards, a more detailed outline is included below.
Deposit Requirement is the amount of money the cardholder must deposit in order to qualify for a secured credit card. Since credit card companies take a perceived risk by extending credit to someone with a low credit score, many require this deposit. If you should happen to default on your balance, you should expect your card issuer to keep your deposit.
In most cases, there are better uses for the money you would need to deposit to qualify for a secured card. If you’re carrying high-interest debt from another card, for example, you may want to consider using that money to pay down your debt and getting a prepaid debit card to use instead.
Ease of Qualification
Ease of Qualification carries a high importance rating because credit cards for bad credit can’t help you if you can’t qualify in the first place. And while almost anyone can qualify for a secured credit card if their deposit is large enough, not everyone has enough money to put down a deposit. That’s why the ability to qualify easily is so important. To improve your credit in the long run, you need to be able to qualify for the card of your choosing and start using credit responsibly right away.
Prequalification makes the process easier by allowing you to answer a few simple questions that will give you a pretty good idea of whether or not you will be accepted. An added advantage of prequalification is that it doesn’t cause a hard inquiry on your credit report. Avoiding a hard inquiry may make it easier for you to sign up for a secured card if you get rejected.
Initial Credit Limit
Initial Credit Limit is the amount you can borrow immediately upon opening an account. This amount is usually low. Most often, the limit is below $500. In contrast, initial credit limits for those with excellent credit can be thousands of dollars. Initial Credit Limit is important because the more you can start with the better. For example, if you have to deposit $300 for a $300 Initial Credit Limit, it might not make sense to open that card.
The good news is that many of the best credit cards for bad credit provide a clear path to increasing your credit line. If you can manage to pay your bills on time and stay current on your account, you will likely qualify for a credit line increase after your first year.
Credit Reporting encompasses both the tools available for you to monitor your credit score and the way the card interacts with the credit reporting agencies.
Many of the best credit cards for bad credit provide your credit score on your monthly statement. While not a complete rundown of your credit history, it is nice to see the changes in your score from month to month as you build your credit profile back up. Simply put, the best cards not only help you build your credit, but also provide online tools that can help you monitor your credit score.
Another important factor to consider is the fact that not all credit cards report your financial history to all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. If you have bad credit, look for a card that reports to all three credit reporting agencies. Remember, a new credit card can only help you if your credit activities are actually being reported.
Annual Fee refers to the fee charged each year by the credit card company to maintain your line of credit. Typically, annual fees are charged on rewards credit cards or cards that offer certain other valuable travel perks.
Unfortunately, almost all credit cards for bad credit charge an annual fee. Although paying this fee may not be ideal, you should consider it as the price you pay for the opportunity to rebuild your credit or establish a positive credit history. Once you repair your credit and build your score over time, you can always cancel your current credit card and apply for one that doesn’t charge an annual fee.
The APR refers to the interest rate charged on your balance when you do not fully pay the balance off each month. Unfortunately, most credit cards for bad credit charge higher interest rates than average. To avoid paying these charges, all you need to do is pay your balance in full each month. Doing so will not only help you avoid paying interest, but it will also demonstrate that you have learned to use credit responsibly.
The Best Way To Build Your Credit
There are several steps you can take to rebuild poor credit, but the easiest path involves applying for a credit card for bad credit and slowly proving yourself over time. There are two types of credit cards that can help you achieve this goal:
Choosing which type of credit card will largely depend on how bad your credit score is and how badly you need a credit line.
Keep in mind that your main goal here is to build your credit back up or establish a positive credit history. Choosing a card that helps you accomplish that goal is the number one priority.
Secured Credit Cards
Most credit cards for people with bad credit are secured credit cards. These cards require you to deposit a certain amount of money with the credit card company as collateral. Usually, your credit line is commensurate with the amount you deposit. In other words, your credit line will be equal to your deposit.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone would put down a $500 deposit in exchange for a $500 credit line. The main reason people take this route is because they cannot qualify for an unsecured card and they desperately want the opportunity to prove themselves.
Remember, the end goal with a secured credit card is to make your payments on time and slowly build your credit over time. If you continue to use credit responsibly, you will likely be able to qualify for a credit card with better terms down the line.
Unsecured Credit Cards
Most credit cards you’re familiar with are unsecured, meaning the line of credit extended to you is not secured by any deposit or other collateral. The credit card issuer is simply trusting your history of responsible repayment and your means to repay.
Because lending money to people with lower credit is perceived as riskier, there are some very big differences between unsecured cards targeted to this group vs. unsecured cards targeted at people with higher credit.
- Fees: Unsecured credit cards for people with bad credit usually come with higher fees.
- Lower credit limit: If approved, your limit will be much lower, usually less than $500, while people with good credit might get approved for several thousands of dollars depending on their income.
- Interest rate: Again, because of perceived risk, interest rates on these cards are substantially higher.
Making The Right Choice
Although you may find conflicting advice on which type of card is best, you should ultimately choose the card that benefits you the most. In most cases, your “ideal card” will come with low fees and the potential for rewards. That is why I recommend the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa®.
If you’re still having trouble figuring out which path to take, consider these strategies:
Strategy #1: Try To Get An Unsecured Credit Card
Before you do anything else, you should first determine if you could qualify for an unsecured card. Although they are typically harder to qualify for, they often come with the lowest fees and will save you from having to put down a deposit upfront.
If you’re worried about getting rejected and incurring a hard inquiry on your credit report, try prequalification first. As mentioned above, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Platinum Visa® offers a prequalification option. Just answer a few simple questions that will give you an idea of whether or not you can qualify before the actual application goes in.
Strategy #2: Go Secured For A Limited Time
If for some reason you can’t qualify for an unsecured credit card, I suggest getting a secured card. Remember, secured credit cards do not require a lifetime commitment. Even though you have to put down a deposit, you will ultimately get your deposit back if you pay your balance in full and on time. Once your credit score starts improving, you can simply cancel your secured card and apply for an unsecured credit card with better terms.
If you choose a secured credit card, make sure you get an updated credit score each month with your statement. For example, the One United Bank Unity Visa Secured Card provides your FICO score each month to help you see your progress. This will help you know when you are ready to apply for a better card that doesn’t require a deposit. Also, make sure that you are utilizing your secured credit card as much as you can. If you want to begin building a credit history, you need to use your card frequently and prove that you can pay your balance in full.
Strategy #3: Use A Prepaid Debit Card As A Short-Term Solution
If you don’t have a bank account, you might have trouble qualifying for a secured credit card. If this is the case, you may want to consider using a prepaid card for a limited time. Unlike secured and unsecured credit cards, prepaid cards are only funded when you make a deposit. Meanwhile, prepaid cards provide the convenience and appearance of credit without many of the risks.
Unfortunately, there are downsides that come with using prepaid cards. For example, since they don’t extend credit, they cannot help you rebuild your credit over time. Also, prepaid cards are known to charge various fees for use. Those fees can include balance inquiry fees, transaction fees, application fees, and monthly maintenance fees.
Rebuilding your credit is a slow process that won’t happen overnight. To get started, you simply need to figure out why your score is low in the first place and take actionable steps to repair any lingering issues. The best credit cards for bad credit can also help you prove your creditworthiness over time. All of these steps will take some initiative on your part, but the end result will definitely be worth it.
The keys to getting the best credit card when you have bad credit are:
- Always make sure you know your credit score.
- Get a bank account. Use a prepaid debit card until you can open one.
- See if you can qualify for an unsecured card on your own.
- If you can’t, then plop down the deposit needed for a secured card.
- Keep making your payments on time!
If you understand and implement these steps, you’ll be heading in the right direction to rebuilding your credit score and improving your financial future. Just remember, your credit will not repair itself on its own. Credit cards for bad credit can help, but only if you take that first step.