Best Credit Cards for Bad or Fair Credit of November 2019

Our Picks for the Best Cards to Help Your Build Credit

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The best credit cards for bad or fair credit help people with credit scores below 670 to build credit, save on fees, and maybe even earn rewards. Many of the cards on this list are secured cards, which means you have to put down a deposit to be able to use the card. Usually, you’ll get a credit limit equal to the amount of your deposit, but we’ve found one exception to that general rule. Read on for more about our favorite cards. 

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Discover it® Secured

Our Rating Among Bad Credit Cards
4.2
Discover it® Secured
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Minimum Deposit to Activate $200
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes

Why We Chose This Card

This card is a rare gem, and if you have a low credit score, it’s also the best card for rewards, fewest fees, and customer service features. It doesn’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fee, and Discover will waive your first late fee. On top of extra cash back on gas and grocery purchases, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. After eight months, the company will begin considering you for an unsecured card. You also get free FICO credit score access and services that monitor your credit report and look out for identity theft.

Low APR

Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card

Our Rating Among Bad Credit Cards
4.0
Wells Fargo Secured Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 20.49% variable
Annual Fee $25
Minimum Deposit to Activate $300
Allows upgrade to unsecured card Yes

Why We Chose This Card

Most secured card interest rates are close to 25%, but carry a balance with this card and you’ll get a bit of a break. Now, in a perfect world the interest rate of your card won’t matter because you should pay off your card balance each month, especially while building credit with a secured card. But if having a lower APR card will give you peace of mind in case life happens and paying off your card suddenly isn’t an option, we recommend this one. Note: For cards that have a range of potential APRs, we look at the high end of the range.

Best Unsecured Card

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Our Rating Among Bad Credit Cards
3.6
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.99% variable
Annual Fee $0

Why We Chose This Card

If you have fair credit, there is this unsecured card option. This card doesn’t have extra frills like a sign-up bonus or rewards, but it doesn’t charge an annual fee or extra maintenance fees, or require a deposit, all of which often come with secured card alternatives. Capital One will also reward positive credit card use by raising your card’s credit limit after you make five on-time payments.

Best Deposit Features

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Our Rating Among Bad Credit Cards
3.6
Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Poor - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 26.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Minimum Deposit to Activate $49
Allows upgrade to unsecured card No

Why We Chose This Card

If you don’t have much money saved for a deposit, this secured card is for you. It may only require a partial deposit of $49 to access a $200 credit line (depending on your credit), which is unheard of. You can deposit more money before your account opens, too, which offers some flexibility if you need more time to gather funds. Plus, demonstrate good credit use and make your first five monthly payments on time for an additional credit limit raise, possibly up to $1,000.

Best Unsecured Card With Rewards

Apple Card

Our Rating Among Bad Credit Cards
3.5
Apple Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.74% - 23.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3% cash back at Apple and select Apple pay partners, 2% on other Apple pay purchases, and 1% on everything else.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

If you’re an Apple product junkie seeking credit card rewards, this co-branded store card is a solid option. You only need fair credit to qualify, and if you can use Apple Pay often, you’ll get a decent 2% cash back return. Yes, there are better cash-back card options out there, but you’ll need to build up your credit first before getting one of those. This card can help you get your rewards fix in the meantime.

Find Your Credit Card Match

When it's your goal to build credit, we believe it's important to seek out credit cards with low fees and features that help you improve your credit score, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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Your Results

What Is Bad Credit?

Bad credit is generally defined as having a history of negative items on your credit report such as late payments and tax liens. If you have a FICO credit score lower than 580, you have poor or bad credit. 

What Is Fair Credit?

If you are actively working on rebuilding bad credit or are building credit from scratch, you may have fair credit along the way. FICO defines a fair credit score as 580-669. It’s still a below average score, but those with fair credit may still get approved for new credit. 

Who Needs a Credit Card for Bad or Fair Credit?

Generally, you need a credit card designed for bad credit if you can’t get approved for other cards. The new card can help you rebuild good credit to counteract the effect of bad credit in the past. A typical reason why you need a credit for bad credit is you had a recent bankruptcy. 

You may also have had an issue in the past, but you never applied for a new card. Thus, in this case you’d have so-so credit, but you need a new positive record of credit to upgrade to better credit cards in the future.

If you are new to credit or building your credit score from scratch, opening and using a card for fair credit may help you build up your score even more so that you qualify for a greater variety of cards. 

How to Use Credit Cards to Improve Your Credit

When using credit cards to rebuild your credit, start slow. One credit card where you keep your credit usage below 30% of the limit can do as much for your credit as five credit cards. When possible, choose a card that doesn’t have an annual fee. Building a lengthy credit history is important, and if the card doesn’t charge an annual fee, it can be less costly to carry the card long term. 

Avoid charging close to the full credit limit, even if you pay it off each month. You don’t know when credit reports will get pulled during the month for scoring, and FICO considers how close your balance is to your credit limit. Don’t max out your card, even for five days, and make on-time payments.

Secured vs. Unsecured Credit Cards

If you have bad credit, you may end up either an unsecured or secured credit card. A secured card is one where you have to deposit money into a special account in the same amount your credit limit is in order to open the card. 

The purpose of a secured card is to help you establish or reestablish credit with little risk to the card issuer. Often, the card becomes an unsecured card, giving you back your deposit, after you have demonstrated smart card use for a period of time. 

Note

An unsecured card is a typical credit card where you are not required to have a deposit to back up your credit limit. They usually require applicants have at least a fair credit score for approval, though. 

How to Pick the Best Credit Card for Bad or Fair Credit

You still have options among credit cards when you have bad credit. Thus, you shouldn’t have to get a card with an annual fee that takes up a third to half of your credit line. Apply for secured cards or cards that are specifically labeled for bad or fair credit instead. A secured card puts your security deposit in a savings account you’ll get back later. Thus, it’s much better than the high annual fee cards. 

If in doubt about how bad your credit score is, buy your credit score on MyFICO if your bank doesn’t offer a free credit score. On MyFICO, it will also tell you where your score falls from bad credit to excellent credit. Your credit score may not be as bad you think, and you’ll get tips on how to improve it.

What About Store Credit Cards?

Pros

  • Discounts on items at your preferred stores

  • Easier credit approval

  • Special store event invites and rewards programs

Cons

  • High interest rates

  • Temptation to buy too much

  • Lack of flexibility

Pros Explained

  • Discounts on items at your preferred stores: The biggest perk for store cards is a standing percentage off merchandise in the store and special coupons at different times of the year.
  • Easier credit approval: Store cards often have easier approval standards based on credit score and recognizing loyalty. Similar to when a bank or credit union you already have a history with offers you a credit card because of your history with their company, stores may recognize through rewards programs and such that you are a frequent and valued shopper.
  • Special store event invites and rewards programs: You may also get invites to friends and family days, free concerts sponsored by the store, and ways to boost savings through rewards programs. 

Cons Explained

  • High interest rates: Store cards are not known for low interest rates. However, they aren’t known for annual fees either. If you pay off your card monthly, they are excellent and cheap cards for building credit.
  • Temptation to buy too much: A credit card that is specifically for your favorite store comes with a lot of temptation. Make sure you pay extra attention to your budget.
  • Lack of flexibility: Purchase flexibility is relegated to at most a family of stores.

How to Apply for a Credit Card for Bad or Fair Credit

The most important action to take when applying for a credit card when you have bad or fair credit is to apply slowly. Credit scores can drop when you apply for credit too frequently. Thus, avoid applying for credit cards for excellent credit that you are likely to get denied for before your credit improves. 

The actual application process is simply finding a card online, such as one of the cards listed above. Click on apply now and then fill in your personal identification and income. If you’re applying for a secured card, you’ll also need to supply bank account information in order to make the required deposit. 

How Long Does It Take to Rebuild Credit?

You can begin to rebuild your credit in just a few months. However, the exact time it takes to rebuild your credit varies from person-to-person. For example, if you have a bankruptcy on your credit report, it will affect your credit score for seven years or more. 

Methodology

We collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances. We do this because it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews.

Note

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

The scores and reviews come directly from the data we collect and our editorial expertise, and we focus on three areas:

  1. How much does it cost? With credit card debt at an all-time high, we believe you should know the cost of carrying a balance. Because of that, we give regular purchase APRs significant weight in overall scores, and cards receive low marks if they have an array of pricey fees. 
  2. What are the rewards worth? Cards accumulate rewards in different currencies—points, miles, cash back—and their values vary widely. To simplify the problem, we built a system that fairly compares rewards and gives them a dollar value. We do this by looking at the ways you can earn and use rewards, which includes evaluating Americans’ typical spending habits and analyzing common travel patterns. 
  3. Does it make your life easier? Our scoring system favors cards that accept a wide range of credit profiles and offer simple solutions for things like checking your credit score or contacting customer service. Finally, we give preference to credit cards that have several tools for dealing with fraudulent charges. 

For every review on The Balance, we hold the credit cards to these standards, and we set the bar high. While we recognize the appeal of splashy features like six-digit sign-up bonuses, our approach ensures that credit cards with the best combination of value, affordability, and accessibility receive the highest scores. See our full methodology for more details.