Credit cards can oftentimes be useful financial tools if used correctly. They can be used to finance large purchases you don’t have the cash for or pay for emergency expenses if you have a few days to go until payday. With that being said, it can be very difficult to get a credit card if you have a subpar or nonexistent credit score.
Most credit card companies only extend new credit card offers to those with fair to excellent credit. If you have bad credit or no credit at all, you may only find credit card offers with expensive fees, high interest rates, and other negative qualities.
Luckily, there are some exceptions. It is possible to get a decent credit card with bad credit or no credit – you just have to know where to look. Here’s a breakdown of the best credit cards for bad credit or no credit. There’s sure to be an option that will suit your needs!
The Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit or No Credit
Credit Scores Explained
A credit score is an estimation of your creditworthiness. Think of it as a math-based summary of your previous financial behaviors, calculated so that lenders (like banks and credit unions) know how likely it is that you’ll pay back a future loan.
What Factors Go Into Your Credit Score?
Credit scores are affected by several factors, including:
- Payment History: All of your payments made on lines of credit such as a credit card, loan, or debt.
- Credit Utilization: The amount of revolving credit you have used in comparison to the total amount you have available.
- Credit Mix: The different types of credit accounts you have (credit cards, auto loans, etc).
- Length of Credit History: The amount of time in which you’ve had a credit account in good standing.
- New Credit: Inquiries for new lines of credit that show up on your report.
By analyzing this information, the three big credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – create credit scores. Then banks, lenders, credit unions, and other organizations can estimate what kind of borrower you’ll be when you apply for a loan or credit card.
When Do You Get a Credit Score?
You receive an initial credit score after you make your first credit card payment. Your score goes up if you pay your bills on time, don’t take out too many loans or get too many credit cards at once, and practice other positive financial habits. On the flip side, your credit score can decrease if you miss payments, open lots of new credit cards, and so on.
What Counts as a “Good” or “Bad” Credit Score?
Credit scores are broken down into several categories. Each category can vary slightly from credit bureau to credit bureau, but they are all roughly the same.
- 300-579 – Poor
- 580-669 – Fair
- 670-739 – Good
- 740-799 – Very good
- 800-850 – Excellent
The higher your credit score is, the better credit cards and loan offers you’ll receive. These offers usually come with low interest rates, little to no fees, and a myriad of other benefits. The opposite is true if your credit score is low. Low credit scores only qualify you for the worst credit cards, loans, and other lines of credit.
3 Things to Look For in a Credit Card
As you can see from the list above, there are plenty of solid credit cards out there even if you have bad credit or no credit at all. However, you’ll need to know how to choose between these cards so you select the best possible option. Here are three things to look for and compare.
1. Interest Rate
The interest rate, also sometimes represented as the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), is how much money the bank, lender, or credit card issuer charges each billing cycle. The interest rate is based on the remaining balance of your credit card.
For example, say that you have a credit card with a balance of $150. The interest rate on the card is 10%. That means that when the next billing cycle starts, the credit card issuer will add $15 to the balance, making your total balance $165 instead of $150.
The interest rate is how credit card issuers and other lenders make money from lending to borrowers. Generally, it’s a good idea to pick the best credit card with the lowest interest rate possible. That way, you pay less for using the credit card in the long run.
Some credit cards come with fees. Annual fees are the most common. These can be anywhere from $20 to upwards of $100 and are due each year you keep a credit card account open. Of course, the best credit cards for bad credit will have no or low annual fees.
Some cards also have late fees. These only kick in if you miss a payment. Although you should try not to miss a payment at all, it might be a good idea to apply for a credit card with no late fees just in case.
Some credit cards for bad or no credit may come with rewards, such as 1% cash back on select purchases in certain categories. Rewards won’t make or break a card when the purpose is to build credit, but they can help you choose between two very similar cards.
Credit Cards for Bad Credit or No Credit Q&A
When you have bad credit or no credit at all, making the decision to apply for a credit card is important. Here are a couple of commonly asked questions to help you make the best decision possible.
What Are the Benefits of Credit Cards for Bad Credit?
Credit cards for bad credit have several advantages that make them more accessible for folks with low or no credit, including:
- Easier approval requirements, such as lower credit score thresholds and (potentially) no mandatory credit check.
- Can be used to improve credit scores over time.
- Many offer credit-building tools, like free access to your credit score, autopay tools, and more.
What Are the Downsides to Credit Cards for Bad Credit?
Some credit cards for bad credit have notable downsides that make them less-than-ideal options. These include:
- Fewer rewards or less impressive rewards compared to other cards.
- Higher than average interest rates. Thus, those who use credit cards for bad credit will usually end up paying more in the long run than those who use cards with high credit score requirements.
- Potentially higher fees, like annual fees and late fees.
- Security deposit requirements. This typically only applies to secured credit cards. But it can be a difficult financial hurdle to overcome for folks with low or no credit.
Who Should Apply for Credit Cards for Bad Credit?
Credit cards for bad credit are ideal for two different consumers:
- People who want to rebuild their credit. For example, if you were recently affected by bankruptcy, you’ll need to rebuild your credit to take out loans in the future. Credit cards for bad credit are perfect tools for this purpose, especially “credit builder cards” or secured cards.
- People without credit scores. These are most often young adults or teenagers just getting into the world of credit. It’s tough to qualify for good loans and cards without any credit score, and credit cards for bad credit or no credit can help you get started from the ground up.
How Should You Use a Credit Card for Bad Credit?
Once you have a credit card for bad credit, you should use it carefully and wisely. Having a credit card open is an opportunity to boost your credit score through careful purchases and payments.
For example, you can use a credit card for bad credit by making an affordable purchase, like $50 at the grocery store. After using the card, pay that $50 off in the same week or any time before your bill is due. In doing this, you’ll show the credit bureaus that you can be trusted to borrow money and repay it back promptly. Do not misuse your credit card or miss payments. This will only decrease your credit score and make it even harder for you to get good credit cards in the future.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your credit score. Your credit card issuer may offer credit checking capabilities, in which case you will be able to monitor your credit score regularly for free. Most credit card issuers also include tools like autopay. Autopay is phenomenal for rebuilding your credit since they automatically take money from your bank account and put it toward your credit card without you having to lift a finger. It’s the best way to ensure you never miss a credit card payment!
As you can see, you still have options for good credit cards even if you have bad credit or no credit at all. Be sure to investigate each card’s features, interest rate, and other elements before applying. Then remember to use the credit card wisely so you can improve your credit score and get even better cards in the future!