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With bad credit you’ll have fewer credit card options than a person with good credit, but there are still many cards designed for people in your situation. Our favorite options include certain unsecured credit cards, secured cards, and store cards
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No annual fee, or a reasonable fee: You might have to pay a fee to improve your credit, but it doesn’t have to be very big (and there are plenty of no-fee options).
No extra costs: Some cards for poor credit have signup fees or monthly fees, often in addition to a high annual fee. But you can usually avoid cards like these.
Good customer support: Credit card companies aren’t always known for their excellent customer support, but you should be able to get help when you need it. This may be more important if you’re less familiar with how credit cards work.
A modern, quick payment system: Paying your bill online should be easy, and it shouldn’t take too long to process. Some card issuers that target people with poor credit don’t have great payment systems, but the major card issuers are relatively good.
Rewards (maybe): Most cards for bad credit don’t offer rewards, but occasionally you’ll find some that do. Why not earn some cash back or points as you build your credit?
Additional benefits: Credit cards usually come with some basic benefits, like Purchase Protection and $0 Fraud Liability, but sometimes you’ll find cards for bad credit that offer more.
Reports to the three major credit bureaus: All big-name issuers report to the three major bureaus, also known as credit reporting agencies, which means their cards deliver the credit building benefits you need to bolster your scores. Many smaller issuers and credit unions do as well, but not always. Keep in mind that debit cards and prepaid cards won’t help you build credit!
Is a Bad Credit Credit Card Right for You?
If you have bad credit (generally considered a FICO Score 8 credit score of around 579 or less) you won’t qualify for the best credit card offers on the market. Instead, you’ll usually need to settle for a card with higher interest rates and fewer features until your credit improves.
In most cases it will be easiest to qualify for a secured credit card, which will require a security deposit. This deposit will fund your credit limit.
Some unsecured credit cards are designed for fair credit, sometimes called average credit, and some people with credit near the bad credit/average credit border may have a shot at them. There are also unsecured cards designed for poor credit, but these options are more limited. Many of them have very high fees and below-average customer service, and we typically recommend avoiding them (go for secured cards instead).
Lastly, there are store credit cards. These cards usually have lower credit requirements, making them easier to get. But they tend to be restricted in how you can use them, and they don’t always have the best customer service either.
If you’re a student, chances are you have limited or no credit rather than bad credit. You also have access to special cards designed for young people in school who are just starting to build up their credit. Take a look at our picks for the Best Credit Cards for College Students if so.
It’s a useful tool if you’re dealing with poor credit because in most cases your credit limits will likely be on the low side. But Capital One offers to consider increasing your credit line after just six months, a nice feature when most issuers leave you in the dark.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card (Review), like the Journey Student above, is designed mainly for people with average credit. So you may have a hard time qualifying if your credit isn’t in great shape.
There are no rewards are fancy perks — the main purpose of this card is to help you build credit. But there is one particularly handy feature: You may be rewarded with a higher line of credit after six months.
Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months.
CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report, online or through the mobile app.
Shopping and travel protections: Including Price Protection, Travel Accident Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, and more
Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 26.99% (Variable)
No foreign transaction fee
Annual fee: $0
Pay no annual fee
Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you’re all set
Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee – and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Help build your credit through responsible use of a card like this
The Petal® 1 No Annual Fee Visa® Card (Review) can smooth things out if you’re struggling to rebuild your credit. It’ll consider more than the usual factors when deciding your creditworthiness, beyond just your credit scores, though you’ll need to share your bank account records.
Petal’s “cash flow technology” will analyze your income, savings, and spending to see if you qualify. This gives you a better shot if your scores are looking too great.
The Petal 1 is a good option because there’s no annual or foreign transaction fee, along with some reward opportunities. And you can get a higher-than-average credit limit compared to most cards designed for poor credit, thanks to Petal’s unique underwriting process.
This card is known for being relatively easy to get for people with poor credit, as far as unsecured credit cards go, and you can use it to improve your credit scores. It can only be used with Fingerhut, but even if you’re not a Fingerhut customer you may consider becoming one for the credit-building benefits.
Fingerhut tends to have expensive merchandise, so we don’t recommend getting this card and going on a shopping spree. Instead, use it for some small purchases now and then, and be sure to pay your bill on time. Eventually, with responsible use, you can build up your credit and qualify for better, more rewarding credit cards you can use anywhere.
There’s a similar product from Fingerhut, an installment loan called the Fingerhut FreshStart® Credit Account. If you apply for the Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account but don’t qualify, you’ll automatically be considered for the FreshStart account.
Use it responsibly to build up your scores, but you’ll also enjoy a 3% cash back category you can pick yourself. Gas, dining, and online shopping are all solid options. A pair of 2% categories, plus 1% back on everything else, round out this excellent secured card.
You’ll need to provide a security deposit of $300 to $4,900 to be approved, and the amount you deposit will help determine your credit limit.
The Discover it® Secured (Review) actually offers a decent rewards program, unlike most secured cards, complete with an excellent intro bonus. It’s even better than some basic reward cards made for average or good credit scores. It provides a great opportunity to build your credit even as you earn cash back rewards at a decent rate (all for no annual fee).
The Discover it Secured requires a security deposit of $200 to $2,500. Your credit line will be equal to the amount you deposit.
Discover will check your credit account and your credit in general every eight months. If your credit meets the criteria, Discover will consider giving your security deposit back and allowing you to continue using the card. It may also graduate you to an unsecured card, potentially the Discover it® chrome (Review).
The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One (Review) is a bit different from most secured cards. Instead of just getting a credit line that’s equal to your security deposit, as usual, you’ll have some extra flexibility — in two different ways — that could be useful if you don’t want to put down a large deposit.
After being approved you’ll be given a minimum required security deposit, depending on your creditworthiness. Your minimum refundable deposit may be:
No matter which amount you’re required to deposit, your starting credit limit will be $200. So you could potentially get a higher credit line than your deposit.
You can deposit up to $1,000, to get a credit limit of $1,000. You can make partial payments to increase your deposit, but all deposits must be made within 80 days of being approved and before activating the card.
Not only can you potentially get a higher credit line than your initial deposit, you may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months. You won’t be able to apply for a credit line increase with secured cards like you can with many other cards.
To qualify for the NFCU, a credit union, in general you must be a military or Department of Defense employee, veteran, or retiree — or have a member of your immediate family or household who is. But there are some other ways to qualify as well.
You’ll need to put down a minimum $200 security deposit to apply for this card.
Starting at six months, NFCU will review your account and your credit monthly to see if you qualify for an upgrade to the Navy Federal Visa cashRewards Card, an unsecured card that offers 1.5% cash back on everything and comes with an intro bonus.
You will need to provide a security deposit to get the card, however. You can deposit anywhere from $200 to $3,000, and this will fund your credit line. Your credit limit will be equal to your deposit.
If you’re dealing with poor credit but you need a card for business spending, your options will be limited. The Wells Fargo® Business Secured Credit Card is one of few cards designed for your situation, but it can get the job done.
Like most secured cards, you’ll need to provide a deposit to qualify, and your credit line will be equal to that deposit. This could be a hindrance in some cases, especially for businesses with big budgets, but Wells Fargo gives you plenty of room: Your deposit can range from $500 to $25,000, much more than you’d get from a personal secured card.
There’s even a rewards program to sweeten the deal. You can choose from cash back or points, with slightly different terms for each; do the math for your typical monthly spending, and figure out which program would be more valuable for your unique situation.
Ever hear of Self? Self provides credit builder loans, which are loans with the express purpose of helping you improve your credit scores.
Rather than getting the loan funds up front and then paying, you first pay off the loan completely and then get the funds. This shows that you can pay back a debt over time responsibly.
Self now offers a credit card companion to its credit builder loans, the Self Secured Visa® Credit Card (Review). It’s only available to Self customers in good standing, and acts like an extension of your credit builder loan account.
Once you make at least three on-time payments in a row, and make at least $100 in payments toward your credit builder account, you’ll be eligible to get this card and choose your credit limit.
Unlike almost every other credit card, there’s basically no chance of rejection if you meet the above requirements. There’s no typical application or hard credit inquiry. And, although it’s a secured card, you won’t have to make a specific deposit because the card is backed by your credit builder loan funds.
All this makes it a great option if you’re already a Self customer.
Credit limit based on Self Credit Builder Account savings
$25 annual fee
Issued by Lead Bank
Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit
Although secured cards are usually the go-to option for people with poor credit, there are also some decent unsecured cards out there. You may be able to qualify for one of them even if you have bad credit (or if you have limited or no credit), because card issuers take several elements into account when deciding if you’ll be approved for a card or not, and there’s seldom a hard minimum credit score requirement.
Besides just looking at your credit, issuers also want to know about your income, whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, and your employment status, among other factors.
So, don’t assume that you’ll be denied for a particular card just because of your credit scores. Sometimes people are approved for cards they didn’t expect to be, and sometimes people are denied when they thought their credit was good enough.
Read moreHow Your Debt-to-Income Ratio Affects Your Eligibility for New Credit
By providing a refundable security deposit to fund the credit limit, you reduce the risk for the credit card issuer. But this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be approved for secured cards. You can still be denied for various reasons, such as:
The card issuer has application rules preventing you from qualifying, such as too many applications in too short a time
In most cases your credit line will be equal to the amount of your security deposit. Make a $1,000 deposit, and your credit line will be $1,000. Credit limits tend to be no higher than $2,000 or $3,000, and, depending on the card, your maximum limit might be based on your creditworthiness. Sometimes you can make an additional deposit later on to increase the credit limit.
Secured cards usually don’t offer rewards of any kind, although there are a few that do. In most cases they have pretty high interest rates, and very few extra benefits. These cards usually report to the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — just like most unsecured cards.
Some issuers may review your credit card account and your credit periodically, to see if you qualify to have your deposit returned or even to upgrade to an unsecured card. But not all issuers offer this handy service, which allows you to continue using the same account rather than canceling it and opening a new credit card. This is better for your average account age.
Store Credit Cards
Store credit cards generally have lower credit requirements, making them easier to get than regular credit cards. But they also usually have higher interest rates, and may have some different rules about how and where you can use them. Your credit line will usually be smaller than what you get with other reward cards.
If you shop at a particular store very often and it offers a credit card, it could be a good idea to use that card. As long as you completely understand the terms and use it responsibly, you can improve your credit and move on to better cards if you’d like.
Sometimes these cards are connected with a payment network, like Visa or Mastercard. But in other cases they aren’t. This is important, because unless your card is part of a network like Visa you can only use it at the store it’s associated with.
Take a moment to watch our video below on a few of the most important things to know about store cards. If you decide that one is right for you, check out our picks for the Best Store Credit Cards. You can also browse full lists of cards issued by Synchrony Bank and Comenity Bank, major issuers of store cards.
Store credit cards can be a good way to build or rebuild your credit and get some rewards while shopping, as long as you’re sure to follow the terms and pay them off by the due date. In some cases, store cards have special financing deals that you need to pay very close attention to, or you can end up getting burned with retroactive interest charges. If you’re not careful, not only will you end up paying more for interest, you can also do damage to your credit scores.
If your credit is in especially bad shape, you may not qualify for the cards we’ve recommended above. And if that’s the case, you may have begun searching for guaranteed approval cards, which require no credit check.
There’s good news and bad news.
The bright side is that there are certain cards you can apply for without a credit check, which almost guarantees approval. With that said, there are still some things that could prevent you from being approved, like if you’re not old enough, or you don’t have the cash required for a deposit (in the case of secured cards).
The not-so-great news is that these guaranteed approval cards are usually very bad, featuring unfavorable terms and exorbitant fees.
Guaranteed approval cards are usually secured, which means you’ll have to put down a deposit. That deposit generally sets your credit limit.
There are outliers, though, that don’t require deposits.
Take the Total Visa for example. It’s an unsecured card designed for bad credit that requires a valid checking account, but it charges a plethora of high fees. All cardholders will get a $300 credit limit.
Usually, the only way to get a high-limit card with bad credit is if you have the cash to fund it yourself with a secured card. There’s nothing wrong with secured cards — they cost some money up front, but they can help build your credit and you can get one from a major issuer.
And it’s worth noting that some secured cards have fairly high deposit limits, like the Wells Fargo Secured Visa Card, which accepts deposits up to $10,000. You’re not guaranteed approval for this card, however.
The bottom line? You’re almost always better off applying for a credit card that doesn’t guarantee approval.
You may have to shop around to find something you can actually get, but once you do, there’s a decent chance you’ll find a better offer than the guaranteed approval cards we’ve detailed here.
Credit Builder Loans
A credit builder loan offers another good way to build or improve your credit. This is a type of installment loan, and you can use it along with or instead of a credit card to help raise your credit scores.
Unlike other installment loans, the funds for a credit builder loan go into a special account that you can’t access. You’ll make a regular payment each month to “pay off” the loan, generating a positive record of activity which the lender will report to the major credit bureaus.
After paying off the entire amount of the loan, you’ll get the money that was initially placed in the special account. It’s a bit like a loan in reverse, which requires you to pay it off in full before you can access the funds. It gives you a chance to add an account to your credit reports with a history of on-time payments, showing that you’re a responsible credit user.
We recommend paying more than just the minimum payment. Try to pay off your statement balance in full each month to avoid interest and help your credit utilization.
Set up autopay on your cards to avoid late payments, but keep an eye on your accounts to ensure payments go through.
Be patient. Your payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO scores, and the only way to establish positive credit scores is to consistently make on-time payments over a long period.
Track your credit scores using a credit monitoring service to be sure you’re making progress, and to get specific tips based on your credit reports. Many card issuers now offer these services, like American Express, Chase, Citi, and Discover — in some cases you can access them whether you’re a cardholder or not.
There’s no annual fee, and your initial security deposit will fund a credit line of $200 to $2,500. Discover even provides some credit card rewards (which are rare on secured cards): 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 spent per quarter, and 1% back everywhere else.
Not only that, you’ll get a path to an unsecured card — Discover will check your credit every eight months, and may return your deposit and allow you to continue using the card.
There aren’t too many unsecured cards for bad credit, and most of them come with exorbitant fees to help make up for the risk of doing business with someone who has bad credit. Some unsecured cards boast guaranteed approval, even if you have bad credit, but we typically recommend avoiding them due to their fees and poor customer service.
If you have bad credit, we suggest going with a secured credit card (check out the best secured cards here). You’ll have to pay an upfront deposit, but it’s usually a relatively small price to pay for the chance to improve your credit scores (and it’s refundable when you close the card).
There are also some guaranteed approval credit cards, but they typically come with high fees that you don’t normally see with other cards, along with poor customer service and slow payment processing. So we usually recommend avoiding them, as those problems could cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Are there any instant approval credit cards for bad credit?
Yes, most cards offer “instant approval” — but in fact, this is more like “instant decision,” because it usually just means that you’ll receive a decision right away: either approved or denied.
Perhaps you’re looking for “guaranteed approval” credit cards instead. These cards have very low credit approval requirements, and you’re almost certain to qualify (problems with your application or failure to provide a security deposit could result in denial). But we don’t usually recommend them due to their high fees, poor customer service, and slow payment processing (see some great secured cards for bad credit instead).
A few notable guaranteed approval credit cards are:
Total Visa® Credit Card: See terms for possible program fee, annual fee, and monthly fee after the first year; unsecured card. At the time of publication, potential fees include a one-time “program fee” of $89, a $75 annual fee (which drops to $48 after the first year), and a $6.25 monthly servicing fee, but this is subject to change.
What’s the best business credit card for bad credit?