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How to Find a Credit Card If You Have Bad Credit

Last Updated: August 11, 2016

As counterintuitive as it might seem, you do not need good credit to qualify for a credit card. Granted, there may be fees, high interest rates, and cash deposits involved, but no matter your credit score, a credit card is absolutely within reach.

Where to Look

Beyond your mailbox, please. The offers you get in the mail are probably not the best deals you can find. Hold on to them, but dig deeper for comparison.

1) Look through our list of recommended credit cards for bad credit.

2) Look at credit card comparison sites, like Bankrate, Nerdwallet, and CardHub.

3) Join free credit monitoring sites, like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Quizzle, and WalletHub. You’ll not only see your credit score and credit report information, but also targeted credit card offers that your credit likely qualifies you for.

What to Look For

What kind of credit do you need to qualify for the card?

Make sure it says "Bad" or "Poor." If you mistakenly apply for a credit card geared toward those with good credit, you’ll be turned down. That means you’ll have to apply for another card for which you qualify. That’s not only a hassle, but also means multiple hard inquires on your credit reports, which puts a dent in your credit score.

Is it a secured credit card?

This is a type of card for which you are asked to provide a cash deposit to secure the credit line – a credit line that is typically the same as the deposit amount.

Now, there are unsecured credit cards out there for those with bad credit, no cash deposit required. However, you’ll likely be asked to pay higher fees and interest rates. So if you have the cash on hand, go the secured credit card route. Once you use it to prove your creditworthiness, you can upgrade to a regular credit card and get your deposit back.

credit cards for bad credit

Do they report to the credit bureaus?

The number one reason to get a credit card for bad credit is all the good it can do your credit score. But that won’t happen if your credit card issuer isn’t reporting all of your positive payment history to the credit bureaus. Make sure Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are getting the message.

What’s the minimum deposit?

You may see ranges between $49 and $300. So make sure you can part with whatever amount of cash is needed to qualify. Again, it’s only temporary; you can get your cash deposit back when you upgrade to a regular card.

What are the fees?

These will vary quite a bit from one credit card offer to the next. Look carefully at what they want for:

Do the math and figure how much this card is really going to cost you. That said, there are a couple of ways to avoid these fees altogether. You can avoid late fees, of course, by paying on time, every time. But what’s not always so obvious to people is that you can avoid interest fees by paying the balance in full every month.

Will it automatically upgrade to a regular credit card?

Assuming you go with the secured credit card option (recommended), you’re going to want to upgrade to a regular card after 12 months. That’s about how long it takes to prove yourself to a credit card issuer. Ideally, you have the option of upgrading the secured credit card with the same issuer, at which time your cash deposit will be returned to you.

If they do not offer the upgrade option, you may still opt to go with them anyway, as you can always apply for a regular card through a different issuer 12 months from now. If approved, you can simply cancel the secured credit card and get your deposit back.

What to Do When You Find It

Treat it right. That means following good credit practices from here on out. Use the card regularly, but never more than 30 percent before paying it off again. Make your payments on time, but never for the minimum amount; pay it off, returning the balance to zero every month.

Keep that up from here on out and you should be in pretty good shape, as you’re well on your way to creating the kind of credit that can change your financial life.

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