The 5 best unsecured credit cards for bad credit in 2021

Young woman sitting in front of a laptop and wondering what the best unsecured cards for building credit areImage: Young woman sitting in front of a laptop and wondering what the best unsecured cards for building credit are

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If your credit isn’t great, it might be difficult to qualify for unsecured credit cards. And that, in turn, can make it difficult to build credit. So what are your options?

You may be able to qualify for a secured credit card. But you’ll have to come up with a security deposit, and many secured cards require a deposit of $200 or more. You may not have that kind of money sitting around to fork over to a credit card issuer.

The good news is that there are unsecured credit cards designed specifically for people with bad credit or limited credit histories. But you’ll need to be careful. Some unsecured credit cards for bad credit are better than others.

Before you apply for a card, check the terms carefully to make sure the card makes sense for your situation. To help you narrow your search, we’ve put together a list of our picks for some of the best options out there.

Read our take on the best unsecured cards for bad credit to help you find the right one for your situation.


Card Best for
Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card Low fees
Deserve® Pro Mastercard Restaurant and travel rewards
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card Building credit
Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited cash back
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards Prequalification

Best for low fees: Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

From our partner

Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Here’s why: The Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card doesn’t charge any fees. None.

Petal has kicked annual fees, late-payment fees, returned-payment fees, and every other fee to the curb. That’s impressive for any card, but especially for an unsecured card that considers consumers who have limited credit. Important note: There might not be any fees, but the card still charges interest.

Petal has designed a credit approval algorithm that looks at your entire financial picture, not just your credit scores. In fact, Petal says you could be approved for the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card without any credit scores or credit history whatsoever.

And as an extra perk, the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card offers its cardholders 1% to 1.5% in cash back rewards. You start out earning 1% cash back on all purchases. Then you’ll graduate to earning 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments.

Check out our full review of the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card to learn more.

Best for restaurant and travel rewards: Deserve® Pro Mastercard

Here’s why: With the Deserve® Pro Mastercard, you’ll earn 3% cash back on travel purchases and 2% cash back on dining purchases. It’s important to note that the extra cash back on these bonus category purchases only applies to the first $500 of purchases made each billing cycle.

Luckily, you’ll also earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The Deserve® Pro Mastercard could be a great option for many consumers. But college students will probably want to check out the Deserve® EDU Mastercard instead.

Best for building credit: Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

From our partner

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

From cardholders in the last year

Here’s why: Cardholders can get access to higher credit limits in as little as six months.

That’s a great incentive to pay your bills on time every month. And if you’re able to keep your spending rate the same after earning that higher credit limit, your credit utilization rate could improve, which could help your credit scores too!

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card has no annual fee or foreign transaction fees. And you’ll get extra benefits like travel accident insurance and extended warranty coverage on eligible purchases. But you won’t earn any rewards.

Learn more by reading our full review of the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card.

Best for unlimited cash back: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

From our partner

Here’s why: With the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

That’s right: With the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, there are no reward caps. You simply get 1.5% back on everything that you buy with the card. That’s impressive for a card that considers applicants who have what Capital One considers fair credit.

This card has a $39 annual fee. But with a 1.5% cash back return, you’ll need to spend only $2,600 to earn that much in rewards with this card, which comes out to spending about $217 a month for a year. If you plan on spending more than that each month, then this card could be a good option.

Get more details about the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card in our full editorial review.

Best for prequalification: Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards

Here’s why: If you shop for the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards card directly through the Credit One Bank website, the issuer offers the chance to see if you prequalify for the card before you apply. This is a soft credit check — meaning it won’t affect your scores — and you can find out if you prequalify in less than a minute. Just keep in mind that prequalification doesn’t guarantee the terms and eventual approval.

We also like that the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards lets you earn rewards while you build your credit. If approved for the card, you’ll be eligible for 1% cash back rewards on different purchases depending on the strength of your credit profile.

In addition, the card comes with regular, automatic reviews of your account to see if you’re eligible for a credit line increase.

While credit prequalification, rewards and automatic credit line reviews are the shining features of the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards, it does lag in other areas. You’ll pay a $0 - $99 annual fee. And it comes with other expensive fees (for cash advances and late or returned payments, for example) as well as a high variable purchase APR of 23.99%.

Learn more about the pros and cons of the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards in our full review.


How we picked these cards

When choosing the best unsecured credit cards, we looked for card issuers that said they would consider applicants with average, damaged or limited credit histories.

We also looked for cards that minimized fees. If you’re looking for unsecured cards for bad credit, you’re probably trying to avoid having to pay the deposits that secured cards require. But if an unsecured card has a high annual fee, that kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Some secured cards will refund the deposit you paid after a certain number of on-time payments. So you’d eventually get that money back. But that’s not the case with annual fees.

Finally, we looked for unsecured credit cards that offered rewards. We believe that you shouldn’t be left out in the cold when it comes to earning cash back or points while you’re working to build your credit. And, thankfully, most of the card issuers on this list agree.

How to make the most of unsecured credit cards for bad credit

In order to make the most of the cards on this list, you’ll want to be sure to consistently pay your credit card bills in full and on time. If your credit issuer reports positive payment history to the major credit bureaus each month, your credit scores could begin to improve.

Next, you’ll want to pay attention to your credit utilization rate. Generally, credit experts recommend that you use less than 30% of your available credit. Cards aimed at people who don’t have solid credit tend to have lower credit limits than average. And the smaller the credit limit, the more difficult it can be to keep your credit utilization rate low.

For instance, with a $2,000 credit limit, to keep your credit utilization rate under 30%, you’d have to keep your balance under $600. You’ll need to stay disciplined — and pay your balance down each month. You can also ask your credit card issuer to raise your credit limit after you’ve made a number of on-time payments, but be aware that this may result in a hard check.

Why work so hard to make your payments on time each month and keep your utilization rate low? Because if your credit isn’t in good shape, you can use an unsecured credit card to help build a positive credit history and improve your credit scores.

Once your credit scores have gone up, you can apply for more attractive credit cards that offer better terms or rewards. If you’re looking for more ideas to improve your credit scores, check out our Guide to Building Credit.


About the author: Clint Proctor is a freelance writer and founder of WalletWiseGuy.com, where he writes about how students and m… Read more.