Getting a new credit card may be difficult with a bad credit score. Credit cards offering luxury rewards and endlist lists of perks are often reserved for individuals with good to excellent credit. But having bad credit doesn't mean you won't qualify for a credit card. 

Depending on your score, your best bet might be a secured credit card. Or you may qualify for some unsecured cards. Regardless of your choice, credit cards are meant to be used responsibly and when used correctly, they can help you establish better financial habits and boost your credit score over time. 

Below are our recommendations for the best credit cards for bad credit and tips on how to boost a bad credit score. 

What to Look for When Shopping for a Credit Card for Bad Credit

Choosing a credit card for bad credit requires looking at different factors than you might otherwise look at. 

Security deposit: Most credit cards for bad credit are secured and use a security deposit instead of a credit check. Your deposit usually becomes your credit limit, which lessens the risk for   the credit card issuer. There are unsecured credit cards that you may qualify for, depending on your credit, but they are few and far between. 

Annual fee: Some secured credit cards also carry an annual fee. The annual fee gives you access to using the credit card, to building credit, and to getting any other card benefits included. 

APR: The card's APR determines how much interest you'll pay if you carry a balance from month to month. The best way to avoid costly interest charges is to pay your card balance on time and in full each month. With bad credit, it's likely you'll receive a high APR.

Card perks: Earning rewards shouldn't be a primary concern when trying to build your credit. Some cards for bad credit still offer valuable rewards and even other benefits like no foreign transaction fees, free credit score, access, identity theft protection, purchase coverage, and more. 

At a Glance

 Best ForAnnual FeeWelcome Bonus
Discover it® SecuredCash Back Rewards$0Cashback Match 
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit CardHigher Credit Limit$35N/A
Indigo® Mastercard®Unsecured Card$0, $59, or $75 your first year, $99 thereafterN/A
Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit CardInternational Use $0N/A
Secured Mastercard® from Capital OneFree Financial Tools$0 

Best Credit Cards for Those with Bad Credit

Discover it® Secured: Best for Cash Back Rewards

Discover it® Secured is a secured credit card with up to a $200 credit line equal to your security deposit amount. Unlike most secured cards, you can still earn rewards with this Discover card. 

Discover it® Secured is an excellent tool for boosting your credit score since Discover reports card usage to all three major credit bureaus. You can improve your credit through responsible use. Also, Discover automatically reviews your account monthly (after the first eight months) to determine if you're ready to convert to an unsecured credit card and get your deposit back. 

FeatureDetails
Intro OfferCashback Match
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR22.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Discover matches all cash back rewards earned at the end of your first year of card ownership.

  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants up to $1,000 combined per quarter.

  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

  • Up to $200 credit line based on your security deposit.

  • Free FICO credit score monitoring.

  • No annual fee.

Apply for the Discover it Secured Card 

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card: Best for Higher Credit Limit 

The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card is a basic low-frills secured credit card. While the card does carry a $35 annual fee, it also offers one of the highest credit limits among secured credit cards. A security deposit determines your credit line, with a limit up to $3,000 allowed. The OpenSky Secured card reports to all three major credit bureaus. 

FeatureDetails
Intro OfferN/A
Annual Fee$35
Regular APR17.39%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Credit line between $200 and $3,000 based on your security deposit

  • No credit check performed when applying

  • 3% foreign transaction fees

  • $35 annual fee

Apply for the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card 

Indigo® Mastercard®: Best Unsecured Card

The Indigo® Mastercard® is an unsecured credit card designed for individuals with credit. The card offers an initial credit line of up to $300. You can also prequalify for the card in seconds. Also, the Indigo card comes with one of three annual fee options, based on a review of your credit. Because the card is a  Mastercard, cardholders get access to extra perks like identity theft protection, fraud protection, and worldwide acceptance.   

FeatureDetails
Intro OfferN/A
Annual Fee$0, $59, or $75 ($75 your first year, $99 thereafter)
Regular APR24.9%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Up to a $300 initial credit limit

  • Includes Mastercard benefits like identity theft protection and zero liability protection

  • 1% foreign transaction fees

  • Annual fee of $0, $59, or $75 ($75 your first year, $99 thereafter) 

Apply for the Indigo Mastercard 

Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card: Best for International Use 

The Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card is a no-fee secured credit card that's perfect for individuals trying to build credit. It's also a great card to use when traveling outside the U.S. since it carries no foreign transaction fees. The Petal 1 card also earns cash back rewards of up to 10% at select retailers. Cardholders can earn a credit line increase in six months through on-time payments and by hitting credit score range requirements. 

FeatureDetails
Intro OfferN/A
Annual Fee $0
Regular APR19.99% - 29.49%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Earn between 2% and 10% cash back at select retailers when using your Petal card

  • Credit limit between $500 and $5,000

  • No foreign transaction fees

  • No annual fee

Apply for the Petal 1 No Annual Fee Visa Credit Card

Secured Mastercard® from Capital One: Best for Free Financial Tools

On the surface, the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One just looks like another secured credit card. The card comes with access to several free financial tools to help you build credit and keep your account secure. Free tools include credit tracking through CreditWise, Card Lock, virtual card numbers for online shopping, account and security alerts, and fraud protection. 

FeatureDetails
Intro OfferN/A
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR22.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Required a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200

  • Starts with an initial credit line of $200

  • A higher credit line may be available in as little as six months after account review

  • Comes with free tools like CreditWise, Card Lock, security and account alerts, and more

  • No annual fee

Apply for the Secured Mastercard from Capital One

How to Get Approved for a Credit Card with Bad Credit

Having bad credit limits your options when it comes to available credit cards. Some unsecured credit cards exist that you may qualify for, but in most cases, you'll need to go with a secured credit card. A secured credit card is one that is secured by a security deposit instead of a credit check. Most secured credit cards have relatively low credit limits, which are based on the security deposit.

The good news is that card carriers will often review secured credit card accounts, sometimes as early as six months after account opening, to see if you qualify for a credit line increase or to convert to an unsecured card. In most cases, security deposits are refundable when you close your account or the card is updated to an unsecured card. 

Can You Get a Credit Card After Bankruptcy

Few things in life can negatively affect your credit as much as filing for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for as long as seven to ten years. There's a good chance that it will lower your credit score considerably until it's removed from your credit reports.  

Getting a credit card after bankruptcy isn't easy, but it's not impossible. You'll likely need to start with a secured credit card, which is a card that you secure with a security deposit instead of a traditional credit check. With damaged credit, you are viewed as a risk in the eyes of credit card issuers. Requiring a security deposit mitigates most of the risk for the card issuer. 

The best thing you can do is monitor your credit score and work to improve your credit over time to qualify for better credit card options in the future. 

Can You do a Balance Transfer with Bad Credit

Getting approved for a balance transfer card typically requires a good or excellent credit score. Balance transfer cards often come with introductory 0% APR offers for an extended time. This allows you to transfer over existing debt and pay it off over time without interest fees. 

Individuals with bad credit can still do balance transfers through select unsecured credit cards. Unfortunately, most of these cards have low credit limits and don't come with introductory APR offers. You may still find a secured card with a lower APR than your current credit card. 

Another option is to apply for a debt consolidation loan. Many lenders allow you to check rates ahead of time without negatively affecting your credit score. If you're eligible for lower rates, you could save money by consolidating existing debt into a loan.

What to do if Your Application is Denied

If your credit card application is denied, don't fret. It's not the result you hoped for, but it indicates that you have work to do to improve your credit. You can look into applying for a secured credit card instead and work to build or repair your credit through qualifying on-time payments each month. Often credit card issuers review secured credit card accounts to see if your credit has improved enough to increase your credit limit or switch to an unsecured card. 

What is a Poor/ Bad Credit Score?

A bad FICO credit score is typically a score of 669 or below. FICO scores or 669 to 580 are considered fair, and scores of 579 and below are considered very poor based on credit score models with ranges from 300 to 850. 

Fair and very poor credit scores are known as subprime in the lending industry and indicate that you are a lending risk.

What Causes Bad Credit?

Bad credit typically isn't the result of one event but rather several factors. Bankruptcy is one of the worst negative events that can damage your credit. Beyond that, five factors determine credit scores — payment history, credit use, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit.

While all five of these factors influence your score, payment history and amounts owed make up 60% of your credit score combined. A track record of late or skipped payments will hurt your credit score considerably, as will carrying large balances from month to month or regularly maxing out your cards, that is, borrowing up to your credit limit. 

How to Improve Your Score Using a Credit Card

Improving your credit starts with knowing where you stand right now. You can check your credit score using free services like Credit Karma. Your current credit card issuer or bank may offer free access to credit score monitoring tools. Once you know where you're at, you can start creating a plan to improve your credit score. 

Perhaps one of the fastest ways to boost your credit score is to lower your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of credit you use compared to the total amount available. You can pause using credit cards for a while and pay off any existing balances to lower your credit utilization ratio. 

If you don't qualify for an unsecured credit card, try qualifying for a secured card. Then, make smaller purchases and pay them off in full each time to build a positive payment history. Over time, your credit score will improve, and you'll go from being a lending risk to a qualified candidate for better credit cards. 

Summary

Credit cards for bad credit can help if your credit is damaged or you haven't built up enough credit history to qualify for the best credit cards. Research the best card for you using the recommendations above, and make a long-term plan to improve your credit. 

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All of the opinions expressed herein are the author's alone, and not those of any bank, brokerage, credit card issuer, lender, insurance company, outside financial institution, or any other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post or any other third parties.