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Best Unsecured Cards for Limited Credit Histories

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This article was last updated May 01, 2019, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

If you have a limited credit history and struggle to be approved for credit cards, you may be applying for cards that are out of your credit range. Although the best credit cards are reserved for people with good or excellent credit, there are cards available for people with less than stellar credit.

You’ll mainly hear about two types of cards — secured and unsecured. The main difference is that a secured card requires a cash deposit to receive a line of credit, while an unsecured card does not. Both cards can help you build credit when used responsibly, but if you’re unable to afford the required security deposit, you should look to unsecured cards (aka traditional cards).

In this roundup, we’ll review the unsecured cards you may qualify for with a limited credit history, as well as provide secured card recommendations and tips for building credit with your card.

Unsecured cards

If you’re looking to build credit but don’t want to deposit money to access a line of credit, an unsecured card is a good option. You’ll typically receive a higher credit limit than a secured card and can often benefit from added perks like rewards.

Watch out: Not all unsecured cards for people with limited credit history have good terms — some have numerous fees that you may overlook. Always read the terms and conditions to see what fees are associated with a card prior to applying.

Here are some of the top unsecured cards on the market:

  • Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back

  • No rotating categories, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and no limit to how much you can earn

  • 26.96% (Variable)

Highlights
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn't expire for the life of the account
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use
  • Get customized alerts and manage your account with the Capital One mobile app

See additional details for Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

More Info

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is our top pick if you have average/fair/limited credit and want to earn cash back. With this card, you can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. While that’s a subpar rate compared to the 2% you can get with other flat rate rewards cards, it’s better than nothing — especially when considering the other cards listed in this roundup lack rewards.

There is a $39 annual fee with this card, but that can be recouped if you spend at least $2,600 a year. Additional perks include the ability to access a higher credit line by making your first five monthly payments on time and Platinum Mastercard® benefits, like auto rental and travel accident insurances, 24-hour travel and roadside assistance services, and more.

  • Access a higher credit line by making first 5 monthly payments on time

  • Pay no annual fee

  • 26.96% (Variable)

Highlights
  • Pay no annual fee
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee - and pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Help strengthen your credit for the future with responsible card use

See additional details for Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

More Info

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a basic unsecured card for people with average/fair/limited credit. You won’t earn rewards, but that’s pretty standard compared to other cards in this credit range. The minimum credit limit you receive with this card is $300, which is decent. And, if you make your first five monthly payments on time, you may receive an increased credit limit. Not only will this expand your buying power, but it’ll help your credit score — as long as you don’t overspend.

This card also provides Platinum Mastercard® benefits, including auto rental and travel accident insurances, 24-hour travel and roadside assistance services, price protection and more — all at a $0 annual fee.

Secured cards

When you have poor credit or no credit history, a secured card is sometimes the best and only option to start building your credit. With a secured card, you make a deposit — typically around $200 — that becomes your line of credit. The deposit is refundable if you’re upgraded to an unsecured card or if you pay your balance in full and close your account.

Since your credit limit is often equal to your deposit, you’ll need to deposit more money to receive a higher limit. For example, if you want a $500 credit limit, you’ll need to deposit $500. As a result, credit limits tend to be lower for secured cards than unsecured cards. However, some cards may increase your credit limit without requiring an additional deposit, if you make several consecutive on-time payments.

Here are some of the top secured cards on the market:

  • Build Credit When Used Responsibly

  • $49, $99, or $200

  • 26.99% (Variable)

Highlights
  • No annual fee, and all the credit building benefits with responsible card use
  • Unlike a prepaid card, it builds credit when used responsibly, with regular reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus
  • You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time with no additional deposit needed
  • Easily manage your account 24/7 with online access, by phone or using our mobile app
  • It's a credit card accepted at millions of locations worldwide

See additional details for Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

More Info

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a great choice for people with limited/bad credit that want a potentially lower security deposit. The minimum deposits for this card are $49, $99, and $200. You’ll receive a $200 credit limit regardless of which deposit you qualify for. That can be helpful if you don’t have the cash available for a $200 deposit and you qualify to receive a $49 or $99 deposit.

This card has a $0 annual fee and offers the ability to get a higher credit limit by making your first five monthly payments on time — all without requiring an additional deposit. You can also benefit from Platinum Mastercard® benefits like auto rental insurance, travel accident insurance, price protection and more.

  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus

  • Auto Pay can help you stay on top of your bill

  • Use your card anywhere that accepts Mastercard®

Highlights
  • The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is a no annual fee credit card that helps you build your credit when used responsibly.
  • Unlike a debit card, it helps build your credit history with monthly reporting to all 3 major credit bureaus. Once available, you will also have free access to your FICO score online.
  • Use your card anywhere Mastercard® is accepted — worldwide.
  • A security deposit is required. Once approved, your credit limit will be equal to your security deposit (minimum of $200).
  • Get help staying on track with Auto Pay and account alerts.
  • With Flexible Payment Due Dates, you can choose any available due date in the beginning, middle or end of the month.
  • Manage your account 24/7 online, by phone, or in our mobile app.

See additional details for Citi® Secured Mastercard®

More Info

The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is a very basic $0 annual fee secured card for people with limited history/good credit. The minimum deposit is $200 and you can deposit up to $2,500 — one of the higher limits for a secured card, though we doubt many people will deposit $2,500. You won’t earn rewards with this card or benefit from any unique perks; however, if you use this card responsibly, you can be on your way to building good credit and transitioning to an unsecured card.

How to use your card to build credit

Whether you’re opening an unsecured or secured card, it’s important to use it responsibly so you can build a good credit history. Avoiding risky behavior like maxing out your card and missing payments is key, as those actions will only hurt your credit and lead you to fall into debt. The credit-building tips listed below can help put you on the path to good credit.

  • Pay on time and in full each month. To build a good credit history, it’s key to consistently make on-time payments. Payment history is the most important factor of your credit score, so it’s key to always pay before your due date. It’s also a good idea to pay your statement in full each month so you don’t carry a balance and rack up interest charges, risking debt.
  • Use your card each month. The only way information will be reported to the credit bureaus is if you have activity on your credit report each month. Setting up a recurring charge like a Netflix or Spotify bill — and paying it in full every month — can help you build credit.
  • Don’t overspend. It’s never a good idea to max out your credit card or spend more money than you’re able to pay off by your due date. The percentage of credit you use — known as your utilization rate — is a key factor of your credit score, and the lower your rate the better. It’s generally recommended to keep your utilization rate below 30%. So, for a card with a $300 credit limit, don’t spend more than $90 a month.

Once your credit improves, check out our selections for fair, good, and excellent credit.


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