Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit 2019

Brendan Harkness

Author

Brendan Harkness

Updated August 16, 2019

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

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:

  • Unsecured credit cards for average credit
  • Secured credit cards (which require a one-time refundable security deposit to fund the credit limit)
  • Store credit cards

Secured cards typically have the best approval odds, and they might be the easiest way to start rebuilding your credit. But you may qualify for some unsecured cards as well, depending on the shape of your credit and overall finances.

You can use any of these cards to help improve your credit. Just be sure to pay your bills on time and you’ll be establishing a positive payment record on your credit reports, which can help boost your credit scores.

We recommend always paying your statement balance in full by its due date each billing period. This will let you avoid interest on purchases, and can also improve your credit scores by reducing your overall credit utilization.

Before applying for a new card, check to see what kinds of cards you pre-qualify for. You may find that you’re pre-approved for cards you thought were out of reach.

Best Pick For

Unsecured Card for Earning Rewards

Why we picked this card

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) is available to anyone, student or not, despite the name. It’s a good unsecured card for rebuilding credit but it’s designed more for the fair/average credit range, so if your scores are too low you may not qualify.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1% cash back on every purchase
    • 1.25% cash back when you pay on time

Key Features

  • Higher Credit Line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Extended Warranties, Travel and Emergency Assistance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, and more.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 26.96% (Variable)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.

Best Pick For

Unsecured Card for Building Credit

Why we picked this card

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, and it will reward you with a higher line of credit for starting out on a positive note.

Key Features

  • Higher Credit Line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • 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: 26.96% (Variable)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card.

Best Pick For

Secured Card for Earning Rewards

Why we picked this card

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card (Review) actually offers a decent rewards program, unlike most secured cards. 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).

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back on the first $1,000 spent per quarter (then 1%) at:
    • Restaurants
    • Gas stations
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • Cashback Match: New cardmembers get double the cash back earned in the first year (awarded at the end of your first year)

Security Deposit

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).

Key Features

  • Free Credit Score: Check your FICO Score 8 for free, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Purchase APR: 25.24% Variable
  • Balance Transfer APR: 10.99% Variable for 6 months, and then 25.24% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card.

Best Pick For

Secured Card for Low Security Deposit

Why we picked this card

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® (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.

Security Deposit

After being approved for this card you’ll be given a minimum required security deposit, depending on your creditworthiness. Your minimum refundable deposit may be:

  • $49
  • $99
  • $200

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’ll also get access to a higher credit line after making your first five payments on time — which should be an easy way to increase your available credit. You won’t be able to apply for a credit line increase with secured cards like you can with many other cards.

Key Features

  • Higher Credit Line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • CreditWise: Monitor your VantageScore 3.0 based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Price Protection, Extended Warranties, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, and more.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 26.96% (Variable)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®.

Best Pick For

Secured Card for High Credit Limit

Why we picked this card

Secured cards usually come with relatively small potential credit limits, but the Wells Fargo Secured Visa Card breaks that trend.

It has a maximum security deposit and credit line that’s several times higher than most other secured cards. But you’ll need an existing relationship with Wells Fargo to apply.

Security Deposit

This card requires a security deposit of $300 to $10,000, giving you a large potential credit line if you need to spend a lot in each billing period. But if you’re considering putting a large deposit down and your credit is poor because you’re in debt, it may be wiser to put some of that money toward your debt instead.

The Wells Fargo Secured Card requires an existing Wells Fargo checking account or savings account to apply. The cheapest option for you will depend on a few different factors like the type of account you want, your age, how much you’ll deposit per month, the balance you’ll maintain from day to day, etc.

Wells Fargo will check your credit periodically, and, if it likes what it sees, it may offer you an upgrade to an unsecured card. This might be the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card.

Key Features

  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Cell Phone Protection, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, Roadside Dispatch, and more.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 20.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $25

Best Pick For

Secured Card for No Bank Account Required

Why we picked this card

If you don’t have a bank account to make your security deposit, you won’t be able to apply for most secured cards.

But the Citi® Secured Mastercard® (Review) allows you to pay the deposit by other methods, although you’ll need to visit a Citibank location in person to do this. If you do have a bank account, you can simply use the online application as you normally would.

Security Deposit

A security deposit of $200 to $2,500 is required. Your credit limit will be equal to the deposit.

After using the card for some time, Citi may review your card account and credit to see if you qualify for an upgrade. We heard from a reader who was offered an upgrade to the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card (Review) in less than a year.

Key Features

  • Shopping and Travel Protections: You may get some benefits from Citi and/or Mastercard.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 24.49%* (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the Citi Secured Mastercard – Is it a Path to Better Credit?

Best Pick For

Secured Card for Military Members and Families

Why we picked this card

The NFCU nRewards® Secured Credit Card is quite inexpensive to use, with no annual fee, no balance transfer fee, and no foreign transaction fee.

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.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1X point per dollar on all purchases

This card is a cut above most secured cards, with each point typically being worth 1 cent for an equivalent of 1% cash back. It isn’t much, but it’s better than many other cards for bad credit.

Security Deposit

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 NFCU cashRewards Credit Card, an unsecured card that offers 1.5% cash back on everything and comes with a signup bonus.

Key Features

  • Member Deals: Get free shipping, additional rewards, and other perks for shopping through Member Deals.
  • Free FICO Credit Score: Check your FICO Score 9 for free, based on your Equifax credit report.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Cell Phone Protection, an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and potentially more.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 18.00% Variable
  • No balance transfer fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

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.

But as mentioned above, you still have quite a few card options available to you. Some of the best include:

  • Unsecured credit cards for average credit
  • Secured credit cards
  • Store credit cards

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.

You can also consider checking your local banks or credit unions for their credit card offers. In some cases you may be able to leverage an existing relationship to help qualify for a card.

Using a secured or lower-end credit card is not a bad thing! With responsible use of your credit card and other credit accounts, your credit can improve and, if you keep it up, eventually you’ll be able to qualify for cards with much better rewards and benefits.

Not sure if you’ll be approved for a particular credit card? You can check to see if you’re pre-qualified without harming your credit scores. This is a great way to shop around — you may find that you’re pre-approved for cards that you thought were out of your league!

Selection Criteria: What Makes a Great Credit Card for Bad Credit?

You may not have the best credit, but that doesn’t mean you have to apply for the first credit card offer that comes your way. You’ll still benefit by surveying your options, looking for a card with the most favorable terms you can get.

  • 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!

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.

Secured Credit Cards

With bad, limited, or no credit, secured credit cards will be some of your best options.

By providing a 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:

  • Your credit is bad enough
  • Your income is below a certain level
  • Your personal information can’t be verified
  • 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. 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 on time. 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.

So always use your cards responsibly, and keep an eye on your credit scores too. In time, you’ll be able to qualify for some great credit cards.

Cards with No Credit Check Required

Some secured cards don’t require a credit check when you apply, making them very easy to get no matter what your credit scores might be. But in return for that they also have fees, and are known to have poor customer support. In some cases the payment processing systems may be quite slow, causing late payments which could result in late fees and damage your credit if they go uncorrected.

A few examples are:

We don’t recommend these cards. But if you can’t get approved for other secured cards, these may be worth exploring as a last resort.

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.

Learn more about credit builder loans offered by Self Lender.

How to Build or Rebuild Credit With Credit Cards

  • Always pay your bills on time. Make at least the minimum monthly payments.
  • 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 so you’re never late on 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 a positive credit history 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 and Discover — in some cases you can access them whether you’re a cardholder or not.
  • As your credit improves with responsible card use, eventually you’ll qualify for more rewarding credit cards. You can always check to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards without hurting your credit scores at all.
Establishing a positive, robust credit history is pretty simple overall, but it takes some time and dedication. Learn everything you need to know about improving your credit scores in our Definitive Guide to Building Credit with Credit Cards.
Was this helpful?

The Insider

Susan Shain
6 Best Credit Cards for International Travel
Susan Shain | Aug 16, 2019

Heading abroad soon? Then check out this list of the six best credit cards for international travel — they'll have you traveling in style in no time.

Read More
Sean Messier
How to Build Credit: 5 Ways to Increase Your Credit Scores
Sean Messier | Aug 15, 2019

Using a credit card is far from the only way to build credit. Here, we explore several ways to establish, repair, and improve your credit scores.

Read More
Sean Messier
What Happens If You Don’t Activate a Credit Card?
Sean Messier | Aug 12, 2019

Even if you didn't activate a new credit card, the account is probably open and affecting your credit scores. Read this to learn what to do next.

Read More