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Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

When you have bad credit, your financial opportunities are limited — mortgage, car and personal loans all require a respectable credit score. Discovering the right credit card issuer can help you improve your score over time, leading to more options in the future.

Our picks for
Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit

How to get a credit card with bad credit

Regardless of your terrible credit score, it is possible to get a card. Even though the idea of getting a new credit card might be scary with bad credit, remember that responsible use of a credit card is the best way to improve bad credit.

1. Check your credit
Your credit score is a number on a scale from 300–850, with 300 at the bottom and 850 representing perfect credit. If curious, you can either check your credit score personally or go to a credit report site to learn your score. If you find inaccuracies on your credit report, you can dispute them and potentially raise your credit score. After you know the number of your credit score, you should have an idea of what kind of credit card you can get.
2. Catch up on old payments
If your credit is low because of past credit card debts, settling those balances will improve your score — paying off your old credit card debt is one of the best ways to improve your credit score. Settling accounts in collections and being added as an authorized user on another credit holder’s account can also improve your credit score and expand your credit card options.
3. Compare your options
If your credit score is less than 650, a secured credit card or an unsecured credit card with less-than-ideal terms may be the only way for you to build credit. Secured cards are easy credit cards to get with bad credit or even no credit at all, but they usually require a deposit equal to their credit limit. Unsecured credit cards offer more flexibility and freedom, but qualifying for one can be more challenging for those with bad credit. For some, secured cards are the best way to prove to lenders their creditworthiness.

Secured cards are better for improving your credit score relatively quickly. Many unsecured cards for average or fair credit earn cash back rewards, balance transfer options and come with other perks. Some cards offer cash back rewards through statement credits, but you’ll only come out ahead if you aren’t paying a high interest rate on those purchases — especially considering potential fees.

4. Apply for the right credit card
If you have bad credit, don't waste your time applying for credit cards that require excellent credit. Although it's tempting to apply for all the best cards to see what you can get, this is a terrible idea. Remember: Every time you apply for a credit card, the card issuer pulls a hard inquiry on your credit report, which further decreases your credit score.

Additionally, even if you can qualify for a rewards cards, those types of credit cards are easy to misuse — if your credit score is bad already, you’re likely better off getting a simple card and keeping the balance low.

5. Get the card in the mail
If approved, you should get your new card from the issuer in 7–14 days. Some credit cards require an activation process. For example, secured cards require that you pay your initial deposit in full before you can use the card to make purchases.
6. Use the card responsibly
Now that you have a credit card, it’s critical that you keep your balance low and pay it off each month on time — set up a payment reminder on your calendar if you have to. Also, be sure to monitor your credit score to see how it improves over time.
7. Repeat
Once your credit score goes up to about 700, you can reconsider your financial goals and explore new options. You might be able to upgrade with the same credit card issuer or get a better card through a new issuer.

Best credit card for bad credit overall
Capital One Secured Mastercard

Company nameContact
capital one secured mastercard
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $200
ANNUAL FEE
  • $0
READ MORE

Capital One Secured Mastercard review

The Capital One Secured Mastercard is very flexible for a secured card, especially if you’re credit isn’t that bad. An initial $200 line of credit is secured with a refundable deposit of either $49, $99 or $200, depending on your credit history. Cardholders can pick their monthly due date and make payments online or at a local branch. It’s possible to access a higher line of credit after just 5 months of timely payments.

Benefits

The Capital One Secured Mastercard includes many of the same benefits as Capital One’s unsecured credit cards, like account management tools and added security protection.

  • CreditWise: CreditWise is a free service from Capital One that lets you keep track of your credit score over time. Cardholders can also access online educational resources about credit and finance for free.
  • Mobile banking: Instantly access your account to pay bills or remotely check your balance.
  • Fraud protection: Capital One Secured credit cardholders aren’t held financially responsible for fraudulent purchases made with their card.
Things to know

The Capital One Secured Mastercard has a variable interest rate. Cardholders can avoid interest by paying the balance in full within 25 days after the close of each billing cycle. There’s no penalty APR, but late payment fees increase to $39. Capital One Secured cardholders don’t pay an annual fee, but there is a 3% ($10 minimum) fee on each cash advance.

Bottom line

Even though Capital One Secured Mastercard doesn’t come with many extra benefits, it’s our overall pick for best credit card for bad credit because it’s easy to upgrade in a relatively short amount of time and there’s no annual fee.

Best secured credit card for bad credit
Wells Fargo Secured credit card

Company nameContact
wells fargo secured
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $300
ANNUAL FEE
  • $25
READ MORE

Wells Fargo Secured review

Available to U.S. citizens and temporary residents, Wells Fargo Secured is one of the best secured credit cards for bad credit because it has a comparably low annual fee and it’s possible to graduate to a better card with the same issuer. Wells Fargo Secured cardholders also enjoy many of the benefits that come with unsecured Visa cards, like travel perks and cell phone protection.

Benefits

The Wells Fargo Secured credit card has enough benefits to make the $25 annual fee worth it.

  • Cell phone protection: Get up to $600 cell phone protection when you pay your phone bill with the Wells Fargo Secured card. Be aware that cell phone protection does not cover cell phones that are lost or vanish without explanation.
  • Travel perks: Auto rental collision damage waivers, emergency card replacement, roadside dispatch, travel and emergency assistance services.
  • Fraud protection: Get alerts about suspicious account activity. Plus, cardholders aren’t held financially responsible for unauthorized transactions.
Things to know

Like most secured credit cards, you obtain a Wells Fargo Secured credit line through a refundable deposit, and the annual fee comes out of your initial credit line. Cardholders can avoid paying interest by settling their balance at least 25 days after the close of each billing cycle. In addition to the annual fee, cardholders pay a 5% fee on cash advances and a $12.50–$20 per-transaction fee for overdraft protection. There is also a fee up to $37 for each late payment or returned payment.

Bottom line

If you have bad credit, the Wells Fargo Secured credit card is a smart choice to build credit. You have the double benefits of improving your credit score with cell phone protection by merely paying your phone bill every month and paying off the balance promptly with the Wells Fargo Secured card.

Best unsecured credit card for bad credit
Credit One Bank Platinum Visa

Company nameContact
credit one bank platinum visa
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $300
ANNUAL FEE
  • $0–$99

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa review

Credit One Bank Platinum Visa cardholders earn 1% cash back on eligible purchases that can be redeemed for statement credits. Not all accounts have a grace period, but cardholders have some flexibility in their payment schedules — after you get your statement, you can pick when your bill is due as long as it’s within six days of your original due date.

Benefits

Not a lot of unsecured cards come with perks like cash-back rewards and flexible payments, though online management tools are standard for unsecured cards that charge an annual fee.

  • Cashback rewards: All Credit One Platinum cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards on purchases including groceries, gas, and monthly bills for internet, phone and TV services.
  • Flexible payments: Cardholders can pick the date their payment is due.
  • Management tools: Credit One Bank Platinum Visa cardholders get free access to monthly credit scores, fraud protection and custom account notification.
Things to know

The applicant’s creditworthiness will determine the first annual fee and billed when you open the account, which lowers your initial credit score. Some cardholders might have to pay a monthly fee after the first year. In addition to the annual fee, there is a 5% fee per cash advance and a $38 fee per late payment or returned payment. Also, be aware that on accounts without a grace period, purchases start accruing interest immediately. The Credit One Unsecured Platinum Visa has high-interest rates, even by bad credit standards.

Bottom line

The Credit One Bank Platinum Visa card could be a good option, depending on the annual fee you qualify and whether or not your account has a grace period. If you don’t qualify for a grace period, the Credit One Bank Platinum Visa card only makes sense if you pay off purchases immediately. Otherwise, you’ll pay too much interest to make it worth the 1% cash back on eligible rewards.

Best credit card for students with bad credit
OpenSky Secured Visa

Company nameContact
opensky secured visa
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $200
ANNUAL FEE
  • $35

OpenSky Secured Visa review

OpenSky Secured Visa is one of the best cards for students with bad credit because the application process is simple — no credit check — and there’s an interest-free grace period on the first billing cycle. Since OpenSky Secured Visa is a secured credit card, cardholders must make a refundable security deposit equal to their credit line. Like all the best credit cards for bad credit on this list, OpenSky Secured Visa reports cardholders’ activity to all three credit reporting bureaus.

Benefits

OpenSky Secured Visa benefits that could make it worth paying the annual fee are the easy application process and free online resources.

  • Easy application: Prospective OpenSky Secured cardholders don’t have to worry about prequalifying since there’s no credit check. The online application is simple and completed in minutes.
  • Free online resources:  OpenSky Secured Visa cardholders have access to a wide range of financial education tools for understanding how to build or rebuild credit as well as strategies for managing debt responsibly.
Things to know

Potential OpenSky Secured Visa cardholders must pay a $35 annual fee and a security deposit to get this account. The security deposit amount determines a line of credit and can range from $200–$3,000. Keep in mind the annual fee will lower your initial credit line.  The OpenSky Secured Visa offers a relatively low-interest rate for a secured credit card, and you can avoid interest charges by settling your balance in full within 25 days of each billing cycle. Late payment fees are up to $38 and returned payment fees are up to $25.

Bottom line

The OpenSky Secured Visa credit card doesn’t come with a lot of benefits, but it’s one of the best cards for students with poor credit because of the easy application process and financial literacy tools. This is a sound card for those with bad or poor credit who want to pay their balance in full each month and build or rebuild their credit profile.

Best business credit card for bad credit
Capital One Spark Classic for Business

Company nameContact
capital one spark classic for business
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $300
ANNUAL FEE
  • $39

Capital One Spark Classic for Business review

The Capital One Spark Classic is one of the best startup business credit cards bad credit. Applicants with less-than-excellent credit scores can qualify, and cardholders earn unlimited 1% cash back on every business purchase with no minimum to redeem the rewards you earn.

Benefits

Enjoy unlimited cash back on every purchase and business benefits like year-end summaries and additional cards for employees at no extra cost. Plus, you have access to customer service representatives specially trained to work with small businesses.

  • Fraud coverage and alerts: You won’t be liable for expenses if your card is lost or stolen. Receive fraud alerts in real time through text, email or phone. With purchase security, you’ll be covered for 90 days if any items purchased with the Capital One Spark Classic for Business card are damaged or stolen.
  • Extended protection: Some items purchased with Capital One Spark Classic for Business card are eligible for extended warranty protection for up to one year beyond the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • Flexible rewards: You’ll earn unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase. Cash back can be redeemed for money, statement credits, gift cards and more, though redemption rates vary. You can also transfer rewards between some other Capital One rewards accounts.
Things to know

You won’t ever have to pay annual fees or foreign transaction fees, but there is a fee for cash advances of 3% (or $10, whichever is greater). If approved for a Capital One Spark Classic for Business credit card, your minimum credit lines start at $500. Your balance due date will be at least 25 days after the end of each billing cycle. A $39 late fee applies to late payments.

Bottom line

The Capital One Spark Classic for Business card is worth it if you want easy-to-use rewards benefits while you’re working on building your business’ credit. What this card lacks in a sign-up bonus, it makes up for with extra benefits and greater opportunities if used correctly.

Best rewards credit card for bad credit
Capital One QuicksilverOne

Company nameContact
capital one quicksilver one
LogoSummary
MINIMUM LINE OF CREDIT
  • $300
ANNUAL FEE
  • $39

Capital One Quicksilver One review

Capital One QuicksilverOne is the best rewards card for bad credit because it earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase no matter what, and you can qualify with credit that may be less than adequate. Cardholders begin with minimum credit lines starting at $300 with no security deposit since Capital One QuicksilverOne is an unsecured credit card. Capital One QuicksilverOne cardholders can also increase their credit limits after five months of regular payments.

Benefits

The Capital One QuicksilverOne cash rewards card comes with standard Capital One perks like $0 fraud liability protection, account management tools and more.

  • Cash back rewards: Cardholders don’t have to worry about signing up for rotating categories to maximize Capital One QuicksilverOne cash back. Earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Cash back never expires as long as the account is in good standing and is redeemable for any amount.
  • Account management tools: Capital One QuicksilverOne cardholders can personalize alerts and manage their credit card account through Capital One’s mobile app. Through CreditWise, cardholders can better understand their credit score and keep up with changes as they occur.
Things to know

Capital One QuicksilverOne cardholders pay variable APR on balances carried month over month but can avoid paying interest by settling their balance within 25 days after the end of each billing cycle. There’s no penalty APR, but late payment fees can be up to $39 each. The annual fee is $39.

Bottom line

If you don’t mind the annual fee, Capital One QuicksilverOne is a good card to earn some cash back rewards while improving your credit profile. Cardholders can earn unlimited cash back, and Capital One can increase your credit limit after five months of regular payments and responsible use.

What is a bad credit score?

A score below 650 is generally considered to be a “bad” credit score. Credit card issuers most commonly consider your FICO credit score, which is on a scale from 300–850. A higher credit score indicates greater creditworthiness to potential lenders and issuers of lines of credit. If you have a bad credit score, a credit card issuer can assume you've made financial mistakes before and you are likely to make them again.

Your payment history, current amounts owed and length of credit history makes up 80% of your credit score. The best thing you can do to improve your credit score if to make timely payments in full every month. New credit makes up 10% of your credit score, so adding a line of credit and using it responsible also raises your credit score over time.

Can you get a credit card with bad credit?

Yes, you can get a credit card with bad credit, but you will have fewer options. Those with a very bad score can get a secured card, which can help restore their credit with timely payments. Sometimes those with below-average credit can still qualify for an unsecured card, but they might have to pay additional fees, and the card will come with fewer benefits and higher rates.

If you have bad credit, try to remember that your next credit card doesn’t have to be the only card in your wallet forever — anytime you use credit responsibly, you’re credit score should go up. Getting approved for a credit card and using it responsibly is one of the steps for building your credit.

What are the worst credit cards for bad credit?

If you have bad credit, you should avoid subprime credit cards, retail credit cards and prepaid debit cards.

  • Subprime credit cards: Subprime credit cards are sometimes referred to as “fee harvesters” because they often charge high upfront or hidden fees. Interest rates on subprime credit cards are also significantly higher than cards for those with good or excellent credit.
  • Prepaid cards: Technically, prepaid cards aren't credit cards but debit cards. Prepaid debit cards are often marketing to people with bad credit, but aren’t good for building credit over time because they don’t utilize a line of credit.
  • Retail credit cards: Retail credit cards issued from a specific merchandiser are easy to get, but cardholders pay higher interest rates, don’t get many benefits and have limited opportunities to use the card. Plus, merchandise cards don’t usually help build credit and often encourage unnecessary spending.

What is the best credit card for bad credit?

As you compare credit cards, pay close attention to fees. Some credit cards for bad credit charge high annual or monthly service fees, plus maintenance fees, transaction fees and penalty fees. Make sure the issuer reports to all three credit reporting bureaus, and look for cards that offer a pre-qualification check if you’re worried about approval. Also, look for cards with extended grace periods, as this will make it easier to pay your balance off each month without accumulating interest on new purchases.

Compare airline credit cards

CardMinimum credit line
Capital One Secured Mastercard$200
Wells Fargo Secured$300
Credit One Bank Platinum Visa$300
OpenSky Secured Visa$200
Capital One Spark Business Classic$300
Capital One QuicksilverOne$300

Bottom line

If you have bad credit, responsibly using the right credit card in the present will lead to more financial opportunities for you and your family in the future. Even the best credit card for bad credit doesn’t come with the same benefits that cards for those with great credit. Using secured or unsecured credit cards sensibly can improve your credit profile enough to graduate to a card with better rewards, rates and terms in the future.

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Not sure which card to get?
Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.