Your credit score is more than just a three-digit number; it’s a measure of how well you pay your bills.
When you apply for loans or lines of credit, lenders use your credit score, along with other factors, to decide whether to approve you and also what interest rates to charge. Having bad credit can make getting a credit card more difficult, but it’s not impossible.
What Is Bad Credit?
Credit scores exist on a range. Where you land on that range determines whether you’re considered to have excellent credit, good credit, or bad credit.
FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850. A score of 800 to 850 is considered exceptional, while a score ranging from 300 to 579 is considered poor.
Approximately 16% of individuals with a credit score are in the poor range.
Unfortunately, a bad credit score can be caused any number of things; job loss, divorce, death in the family, etc.
With FICO scores, your payment history accounts for the largest part of the calculation. Having even one late or missed payments on your credit history could damage your score significantly.
Bad credit can also be related to more serious situations, such as filing for bankruptcy, foreclosure or repossession. Any of these things can cost you significant points, and that negative information can stay on your credit history for up to seven years, or 10 years in the case of some bankruptcy filings.
In other instances, bad credit might be no fault of your own.
If someone steals your identity, for example, they can rack up debt in your name and you might not realize it until you start getting notices from collection agencies.
Credit bureaus can also make mistakes in reporting your account information, which can cost you credit score points.
How to Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit
If you have a less than perfect score, and want to get a credit card in your name to build or rebuild credit, there are a few things that you can do.
Ask yourself what kind of credit card you’d like to have. Are you looking for a card that gives rewards on purchases or one with a low annual percentage rate (APR)?
Next, consider what kinds of cards you’re most likely to qualify for. Many card issuers specify what type of credit is needed to get approved for certain cards. For instance, you can find cards designated for people with excellent credit, good credit, etc. If you know your credit score is in the bad credit range, it’s important to look for cards that are a good fit so you don’t waste your time applying for ones you won’t qualify for.
Know Your Credit Score
You probably know you have bad credit because you’ve previously applied for a credit card, loan, or other credit-based service and have been denied.
If you haven’t already, check your credit score to see exactly where you stand.
You can request a credit report through one or all of the three major consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, or Transunion.
Or you can get free versions of your credit score from sites like Credit Karma. I use the Credit Karma app on my phone every month to do a ‘credit check in’.
Consider a Secured Credit Card
Secured credit cards require a cash deposit up front, which will be your credit line.
If you can come up with the cash for the deposit (often $200 or more), this can be the easiest way to get a credit card when you have bad credit.
Secured cards are designed for people who have limited or no credit history, or bad credit that they’re trying to rebuild.
Here’s a quick look at their pros and cons of the secured card:
- Can be easier to get approved for a secured card if you have bad credit
- Some secured cards allow you to earn rewards on purchases
- Secured cards can help you build a good credit history with responsible use
- You’ll need to have cash available for the security deposit
- Secured cards may charge higher APRs and fees compared to unsecured cards
Don’t Even Waste Time Trying to Get a Card for Those with Good Credit
Don’t apply for credit cards geared to people with high credit scores just to see if you can get approved.
You won’t get approved.
You’ll be denied and the additional applications can damage your credit score even more.
Try a Retail Store Card
Retail store cards are issued for one specific store or family of stores. You can use these cards to make purchases at those stores, and some offer rewards, discounts, and other incentives for using them.
Unlike secured cards, you won’t need to make an up front deposit to open a retail store card, which is a plus.
Become an Authorized User
A third option for getting a credit card if you have bad credit is to ask someone else to add you to one of their credit cards as an authorized user.
Being an authorized user means you can use the card to make purchases, but you don’t have to apply for it using your name or credit history.
Authorized user status can reflect positively on your credit history, if the primary cardholder pays their bill on time and keeps credit utilization low.
- This can be an easy way to get a credit card without having to apply for one
- You’re not responsible for any debt associated with the card
- You can make purchases and potentially earn rewards
- Being an authorized user doesn’t carry as much credit-building power as having a credit card in your own name
- If the primary cardholder pays late or defaults, that can reflect negatively on your credit history
Adopt Positive Habits to Build Credit
Once you get a credit card, whether it’s a secured card, a retail card, or you’re an authorized user on someone else’s card, try your best to follow best practices when you use it.
That means doing things that will positively affect your credit history, such as:
- Paying your bills on time each month
- Keeping your credit utilization low
- Only applying for new credit when you truly need it
- Keeping older credit accounts open
All of these things can help you improve your credit score.
As your score rises, you can look into other options for borrowing and building credit, like unsecured credit cards and personal loans.
Credit cards can be useful tools for building credit, and they’re also convenient for making purchases and earning rewards.
If you have bad credit, opening a credit card account could be an easy way to get your score and credit rating back on track.