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How to Get the Best Credit Card with Bad Credit

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Credit Card With Bad Credit

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are reviewed below.]

Yes, your bad credit is going to stonewall for getting a premium credit card. But, unless your credit is the absolute worst, you probably won’t be barred from plastic completely. In fact, there are some fine options out there for people looking to build or rebuild their scores. 

Sweet. How Can I Get One?

First, check your credit. You’ll want to know exactly how bad your bad score is — and, more importantly, you’ll want to find out if there’s anything you can do to improve it. Everyone’s credit profile is going to be different, but there are some general rules of thumb when it comes to boosting your credit score: Dispute any errors on your credit reports, pay down existing credit card debt and improve your payment history. Beyond that, our free credit report snapshot can help you pinpoint your specific credit score killers and provide some tips on how to address them. It also comes with two free credit scores so you can monitor your progress.

Great. What’s Next?

Know your options. Your credit report snapshot will recommend some specific cards you might qualify for, but it can help, at least initially, to think broadly. Credit cards can help you rebuild credit generally fall into three categories:

  • Secured credit cards, which require an upfront deposit that serves as your credit limit.
  • Student credit cards, which are regular credit cards with more lenient qualification standards designed to onboard a bank’s next generation of cardholders.
  • Store credit cards, which are offered by retailers and carry lower underwriting standards, since they also come with low credit limits and higher annual percentage rates (APRs)

Now, there are some unsecured credit cards for people with bad credit, but the trade-off for not putting down an upfront deposit is usually high fees and/or interest. In fact, if you’re looking to score the best terms, you may want to start with secured credit cards or student credit cards. The first option’s deposit can help you net some better terms, while college students can actually qualify for a competitive card because their problem is usually not bad credit, but having a thin credit profile.

How Will I Know the Best Card I Can Get?

You can’t really know for sure. Credit card issuers all have very specific underwriting criteria, so there’s a chance that even if you fall into a card’s designated score bracket (excellent vs. good vs. fair vs. bad, for instance), there could still be something on your credit file they consider too risky. Some secured credit card issuers, for instance, won’t lend to people with an unresolved bankruptcy on file.

Having said that, we can help you pinpoint some of the better cards in all the aforementioned categories and, if one strikes your fancy, you can always call the issuer directly to ask some more questions about their underwriting standards.

Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit in 2017

The Best Secured Credit Card for Rewards: Discover it Secured

Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

Apply Now
on Discover's secure website
Card Details
Intro Apr:

Ongoing Apr:
24.24% Variable on purchases & balance transfers

Balance Transfer:
Intro: 10.99% for 6 months

Annual Fee:

Credit Needed:
Poor-Bad-No Credit
Snapshot of Card Features
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts— Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.

Card Details +

This one is a tough call, because there are quite a few quality secured credit cards on the market right now, but we’re starting with the Discover it Secured here because it’s great for credit building and this card’s got limited fees and even offers rewards.

The Details: Cardholders are required to put down a security deposit of $200 or more to serve as their credit limit. After eight months, Discover will automatically review your account to see if you’re ready for an upgrade (meaning they’ll return your security deposit and you can keep using the card). They’ll get 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% cash back everywhere else. Discover is also currently matching all the cash back a cardholder earns in their first year at the end of the year. Plus, it’ll waive the late fee on a first missed payment and forgo a penalty APR.

Annual Fee: $0

APR: 24.24% Variable on purchases & balance transfers  

nfcu-secured-cardThe Best Secured Credit Card for Low-Interest: Navy Federal Nrewards Secured Card

If credit-building is your game or money is tight and you’re afraid carrying a balance could become a thing, the Navy nRewards Secured Card touts one of the lowest APRs you’ll find on a secured credit card. Plus, no annual fee. Note: Navy Federal is a credit union that caters to military members and their families.

The Details: Cardholders make a minimum $500 deposit into a qualifying Navy Federal savings account before submitting an application that, if approved, will serve as their credit line. They’ll also earn one point per dollar spent on purchases, redeemable for gift cards and merchandise.

Annual Fee: $0

APR: Variable 9.99% to 18%, depending on your credit standing

Journey Student Rewards From Capital One

Again, there are plenty of stellar student credit cards out there, but Capital One’s Journey Student Rewards card stands out because of how its rewards program is structured. Plus, it offers to upgrade cardholders to a higher credit line if they make their first 5 monthly payments on time. Basically, it’s a credit card with built-in training wheels.

The Details: Cardholders earn 1% cash back on all purchases, but can boost that to 1.25% each month they pay their bill on-time.  

Annual Fee: $0

APR: 24.99% (Variable)

The Best Store Credit Card: Toss-Up

Store credit cards are a bit of a different beast. They’re a good backup option if you can’t qualify for a traditional credit card, but the best one for you is really going to vary, depending on what store you shop at the most. (That’ll way you’ll reap the most rewards.) Having said that, there are some store credit cards that are better than others and you can learn more about which ones stand out. One more thing to note: Almost all store credit cards carry a high APR, so be careful about carrying a balance on these puppies.

The Best Unsecured Credit Card: Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa Credit Card

Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® Credit Card

Apply Now
on Credit One Bank's secure website
Card Details
Intro Apr:

Ongoing Apr:
17.24% - 25.24% Variable

Balance Transfer:

Annual Fee:
$0 - $99

Credit Needed:
Snapshot of Card Features
  • Seeing if you Pre-Qualify is fast, easy, and secure
  • Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchase, terms apply
  • Rewards post automatically to your account each month.
  • Looking for more credit? Get credit line increase opportunities, a fee may apply
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Pick a card that fits your style. Multiple card designs are available, a fee may apply
  • Enjoy exclusive offers available to Credit One Bank card members through Visa® Discounts.
  • Your card includes travel accident and auto rental collision insurance from Visa®

Card Details +

Again, unsecured credit cards tend to carry higher rates and fees in exchange for the risk the bank is taking, but the Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa has rates and fees that are more favorable than most of its counterparts. Plus, it has rewards.

The Details: Cardholders earn 1% cash back on gas and grocery purchases and are eligible for automatic review for credit limit increases.

Annual Fee: $0 to $75 the first year; $0 to $99 thereafter, depending on creditworthiness

APR: Variable 16.99% ­to 24.99%, also depending on creditworthiness

Is There Anything Else I Can Do to Get a Better Credit Card?

Yes, you can see if a friend or family member with good credit will add you as an authorized user to one of their existing credit cards. If their scores are good, chances are, the card in their wallet is better than one you can net on your own. You can also look into a co-signer, though fewer and fewer credit card issuers are allowing those these day and there are risks involved. (You’ll both be on the hook for charges and you’ll both be penalized if the other doesn’t pay, for example.)

If you do get rejected for a credit card, the issuer will be required to send a notice detailing why. (They’re required to by law.) That notice can provide valuable insight into what you can do to prevent getting rejected again. Furthermore, you can call an issuer who rejected you and ask if they’ll reconsider, because, hey, you never know. Beyond that, you can wait. Making on-time payments, keeping debt levels low and limiting new credit inquiries will help you build a better credit score over time — and that’ll help you qualify for top-tier credit cards down the line.

At publishing time, the Discover it, Capital One Journey Student Rewards and Credit One Bank Unsecured credit cards are offered through product pages, and is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on News & Advice may also be offered through product pages, and will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.