Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit

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Updated on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Unsecured cards are the most popular type of credit cards available — they are simply regular credit cards. The term “unsecured” means that you don’t need to deposit money or use any other collateral in order to receive a line of credit — credit card issuers extend credit based on your credit history and various other factors. That’s why, if you have bad credit, it can be difficult to qualify for most good credit card deals. Poor credit is considered at or below a 579 credit score, and it signals to lenders that you’re a high-risk borrower.

Poor credit doesn’t make it impossible to access credit cards, however, but the key is to use credit responsibly so your credit score will improve and you’ll have a chance at qualifying for better deals.

We’ve put together this guide to help you understand the best options for people with bad credit.

Our top pick

Secured card: Discover it® Secured

The Discover it® Secured is our top pick for secured cards for numerous reasons — from the automatic monthly account reviews starting at eight months to the cashback program, this card provides exceptional benefits for cardholders.

Pros:

  • Automatic monthly account reviews: Starting at eight months, Discover will review your account to see if you qualify for receiving your security deposit back. If you have responsible credit management across all your credit products, you may be graduated to an unsecured card and recieve your security deposit back.
  • Cashback program: This card has a unique feature that’s uncharacteristic of secured cards — a cashback program where you can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Free FICO® Credit Score: You receive your free FICO® Credit Score with Discover Credit Scorecard as well as other credit information, like recent inquiries and revolving utilization. This is a great way to track your credit progress and checking your score doesn’t affect hurt your credit.

Cons:

  • High APR: Most secured cards have high APRs, and this one does, too. But, if you pay your balance in full each month, you won’t be charged interest.

Read our review of the Discover it® Secured. 

The risks of unsecured cards for bad credit

The majority of unsecured cards that accept people with bad credit have numerous fees that can have you questioning if the card is really helping you.

Here are several drawbacks you may see with unsecured cards for bad credit:

  • High APRs: Typical cards have APR ranges that max out around 25%, but unsecured cards for bad credit can have APRs near 30%. Also, since you have bad credit, you most often will receive the highest APR listed in the terms and conditions.
  • Annual fee: Many credit cards in general have annual fees, but this can often be outweighed by the added benefits provided. However, unsecured cards for bad credit often lack the added benefits that cards for good credit offer.
  • Program or processing fee: Unsecured cards for bad credit often charge a program or processing fee that serves to open your account and lets you access your credit.
  • Monthly service fee: This fee is characteristic of some unsecured cards and is another cost you have to keep in mind before applying since it can effectively lower your line of credit.

Credit card options when you have bad credit

Store credit cards

Odds are you’ve been asked to apply for a credit card while checking out at a store or online. The card offers often entice you with a rewards program or discount on your current purchase, and gets you thinking if you should apply. The card that you’re being offered is a store credit card and these cards can only be used at the issuing store. Since they are more likely to approve you compared with regular credit cards, they may seem like an easy way to establish credit, but there are some pitfalls to keep in mind.

Pros:

  • Good approval odds: Store cards are more likely to extend you credit than regular credit cards.
  • Rewards and discounts: Store cards often give you rewards for each purchase you make and send you card member discounts. This can be a great way to save money at stores where you frequently shop.

Cons:

  • Limited use: You most likely can only use your card in the issuing store. For example, a Target REDcardTM Credit Card can only be used for Target purchases.
  • High interest rates: Store cards tend to have higher interest rates than regular cards, so make sure you pay your statements in full and on time to avoid interest charges.

Store card options

Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Regular Purchase APR
25.15% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% at Target & Target.com
Lowe’s Advantage Card

Lowe’s Advantage Card

Regular Purchase APR
26.99% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
Get 5% off your eligible purchase or order charged to your Lowe's Advantage Card.
Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

Regular Purchase APR
17.99%-26.99% Variable
Annual fee
$0

Secured credit cards

A secured credit card requires you to deposit money upfront, which acts as collateral in case your account defaults. The amount you deposit typically becomes your line of credit. For example, if you put down a $200 security deposit, that means you likely have a $200 credit limit; deposit more and your credit limit will increase. Typical security deposits are $200, but you can be asked to deposit more or less depending on the card.

Pros:

  • Less chance of overspending: Since your credit limit is equal to the amount you deposit, it’s unlikely you will have a high credit limit. This can prevent you from charging large amounts and falling into debt.
  • Great way to build or improve:Secured cards are our favorite way to build or improve credit since you are more likely to be approved for a secured card than an unsecured card if you have bad credit, and you can see your score rise with proper credit behavior and spending as little at $10 a month.

Cons:

  • Security deposit required: You may not have the money available for the required security deposit, therefore possibly ruling out your chances of a secured card.
  • Low credit limit: Your line of credit is equal to your security deposit and most people don’t have the money available to deposit hundreds or thousands of dollars, making your available line of credit lower than unsecured cards.

Secured card options

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a good option for people who may not be able to afford a $200 security deposit since this card also offers a $49 or $99 deposit — but be aware that you don’t choose your deposit, Capital One does. So you may not receive the lower deposit.

Pros:

  • Potentially low security deposit: You may qualify for a $49 to $200 deposit. If you qualify for one of the lower deposits, you will still receive a $200 line of credit.
  • Access to a higher credit line: When you make your first five monthly payments on time, you receive a higher credit line.
  • Account reviews: Capital One reviews your account to see if you can be transitioned to an unsecured card and receive your deposit back. However, there is no set time frame for when your account will be reviewed.

Cons:

  • High APR: Similar to other secured cards, this card has a high APR that can be an issue if you carry a balance. A good rule of thumb is to pay each bill in full and on time to avoid interest charges.

Read our review of the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®.

Credit builder loans

A credit builder loan is when a lender (typically a credit union) puts funds into a savings account or CD and a borrower makes monthly payments until the amount is paid off. Typically, the borrower cannot access the funds until the balance is paid in full. Your savings act as collateral for the lender, so if you don’t make payments they know they won’t lose money.

The monthly payments you make include interest fees and often occur over a 12-, 18- or 24-month term. Credit builder loans can be a good way for you to improve your credit score and act as a forced savings since you can’t withdraw funds until you repay the amount you borrowed.

Pros:

  • Report to the credit bureaus: Credit builder loans report to the major credit bureaus, allowing you to rebuild or establish credit history — as long as you follow the terms of your loan and make timely payments.
  • Source of savings: Since the funds are placed in a savings account or CD, you have a forced savings that is accessible at the end of the loan term.

Cons:

  • Funds are locked: You can’t withdraw money borrowed until your loan is paid off. So if you need money upfront, a credit builder loan isn’t a good option.

Options

Self Lender

Credit builder loans at Self Lender offer 12 or 24 month loans where you pay back a loan from $520 to $1,663. Funds are deposited into a CD that’s FDIC-insured and earns interest. However, you cannot access the funds until the loan is paid off. There is a $9 non-refundable administration fee that you pay when you open your account. After that, you pay equal monthly payments for the term of your account (these payments include interest charges). Once you pay off the amount borrowed, you can access your funds plus interest earned.

Republic Bank

At Republic Bank, you can take out a credit builder loan for 12, 18 or 24 months with loan amounts of $500, $1,000 or $1,500. Your funds are placed in a CD that earns interest and is only accessible once the loan is paid. There is a $10 processing fee when you open your account. When you complete your monthly payments (which include interest), you can either withdraw your funds or leave them in a CD.

Unsecured credit card options for bad credit

An unsecured credit card is simply a regular credit card. Unlike secured cards, there is no minimum security deposit required to access a line of credit. These cards often provide higher credit limits than secured cards and can help you build credit when used responsibly.

Pros:

  • You won’t need to make a deposit to access your line of credit.
  • Unsecured cards typically have higher credit limits than secured cards. And, the two cards mentioned below both have credit limits starting at $300.

Cons:

  • Many secured cards for bad credit come with annual fees, so you’ll have to make sure the fee is worth it. If the unsecured card has an annual fee but no rewards, look for alternatives.

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a good unsecured card for those looking to earn cash back while building credit — just watch out for the $39 annual fee.

Pros:

  • You can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. This is a decent rate considering this is a card for those with fair/limited credit.
  • When you make your first five monthly payments on time, you receive a higher credit line.

Cons:

  • This card comes with a $39 annual fee. Annual fees are common for cards aimed at people with poor credit, but you can find cards without annual fees like the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card mentioned below. With this card, if you spend $2,600 a year, you’ll earn enough cash back to recoup the fee.
  • This card comes with a high APR that can be an issue if you carry a balance. Try to always pay on time and in full so you don’t incur interest charges.

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a decent option if you want a no-frills, unsecured credit card that can allow you to build credit without the distraction of rewards.

Pros:

  • When you make your first five monthly payments on time, you receive a higher credit line.
  • This card is no-frills, but that may be the best option for you if you think you may be tempted to overspend with a rewards card. You can use this card to build credit and work toward a higher credit score.

Cons:

  • Similar to most cards for less-than-stellar credit, there is a high APR. However, if you pay your balance on time and in full each month, this won’t be an issue.

Total VISA® Credit Card

The Total VISA® Credit Card is also accessible to those with poor credit, but it comes at a steep price —  a long list of fees. Apply with caution.

Terms

  • Regular purchase APR: See Terms
  • Cash advance APR: See Terms
  • Program fee: If approved, pay an $89.00 program fee to open your account and access your available credit.
  • Annual Fee: See Terms
  • Monthly servicing fee: None for first year (introductory). After that, $75 annually ($6.25 per month).
  • Additional card fee: $29 annually (if applicable)
  • Cash advance fee: None for first year (introductory). After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater.
  • Late payment fee: Up to $39
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $39

What to watch out for

The Total VISA® Credit Card has numerous fees that make this card quite expensive to use, and many fees are not typical of mainstream credit cards. The APR is one of the highest on the market (See Terms for APR), and typical credit cards have APRs that max out around 25%.

Similar to Credit One, the annual fee (See Terms) for the Total VISA® Credit Card is deducted from your initial credit line, lowering your available credit until the fee is paid off:

Notice: The Annual Fee will be assessed before you begin using your card and will reduce the amount of credit you initially have available. Based on your initial credit limit of $300.00, your initial available credit will only be $225.00 (only $196.00 if you choose to have an additional card).

There is a monthly servicing fee of $75 annually ($6.25 per month) associated with this card that is quite steep and characteristic of cards for bad credit. Also, if you take out additional cards, you will be charged $29 annually. Considering the program fee, annual fee and monthly service fees, you’re looking at a jaw-dropping amount of fees with this card. In the first year, if you’re only considering the program and annual fee, you would be charged $164 and subsequent years would incur $123 in fees from the annual fee and monthly servicing fees.

Finally, watch out for the credit limit increase fee. Once your account has been open at least a year, Total VISA can charge you a 20% fee on credit limit increases. For example, if your limit is increased by $100, that’s a $20 fee.

Learn more

How to build credit

As someone with bad credit, it’s important to practice responsible credit behavior and follow several rules so you can improve your credit.

  1. Pay your bills on time: When you receive a bill, pay it as soon as possible and always before the due date. By paying on time, you won’t be charged a late payment fee and the lender won’t have to report your bad credit behavior to the credit bureaus. Use autopay features or set calendar alerts so you don’t forget.
  2. Pay your statement balance in full every month: Don’t carry a balance on your card because you’ll be charged interest on any overdue amounts and can fall into debt.
  3. Don’t max out your card: If you receive a $500 credit limit, don’t spend the full amount each month because that shows lenders you’re a risky client and negatively impacts your credit score. The amount of your available credit you use is known as utilization and the goal is to have a 20% or lower utilization rate — so spend $100 or less on a card with a $500 credit limit.

The information related to Total VISA® Credit Card has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

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