Applying for Credit Card with Bad Credit, the Guide

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

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Practical Steps, Solid Advice, and Realistic Goals for Better Credit

In our modern world, having a credit card isn’t just convenient – it’s essential. But what if you’ve got bad credit? It can feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending cycle: you need a card to improve your credit, but you can’t get a credit card because of your bad score. It’s a tough spot to be in, but don’t lose hope. This guide is here to help you understand and navigate the process of applying for credit card, even with a bad score.

Woman with bad credit applying for a credit card from home over computer

Below, we’re going to break down credit scores and explain what makes up bad credit, and how it impacts your ability to get a card. We’ll then explore the different types of credit cards available for people with bad credit and give you a step-by-step guide on how to apply for one. Think of this as your roadmap to better credit.

It’s not going to be an overnight fix, but with patience, understanding, and a little bit of hard work, you can improve your score. Let’s get started on your journey to getting a card and rebuilding your financial future.

Understanding Credit Scores and Bad Credit

At the heart of any credit application lies the credit score, a numerical representation of an individual’s creditworthiness. Scores typically range from 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating better credit history and lower risk for lenders. These scores are calculated based on several factors, including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit used. (See: What is a credit score?)

Bad credit, on the other hand, is typically defined as a score below 580. This score range signals to lenders that you’ve had trouble repaying borrowed money in the past, and therefore, you may be a high-risk borrower. Bad credit can result from late payments, high levels of debt, bankruptcy, or other negative actions on your credit report.

The impact of bad score on card applications can be substantial. Applicants with low ratings often face higher interest rates and stricter lending terms, if they get approved at all. In some cases, they might be required to secure their credit line with a deposit.

For a more in-depth understanding of scores and bad credit, consider exploring this authoritative source.

Please note that this article aims to provide general advice and information. It is always best to consult with a financial advisor for personalized advice based on your financial situation and goals.

The Consequences of Bad Credit

Navigating the card application process with a bad score can feel akin to swimming against the tide. It’s not impossible, but the financial institutions’ current is often pitted against you. Lenders view bad ratings as an indication of past financial struggles, and this triggers caution. This caution translates into several tangible hurdles, each creating unique challenges in your path to acquiring credit.

Difficulty in Securing Card Approval

The most apparent consequence of bad credit is the challenge involved in securing approval for a card. Banks and card issuers perceive applicants with bad credit as high-risk customers. In scenarios where approval is granted, it often comes bundled with unfavorable terms. These terms are designed to protect the lender from potential default, but they often place the borrower in a precarious position.

High-Interest Rates

Interest is a tool lenders use to offset risk. The higher the risk associated with a borrower, the higher the interest rate charged. For individuals with bad credit, this translates to an expensive borrowing experience. High-interest rates can potentially push them deeper into debt if not managed strategically. For instance, an unsecured card with an APR of 25% can accumulate significant interest over time, making it harder to pay down the balance.

Higher Fees

Bad credit applicants frequently face higher fees. These can range from annual fees, late payment fees, over-limit fees, to cash advance fees. Each of these fees can add up quickly, and when compounded with high-interest rates, can create a significant financial burden.

Lower Credit Limits

Cards issued to individuals with bad scores often come with lower limits. While this might initially seem like a safeguard to prevent overspending, it also curtails financial flexibility, particularly during emergencies. Worse yet, if the lower limit is fully utilized, it can result in high utilization ration, further denting the score.

Far-Reaching Impacts

Bad credit doesn’t only affect your ability to obtain a card. It can have broader impacts, such as resulting in higher insurance premiums, difficulties in renting apartments, and even challenges in securing certain jobs. The implications of bad score can reach far beyond what one might initially anticipate, casting a long shadow over various aspects of your financial life.

Types of Cards for People with Bad Credit

Navigating the world of cards with a bad credit history can feel daunting. However, certain types of card offers are designed specifically to assist individuals in such situations. These cards can not only provide a line of credit but also help improve your score over time. Here, we’ll explore five such types of cards, each with its unique characteristics and benefits.

Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards are a popular option for people looking to build or rebuild their credit history. These cards require an upfront security deposit, which typically sets your credit limit. For instance, a $500 deposit would result in a $500 limit. Despite this upfront cost, secured cards are an excellent way to demonstrate responsible credit usage, as your payment activity is reported to the Bureaus, which can help improve your score over time. (See: Secured Cards Explained)

Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Unsecured cards for bad credit do not require a security deposit. These cards can be a good option if you can’t afford the deposit required for a secured card. However, they often come with higher interest rates and fees to compensate for the lender’s increased risk. Some unsecured cards also offer credit-building features, such as reporting your payment activity to the Bureaus.

Retail Credit Cards

Retail or shopping cards are those offered by stores and usually can only be used for purchases at the issuing retailer. These cards often have less stringent approval requirements, making them a potential option for those with bad score. They can also come with perks like discounts or reward points for store purchases. However, they often carry higher interest rates and lower limits compared to other card types. (See: Shopping Cards Explained)

Debit Cards

Debit cards are linked directly to your checking account. Every time you make a purchase, the amount is deducted directly from your account. Since you’re using your own money, you don’t incur debt, and there’s typically no credit check required. However, debit cards don’t help build credit since they don’t involve borrowing money and hence don’t report to the Bureaus.

Prepaid Cards

Prepaid cards allow you to load a certain amount of money onto the card, which you can then use for purchases. They are similar to debit cards in that you’re using your own money and there’s no risk of incurring debt. Prepaid cards also typically don’t require a credit check. However, like debit cards, they don’t help build your credit score because they don’t involve borrowing money and don’t report to the credit bureaus.

Credit-Builder Loans

A credit-builder loan is another alternative that can help improve your credit. These are small loans held by the lender in a secured account while you make payments. Once the loan is fully paid off, the money is released to you. The lender reports your payment history to the credit bureaus, which can help improve your credit over time. However, these are loans and not credit cards, so they might not offer the same flexibility as a credit card would.

Each of these card types serves different needs and situations. It’s crucial to consider your financial situation and goals when deciding which is best for you.

Table: Comparing Types of Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Understanding the different types of credit cards available to those with bad credit is crucial. This table compares several features across the five card types we’ve discussed, helping you make an informed decision based on your specific needs.

FeaturesSecuredUnsecuredRetailDebitPrepaidBuilder Loans
Approval OddsHighModerateHighNot applicableNot applicableModerate to High
Interest Rates (APR)15-23%25-35%25-30%Not applicableNot applicable5-16%
FeesLow to ModerateHighModerateLowLow to HighLow to Moderate
Credit BuildingYesYesYesNoNoYes
Credit LimitBased on depositLower than averageLower than averageBased on account balanceBased on preloaded amountNot applicable
Security Deposit RequiredYesNoNoNoNoNo
Ease of ApplicationModerateModerateEasyEasyEasyModerate
Usage RestrictionsNoNoYes (only at issuing retailer)NoNoYes (not a card)
Risk of OverspendingLow (limited by deposit)ModerateModerateLow (limited by account balance)Low (limited by preloaded amount)Not applicable
ExamplesOpenSky Secured Visa
Secured Chime Visa
First Latitude Platinum Card
Fit Platinum Mastercard
Fortiva Mastercard
Yotta Credit Card
Perpay Credit
Freedom Gold Card
No Fee Store Card
Extra Debit Card
Greenlight Mastercard
Albert Debit Card
Walmart MoneyCard Visa
FamZoo Prepaid Mastercard
NetSpend Visa Prepaid Card
Cheese Credit Builder
Self Credit Builder
More OffersSecured CardsStarter CardsShopping CardsDebit CardsPrepaid CardsCredit Builder Loans

Please note: The APRs given are estimated ranges and actual rates may vary. Always check the specific terms of any card or loan before applying.

Strategies to Improve Your Score

Achieving an improved credit score isn’t solely about rectifying past financial missteps – it’s also about laying down a solid foundation for future financial stability. This journey necessitates both commitment and discipline, but rest assured that each progressive step brings you closer to a brighter financial future. (See: 23 Credit Score Do’s and Dont’s)

Timely Bill Payment. A crucial strategy in this journey is the punctual payment of all your bills. Be it your electricity bill, rent, or card bill, regular and on-time payments can significantly uplift your score over a period of time. This is primarily because your payment history plays a substantial role in your credit score calculation. As you display consistent reliability in fulfilling your financial obligations, you progressively build credibility with lenders.

Reducing Outstanding Debt. The next strategy in line is the reduction of your outstanding debt. This doesn’t merely imply moving your debt around with balance transfers, but it essentially means paying it off. A diminished balance translates to lower credit utilization, thereby positively influencing your score. To attain this, consider debt reduction strategies such as the snowball method (focusing on paying off smaller debts first) or the avalanche method (prioritizing the payment of higher-interest debts first).

Regular Credit Report Checks. Frequently checking your credit reports for potential errors also forms an important strategy. Errors such as misreported late payments, incorrect balances, or fraudulent accounts opened in your name can inflict serious damage on your score. By vigilantly monitoring your credit report, you can promptly identify and dispute these errors before they inflict lasting damage.

Avoid Unnecessary Applications. Lastly, avoid applying for new credit unless it’s absolutely imperative. Each new application culminates in a hard inquiry on your report, which can temporarily dent your score. If you find it absolutely necessary to apply for new credit, ensure you conduct thorough research beforehand to verify your chances of approval are high.

How to Apply for a Credit Card with Bad Credit

Applying for a card, especially when you have bad score, can seem daunting. However, by following a systematic approach and understanding the process, you can navigate this path with greater confidence. Here are some key steps and tips to guide you through the credit card application process:

1. Research Thoroughly

Starting with Research. Your first step should be to research different cards that are available for those with bad credit. Different cards offer varying features, and some may be more suitable for your financial situation and credit-building goals than others. Look into factors like the interest rates, fees, credit limit, and the card issuer’s policy on upgrading to an unsecured card in the future.

Comparing Cards. It’s advisable to compare several options before making a decision. For example, while one card might have a lower APR, it may have higher fees. On the other hand, a card with higher APR might offer features like a grace period on purchases or the possibility of upgrading to an unsecured card after a certain period of responsible usage.

2. Check Your Credit Score

Why Checking Score is Important. Before applying, it’s a good idea to know your score. This can help you gauge your approval odds and avoid unnecessary hard inquiries that can hurt your credit score. Many financial institutions and card issuers provide free access to your score.

Understanding Your Credit Report. In addition to knowing your score, understanding your credit report can help you identify areas to improve. For instance, if your report shows high utilization or many late payments, focusing on these areas could improve your score and increase your chances of approval when you apply next.

3. Fill Out the Application

Credit card applications typically require personal and financial information such as your full name, address, social security number, employment details, and annual income. It’s vital to fill out the application accurately and honestly. Providing false information can lead to application denial or even legal repercussions.

4. Wait for Approval

After submitting your application, you’ll need to wait for a response. This can take anywhere from a few seconds (in the case of online applications) to a few weeks. Patience is key during this period.

5. Dealing with Rejection

If Rejected. If your application is rejected, it’s crucial not to be discouraged. Often, lenders will send a letter explaining the reasons for rejection. This can provide valuable insight into what you need to work on to improve your chances next time. Consider working on improving your credit before applying again. For example, if your rejection was due to high credit utilization, work towards paying down your debts before reapplying.

By taking these steps, you’re not just applying for credit card; you’re actively engaging in a process to improve your financial health and score. Keep in mind that every journey starts with a single step, and with persistence and discipline, you’ll be on your way to better credit.

Nurturing Financial Discipline – Key to Credit Success

Financial discipline is not an innate trait; rather, it’s a skill that can be painstakingly cultivated and refined over time. Building this skill is indeed the key to credit success, particularly when you’re on a mission to recover from a bad score.

Budgeting. The first stone to lay in your foundation of financial discipline is budgeting. More than merely keeping tabs on your income and expenses, budgeting involves gaining an understanding of your money’s movement and making informed decisions to align your expenditure with your financial goals. An effectively planned budget can help you live within your means, steer clear of unnecessary debt, and stash away savings for your future. For instance, allocating a specific amount for entertainment and dining out can prevent you from overspending in these areas and accumulating unmanageable debt. (See: 101 Personal Finance Tips)

Responsible Credit Card Usage. The next crucial element of financial discipline is responsible card usage. It can be tempting to view your card as an extension of your income, but it would be wiser and healthier to regard it as a tool designed for building a good payment history. This entails making full, punctual payments, maintaining a low credit utilization rate, and refraining from maxing out your card. For example, if your credit card limit is $2,000, try to keep your balance under $600 (30% utilization) to show lenders that you can manage credit responsibly.

Patience and Consistency. Lastly, patience and consistency are your most reliable companions on this journey. Rebuilding your credit isn’t an instantaneous process – it’s a journey. You may need to traverse several months or even years to witness significant improvements. However, with consistent application of disciplined financial habits, progress is undeniable. The crux lies in sticking to your path, not allowing minor setbacks to deter you from your ultimate financial goal.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Credit Card with Bad Credit

Mistake #1: Applying for Multiple Cards at Once

Every time you apply for a credit card, the lender performs a hard inquiry on your credit report to assess your creditworthiness. Each hard inquiry can cause a slight dip in your credit score. If you apply for multiple cards simultaneously, these hard inquiries can compound, causing a significant drop in your score. This could further diminish your chances of approval in the future.

Mistake #2: Ignoring the Terms and Conditions

The terms and conditions of a credit card contain crucial information about interest rates, fees, penalties, and reward programs. Ignoring these details can lead to unwelcome surprises. For example, you might end up with a card that has an exorbitant annual fee or a high penalty for late payments. By carefully reading and understanding the terms and conditions, you can choose a card that best fits your financial situation and usage patterns.

Mistake #3: Failing to Compare Different Card Options

Just like any other product, not all credit cards are created equal. They offer different interest rates, fees, rewards, and other features. By not comparing different card options, you might miss out on a card that could have been a better fit for your needs. It’s important to take the time to review various card options, consider your spending habits, and understand your financial goals before making a decision.

Mistake #4: Neglecting Your Credit Report

Your credit report holds a wealth of information about your financial history, including your debts, payment history, and the number of credit lines you have open. Neglecting to regularly review this report can lead to missed opportunities to spot and correct errors or signs of identity theft. Both errors and fraudulent activities can seriously harm your score and your chances of card approval.

Mistake #5: Overlooking Secured Cards

Secured credit cards, which require a refundable security deposit, are excellent tools for building or rebuilding credit. They’re often easier to qualify for than regular, unsecured cards. Overlooking these cards, in a quest for an unsecured card, can mean missing out on an achievable step towards credit improvement.

Table Comparing Common Mistakes

#MistakeKey FactorsHow Bad Is It?What to Do
1.Applying for Multiple Cards at OnceEach application leads to a hard inquiry, which can lower your score.It can cause a significant drop in your credit score if done frequently.Research and apply for cards that fit your needs and have good approval odds to limit the number of applications.
2.Ignoring the Terms and ConditionsThis could lead to unexpected fees or penalties.It can lead to unwelcome surprises and higher costs in the long run.Always read the terms and conditions carefully before applying for a card.
3.Failing to Compare Different Card OptionsDifferent cards offer different terms and benefits.You might end up with a card that isn’t a good fit for your needs.Take the time to compare different cards and consider your financial goals and spending habits before choosing a card.
4.Neglecting Your Credit ReportErrors or fraudulent activities on your report can harm your score.It can damage your credit score and your chances of card approval.Regularly review your credit report and promptly dispute any errors or suspicious activities.
5.Overlooking Secured CardsSecured cards are often easier to qualify for than unsecured cards.You might miss out on an achievable step towards credit improvement.Consider applying for a secured card if you’re struggling to get approved for an unsecured card.


Applying for credit card with bad credit may seem daunting, but it’s far from impossible. By understanding your score, choosing the right type of card, applying with care, and nurturing financial discipline, you can navigate this challenge and start your journey towards financial recovery and empowerment.

Remember, improving your credit is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, discipline, and patience. But with every on-time payment and good financial decision, you’re one step closer to your goal. Start applying the advice from this article today, and take control of your financial future.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Additional Resources

For more information on personal finance and credit repair, consider these authoritative sources:

  1. National Foundation for Credit Counseling
  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Additionally, consider this book on Amazon: “Your Credit Score: How to Improve the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future“. This guide provides detailed insights into understanding your score and practical steps to improve it.


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