We spend a lot of time talking about the best credit cards on the market, for obvious reasons.
But if you’re on the hunt for a new credit card, it’d also behoove you to know about the very worst credit cards out there — which features to avoid, which fees are cruel and unusual, which issuers are flat out offering a raw deal.
Here are four of the world’s worst credit cards, each accompanied by a superior card to consider instead.
Not what you were looking for? If you landed here hoping to rebuild your credit, here are the best cards for bad credit.
The 4 Worst Credit Cards You Can Get
So what makes a bad credit card?
A grab bag of characteristics, including high interest rates (APRs), abundant fees (annual fees, late payment fees, monthly maintenance fees, processing fees, the list goes on), confusing or non-existent rewards programs, and bad customer service.
The following four cards check all of those unfortunate boxes, making them some of the worst credit cards around.
The worst credit cards are often targeted at people with bad credit, as issuers are hoping to lure these customers with promises of “instant approval!” and “no credit check required!” If you have poor credit, however, these cards aren’t your only option. Take a look at these top-notch secured cards, which will help you rebuild your credit without all the fees.
When it comes to high APR credit cards, the Surge Mastercard from Continental Finance is a serious offender. It’s designed “for people with less than perfect credit,” and typically charges an APR near 30% for purchases.
What’s even worse are the fees, which may be $75 to $99 per year. After your first 12 months are up, the card issuer sometimes also charges a “monthly maintenance fee” of $10 ($120 per year). You can click the Apply Now button above to see the latest terms.
What to consider instead: The Secured Mastercard® from Capital One (Review), also designed for people who are rebuilding their credit, is a much better idea. It has a $0 annual fee, saving you $125 off the bat, and you may be considered for access to a higher credit limit (without an additional deposit) after after six months. Or, if you’re looking for an unsecured option, take a look at the Petal® 2 Cash Back, No Fees Visa® Card (Review).
Wondering why you should care about APRs? Let’s say you have a $1,000 balance on your card, and are only making the minimum payments. If your card had a 17% APR (the national average), it’d take almost six years and cost you $433 in interest to pay it off. But if your card had a 30% APR, it’d take you basically nine years and cost a whopping $1,262 in interest. (BTW, you won’t owe any interest on purchases with most cards if you pay your statement in full each month.)
You know what’s a bad sign? When you need a giant chart to explain all your fees, like this card does. It has one of the highest credit card interest rates, too: 36.00% Fixed.
Another particularly heinous feature is the fact that this card charges a 25% fee for credit limit increases. So if you pay your bill faithfully each month, thereby earning a credit line increase of $100, for instance, you’ll get charged $25!
What to consider instead: The Discover it® Secured (Review) is a fantastic secured card for people with less-than-stellar credit. It has no annual or monthly fees, and even offers rewards: 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 spent each quarter, then 1%), and 1% on everything else.
Three boos for the Total Visa, which misleadingly paints itself as “a perfect tool for people who have faced financial challenges and struggled to get credit in the past.”
We’ve seen APRs of almost 35% and a raft of fees: a one-time “program fee” of $89, an annual fee of $75 the first year — and after that, an annual fee of $48 and a monthly fee of $6.25 ($75 per year). Translation: You’d spend at least $287 just to keep this card in your wallet for two years! (Click the Apply Now button above to see the latest terms.)
What to consider instead: If you have bad credit, try the Citi® Secured Mastercard® (Review), which doesn’t require a bank account to apply. It has a minimum security deposit of $200, with a max of $2,500, and your credit line will match your deposit. It has no annual fee.
We’d give a big “thank u, next” to this card, which has APRs that can run as high as 35.99%, and fees that can include a $95 program fee and $75 annual fee the first year ($48 after that). For all those fees, you’d hope you’d get some perks — but, spoiler alert, you don’t. Click the Apply Now button above to see the current terms.
The only thing this card can brag about is the fact it’s a “full-feature” Mastercard that’s “accepted nationwide.” (Like basically every other Visa or Mastercard out there.)
What to consider instead: If the aforementioned Capital One, Discover, and Citi cards aren’t available to you, one alternative is the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card (Review). While it’s far from perfect, its annual fee is only $35 and it has a 17.39% Variable APR. It doesn’t require a credit check, and it reports your behavior to all three credit bureaus.
What Traits Do the Best Credit Cards Share?
Now that you’re familiar with the worst cards and their predatory features, here’s a look at what the best credit cards have in common:
- Low or no fees: Unless you’re receiving some pretty serious rewards or perks, there’s no reason to pay an annual fee. For proof, check out all these quality cards with $0 annual fees. If you plan to use your card abroad, make sure it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees either.
- Low interest rates: Though we always recommend paying your bill in full to avoid interest charges, we understand that’s not possible for everyone. If you intend to carry a balance on your card, apply for a balance transfer card or card with a long 0% intro APR period.
- Solid rewards: Not all cards have rewards, and that’s fine. But if you’re ready for a rewards card, make sure it’s easy to redeem for things you actually want (like cash back or flights). One of our favorites is the straightforward Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer (Review).
- Perks: Some credit cards also offer perks, like airport lounge access or hotel elite status. Although perks for starter credit cards are fairly limited, they can be pretty robust when it comes to cards for good to excellent credit.
- Good customer service: Before applying for a credit card, read the reviews. Credit card companies are not created equally, and customer service can vary widely between cards and issuers.