It’s the old Catch-22 of bad credit: Once your credit score falls below a certain level, it becomes much harder to qualify for a line of credit. The only way to build that score back up is to responsibly use some form of credit. See the contradiction?
Thankfully, most credit card issuers have products aimed at people in this exact situation. Secured cards differ from unsecured credit cards in that they usually have lower qualifying standards – and lower credit limits. They require a deposit to open, usually equal to the credit limit. Once you’ve used the card long enough to build your score up with on-time monthly payments, most issuers will upgrade your account access to a traditional credit card. Like with most types of credit cards, the quality of these credit card offers vary.
Best Credit Cards for Poor Credit
Discover it® Secured
This card is popular because it’s one of the only secured cards offering cash back rewards. This rewards program allows consumers to earn 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants, up to $1,000 in eligible purchases per quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Discover will also match any cash back earned after the first year.
Cash back rewards can be redeemed at Amazon.com or on your statement. There’s no minimum redemption amount and rewards never expire.
Discover requires a security deposit equal to the credit limit, up to $2,500. If you put down $600, for instance, you’ll get a $600 credit limit. After eight months, Discover will review your account to see if you qualify for a regular credit card.
Your account activity is reported to all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Transunion). Discover also provides monthly reporting of the cardholder’s FICO score, helpful for those looking to track their credit progress via a free credit report. Cardholders will also be notified if their Social Security number is found on any suspicious websites or the dark web.
There’s no annual fee, and the APR is variable. Discover waives the fee on your first late payment (after that it is $39) and doesn’t charge a penalty APR on late payments.
Capital One® Secured Card
The Secured Mastercard from Capital One is the only secured card that allows customers to put down less than the credit line. Eligible users can put down $49 or $99 to receive a $200 credit limit. They may also put down more to receive a higher credit line, up to $1,000, adding to this card’s credit building benefits.
Capital One may also increase the credit limit with no extra security deposit if you make the first five payments on time. It’s not clear whether or not Capital One eventually promotes responsible customers to a traditional credit card.
Cardholders can get online access to their free credit score with CreditWise where they can track their credit improvement through responsible card use. It also notifies users if their information may be compromised. Cardholders can add authorized users to this card.
Other card perks include travel accident insurance for qualifying travel, no foreign transaction fees, extended warranties on qualifying items, and 24-hour travel assistance services for trips booked using the card. There is no annual fee.
BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card
Deposit limits for the BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card start at $300, slightly higher than other cards on this list. The maximum credit limit is one of the largest at $4,900.
Bank of America provides free access to your FICO credit score, perfect for customers who want to monitor their credit. They update your score once a month, hopefully increasing with responsible use.
The bank reviews accounts regularly to decide if customers are ready to have their security deposit refunded. It’s not clear how often Bank of America updates these accounts, however.
There is a 3% foreign transaction fee and no annual fee.
U.S. Bank Secured Visa Card
The U.S. Bank Secured Visa Card has a security deposit range between $300 and $5,000. U.S. Bank is one of the only credit card companies to put the security deposit in an interest-bearing account. When it’s time to close an account, cardholders will receive the original deposit plus any interest.
Customers receive updates to their VantageScore from TransUnion credit score, and are notified of any major changes to that credit score.
There is a $29 annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee. Users can also choose their own due date, making on-time payments a little easier.
Wells Fargo Secured Card
The Wells Fargo Secured Card has a minimum security deposit of $300. The card reports activity to all three credit bureaus, allowing users to build credit and improve their credit history over time.
Wells Fargo assesses customers to determine if they’re eligible for the Platinum Visa Credit Card, an unsecured card. There is no set time frame on when accounts are reviewed.
Cardholders get access to basic financial tools, allowing them to create a budget and categorize their expenses. Other benefits include roadside dispatch service, emergency card replacement, travel and emergency assistance, and cell phone protection if your phone is stolen or damaged.
There is a $25 annual fee.