Best Emergency Credit Cards For Bad Credit in 2021

Best Emergency Credit Cards For Bad Credit
GUIDE
Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Updated: August 12, 2021
Advertiser Disclosure

In this article, we review the best emergency credit cards for bad credit because an unexpected crisis can occur at any time. When the unforeseen occurs and you don’t have an emergency fund, you want help fast, so we concentrate on cards that are quickly accessible, even for folks with bad credit.

We also review a few personal loan providers that may be a better fit when you need an emergency loan fast.

Credit Cards | Secured & Prepaid Cards | Personal Loans | FAQs

Best Unsecured Cards for Emergency Use

Unsecured cards, made up of consumer business credit card components, are the biggest segment of the market and are what we think of as “normal” credit cards. You don’t need to make a cash security deposit to backstop the card’s credit line, and most of them allow cash advances, albeit of modest size.

Because these cards are designed for consumers with bad or fair credit, expect to encounter high APRs, many fees, and low credit limits.

  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Initial Credit Limit of $300 – $1,000* (subject to available credit)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
  • Checking Account Required
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.8

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
9 Minutes 24.99% - 29.99% (Variable) Yes 8.5/10

The Surge Mastercard® comes with a few basic benefits, such as $0 fraud liability and cash advances (available 95 days after account opening). The card charges several fees, including annual, monthly maintenance (after the first 12 months), foreign transaction, additional card, and penalty fees.

Credit limit increases may be available if you make timely payments. Through online and mobile device access, you can manage and make payments, as well as check due dates, view statements, and more. You must accept electronic statements to receive your free credit score.

  • Easy pre-qualification process with fast response
  • Less than perfect credit is okay
  • Online servicing available 24/7 at no additional cost
  • Unsecured credit card, no security deposit required
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.6

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 Minutes 24.9% Yes 8.0/10

The Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card is a bare-bones offering aimed at consumers with bad or fair credit. On the plus side, the card doesn’t charge setup, cash advance (for the first year), or monthly maintenance fees, but it does impose a penalty APR, fees for late payments, and may charge an annual fee based on your creditworthiness.

You can select one of several card designs for no extra charge. Prequalification does not require a hard pull of your credit report and won’t hurt your credit score.

  • Checking account required
  • Fast and easy application process; response provided in seconds
  • A genuine Visa® card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online
  • Manageable monthly payments
  • $300 credit limit (subject to available credit).
  • Multiple card designs available
  • Reports monthly to all three major credit bureaus
  • Offer not guaranteed; response provided in seconds
  • Rebuilding credit depends on factors like making on-time payments, keeping balance below credit limit and paying at least the minimum monthly payment
  • Click here for rates and fees.
★★★★★

4.5

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
9 Minutes See Terms Yes 8.5/10

The Total Visa® Unsecured Credit Card is designed for consumers with less-than-perfect credit who want a quick application process. This fee-laden card from the Bank of Missouri charges a high APR as well as setup, annual, additional card, credit limit increase, and, after the first year, monthly servicing and cash advance fees. There are also fees for late and returned payments.

Cash advances are available after you’ve owned the card for 90 days and may not exceed one-half of your credit limit. Your account may be reviewed after one year for a higher credit line. You won’t be liable for unauthorized use of your card.

  • See if you Pre-Qualify without harming your credit score
  • Earn 1% cash back rewards on eligible gas, grocery purchases and mobile phone service, internet, cable and satellite TV services, terms apply
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Automatic reviews for credit line increase opportunities
  • Looking to rebuild credit? We report to the major credit bureaus monthly
  • View your free online access to your Experian credit score, terms apply
  • This unsecured card requires no deposit and can help build your credit
  • Choose your monthly payment due date for added convenience, terms apply
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
  • Manage your account on-the-go with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Show off your personality by selecting from a variety of card designs, a fee may apply
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

4.3

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes 23.99% Variable Yes 9.0/10

The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® For Rebuilding Credit is one of the few unsecured cards for consumers with bad credit that offers cash back rewards and a reasonable APR. The cash back offer is the most modest of those available for the four versions of this card.

Through the More Program, you are also eligible for additional cash back rewards at more than 30,000 participating merchant locations nationwide. The annual fee for this card may be waived. Paperless statements and documents are available if you are an environmentally sensitive cardholder.

  • Checking Account Required
  • Reporting monthly to all three major credit reporting agencies
  • Perfect credit not required for approval; we may approve you when others won’t
  • Easy and secure online application
  • $300 credit limit (subject to available credit)
  • The First Access Visa Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

4.3

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
10 Minutes See Terms Yes 8.0/10

The First Access Visa® Card may make sense if you can’t qualify for any other card due to your poor credit. This Bank of Missouri card has all the costs and few of the features offered by its competitors.

On the plus side, you can select a card design from a collection of six. You may be reviewed for a higher credit line after the account has been open for at least 12 billing cycles. The card is not currently available in Wisconsin or New York.

  • Prequalify for a card today and it will not impact your credit score
  • Less than perfect credit is okay
  • 24/7 access to your account information, even on mobile
  • Card designs to fit your personality at no extra charge
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

4.2

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes 24.9% Yes 9.0/10

If you are finicky about your credit card’s appearance, check out the Milestone® Mastercard®. It takes less than 10 minutes to prequalify for this card with no damage to your credit score. The card charges an annual fee, penalty APR and fees, a foreign transaction fee, and a cash advance fee that is waived during the first year.

The card offers $0 liability and identity theft protection. You must be at least 18 to apply, meet standards for debt and income, and have no previous account write-offs. You also cannot have an existing Milestone credit card account.

Consider a Prepaid or Secured Card if Your Credit Score is Really Poor

If your credit score is below 500, we strongly suggest you consider a secured credit card or a prepaid debit card instead of an unsecured credit card. Both require money upfront, but prepaid cards cannot help you build credit, whereas secured cards can.

  • Move money from your PayPal account to fund your prepaid card account.
  • Earn cash back and personalized offers, just for using your card.
  • With Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • Card issued by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted.
  • Click PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® for additional features & program details, and to request a Card.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.5

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes N/A (Prepaid) No 9.5/10

The PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® is a natural choice for PayPal users because you can transfer money between your PayPal cash balance and the prepaid card. You can add money via direct deposits and standard mobile check loads for free, but fees apply for cash reloads at NetSpend locations and for expedited mobile check loads.

You can purchase the card online for free but there is a charge for buying one at a retail location (at any of 130,000+ U.S. locations). There is also a monthly fee, plus fees for cash withdrawals, foreign transactions, declined transactions, card replacements, and ATM balance inquiries. You can also open a free, no-minimum-balance savings account at Bancorp Bank, the card’s issuer.

  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your card.
  • Use the NetSpend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. "Apply Now" for full details.
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★

4.3

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
10 Minutes N/A (Prepaid) No 7.0/10

The NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card offers you a choice of monthly or pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plan fee options. With the monthly plan, you pay no fee per purchase transaction as you would on the PAYG plan. You can reduce the cost of the monthly plan by receiving a set amount in direct-deposited payroll or government checks each month.

Fees apply for cash withdrawals, either over-the-counter or at an ATM. Adding money also incurs fees if done at a physical location or via expedited mobile check load. Other fees arise from foreign transactions, card replacements, declined transactions, some money transfers, and more.

  • Receive Your Card More Quickly with New Expedited Processing Option
  • No Credit History or Minimum Credit Score Required for Approval
  • Quick and Complete Online Application; No credit inquiry required!
  • Includes Free Real-Time Access to Your Credit Score and Ongoing Credit Monitoring powered by Experian
  • Full-Feature Platinum Mastercard® Secured Credit Card; Try our new Mobile App for Android users!
  • Good for Car Rental, Hotels; Anywhere Credit Cards Are Accepted!
  • Monthly Reporting to all 3 Major Credit Bureaus to Establish Credit History
  • Credit Line Secured by Your Fully-Refundable Deposit of $200 -- $2,000 Submitted with Application
  • Just Pay Off Your Balance and Receive Your Deposit Back at Any Time
  • 24/7 Online Access to Your Account
  • Nationwide Program though not yet available in NY, IA, AR, or WI ** See Card Terms.
  • Get a fresh start! A discharged bankruptcy still in your credit bureau file will not cause you to be declined.
  • Click here for rates and fees.
★★★

3.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
9 minutes 19.99% (V) Yes 7.5/10

Obtaining The First Progress Platinum Elite Mastercard® Secured Credit Card is easy and fast. Of the three similar cards offered by this issuer, this one has the lowest annual fee and the highest APR.

Your refundable deposit of $200 to $2,000 secures your credit line. You can cut a week off this card’s delivery time by requesting Expedited Processing Service, something to consider if you are dealing with an emergency.

  • Receive Your Card More Quickly with New Expedited Processing Option
  • No Credit History or Minimum Credit Score Required for Approval
  • Quick and Complete Online Application; No credit inquiry required!
  • Includes Free Real-Time Access to Your Credit Score and Ongoing Credit Monitoring powered by Experian
  • Full-Feature Platinum Mastercard® Secured Credit Card; Try our new Mobile App for Android users!
  • Good for Car Rental, Hotels; Anywhere Credit Cards Are Accepted!
  • Monthly Reporting to all 3 Major Credit Bureaus to Establish Credit History
  • Credit Line Secured by Your Fully-Refundable Deposit of $200 -- $2,000 Submitted with Application
  • Just Pay Off Your Balance and Receive Your Deposit Back at Any Time
  • 24/7 Online Access to Your Account
  • Nationwide Program though not yet available in NY, IA, AR, or WI ** See Card Terms.
  • Get a fresh start! A discharged bankruptcy still in your credit bureau file will not cause you to be declined.
  • Click here for rates and fees.
★★★

3.0

Overall Rating

Application Length Interest Rate Reports Monthly Reputation Score
8 minutes 9.99% (V) Yes 7.5/10

The First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard® Secured Credit Card has the lowest APR and highest annual fee among this issuer’s trio of similar cards. That seems like the best trade-off since, in this case, the APR reduction is more substantial than is the increase in the annual fee.

To qualify for this card, you must be a U.S. resident, at least 18 years old, and have a valid Social Security number. The card is not available in Arkansas, Iowa, New York, and Wisconsin.

A Personal Loan Can Put Money in Your Account Tomorrow

Credit cards usually take a week or longer to receive in the mail, so a personal emergency loan may be a better option for funds needed quickly. These three companies are networks that can find you a personal loan provider quickly and for free.

They all specialize in serving consumers with bad credit, offering an alternative to expensive options like a payday loan.

  • Short-term loans up to $5,000
  • Online marketplace of lenders
  • Funds available in as few as 24 hours
  • Simple online form takes less than 5 minutes
  • Trusted by more than 2 million customers
  • Not available in NY or CT
  • Click here for official site, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.8

Overall Rating

Loan Amount Interest Rate Loan Term Loan Example
Up to $5,000 Varies Varies

See representative example

MoneyMutual can quickly arrange a personal loan of up to $2,500, whatever your credit score. The service works fast — you fill out a short loan request form and submit it for prequalification. It swiftly completes the prequalification process and pairs you with a direct lender without a time-consuming hard credit check.

If the lender approves your loan application, you can receive your money as soon as the next business day. To prequalify, you must be age18 or older, receive a reliable income of at least $800 per month, and have a bank account. As with all loans, review the terms and conditions carefully before accepting the offer.

CashUSA.com can help arrange a loan with a repayment period of up to 72 months. It takes only a few minutes to fill out and submit the online loan request form. If you successfully prequalify, CashUSA.com will transfer you to the website of a direct lender where you complete the application process and receive an immediate decision.

To prequalify, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, at least 18 years old, with a valid email address, home/work phone numbers, and a checking account. In addition, you must receive an after-tax income of at least $1,000 per month. Completed loans are funded in as little as one business day.

BillsHappen can find you an online lender in a matter of minutes. To prequalify, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, 18 years or older, with a valid Social Security number, checking account, and reliable income. If you are approved for a loan, look to receive the proceeds as early as the next business day.

You can use BillsHappen® to borrow between $500 and $5,000. The lender-matching service is free and fast. When you’re paired with a direct lender, you’ll learn the interest rate, fees, and other important terms before you sign the loan agreement.

Can I Get a Credit Card with Bad Credit?

The 11 credit cards in this review are all available to consumers with bad credit. In the U.S., 16% of Americans have FICO scores that are considered bad (i.e., below 580). The millions of Americans in this category want credit cards as much as anyone else, and good old competition ensures that this audience will be served.

Naturally, the issuers of cards geared toward those with bad credit take credit risk into account when designing their products. The resulting cards usually share the following characteristics:

  • High APRs: It is common for these cards to have APRs between 24.99% and 35.99%, although outliers exist on either side. APRs this high can be an expensive feature if you usually carry a credit card balance over multiple months. You may be able to find a lower APR by limiting your credit card choices to secured cards.
  • High fees: Several cards designed for really poor credit add extra fees as a cushion against higher default risk. These may include a so-called program fee, which is simply a signup charge, in addition to the card’s annual fee. Another add-on fee is a monthly maintenance charge that is usually waived for the first year. These are nuisance fees augmenting the more common ones, such as those for cash advances, foreign transactions, extra cards, and late/returned payments. Consumers with bad credit should take the time to check out all the fees as disclosed in the mandatory Schumer Box and fine print that each card must provide, usually via a link called Rates and Terms.
  • Tight credit limits: Bad credit card issuers control their potential losses by keeping credit limits small, often as low as $200 to $300 before subtracting out the annual fee. Secured cards may allow higher initial limits, but of course, these must be backed by mirroring cash deposits. Over time, you may be able to increase your credit limit by scrupulously paying your bills on time every month.
  • Limited rewards and benefits: Many of these cards offer no rewards for purchases and few benefits beyond fraud protection. You certainly won’t find many signup bonuses or 0% introductory APR promotions. Some cards in this group buck the trend by offering cash back or point rewards and perhaps some extra benefits, making them more desirable but also harder to get.
  • Reporting to all three credit bureaus: The issuers of these cards know that many in their target audience want to rebuild their credit. Therefore, they often provide payment reporting to all three of the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Contrast this to the single credit bureau reporting common in better-quality credit cards.

You can get a good sense of a card’s value proposition by reading the summaries and comments in our reviews. You can then click on a link to receive more information about the card and apply for prequalification (without hurting your credit score).

The more time you put into upfront research, the better the chances that you’ll end up with the card that works best in your unique circumstances.

How Can I Get a Credit Card ASAP?

Most credit cards are sent out by snail mail and take seven to 10 days to arrive. Some cards offer expedited or overnight delivery, often charging a pretty penny for the service. (One exception is Discover, which sends out all cards via expedited service that takes three to five days).

Naturally, the faster you can get approval, the faster you can get your mitts on the card. With today’s online prequalification and application procedures, it’s not unusual to receive final approval in 15 minutes or less, and certainly within one day. Once approved, you may be able to negotiate a faster delivery, either through an extra fee or a heartfelt plea.

Virtual cards provide instant use without waiting for delivery of the physical card. A virtual card is a special card number that you can use until the real card arrives. You can use this special card number to make card-not-present purchases online and/or in-app.

In some cases, you’ll be issued one virtual account number for general use until you get your card. However, some virtual cards are set up for a single-use or single merchant, making them more secure but also a bigger hassle — you need to obtain a new virtual account number for each purchase or merchant.

Keep in mind that only a handful of issuers, such as Capital One (via its virtual Eno assistant) Chase, American Express, and Citi, offer virtual credit cards.

Capital One Eno Virtual NumbersMost digital wallets also provide virtual account numbers, but you can only use them if you already know the card’s real account number. That’s not much help if the issuer won’t give you the real account number when it approves your application, making you wait for the card to physically arrive.

If you have a need for an emergency credit card, one with a virtual account number is your quickest solution. However, if you want the card to get a cash advance, check to see if that’s permitted with the issuer’s virtual cards.

Where Can I Get Money For an Emergency if I Have Bad Credit?

Online personal loans are one of the fastest ways to get money quickly, and a personal loan costs much less than a payday loan. The three loan services reviewed above are happy to work with subprime borrowers to arrange personal loans, and the money is often available in your checking account as soon as the next business day.

The three companies have you complete a short loan request form — it takes less than 10 minutes. They then immediately query their networks for willing lenders. You may be able to receive final approval in as little as half an hour (or less) after starting the process.

Smaller loans are the easiest to get. The amount available to you will depend on your credit score, current financial condition, past financial problems, and other factors. This is one good reason to repair your credit score whenever you can, hopefully before an emergency arises.

Personal loans are a type of installment loan, meaning you pay a fixed amount each month for a set number of months. The fixed amount consists of principal and interest, but the proportions can vary over time. That is, earlier installments may be frontloaded with interest (the lender’s profit) while the later installments are mostly principal — this is an amortizing loan.

Always check the terms and conditions of a personal loan for prepayment penalties. These tend to be rare, but if they are present, you’ll find it hard to justify the early payoff. For example, some lenders may require you to pay the full interest amount of the loan when you prepay.

You can also get money quickly through a credit card cash advance. Of course, it’s much faster if you already own the card. The maximum amount available to you is limited by your credit limit and current credit balance.

Credit Card Cash Advance

Bear in mind that many cards set a cash advance limit below your overall credit limit. For example, one issuer may allow cash advances of up to 30% of your credit limit, while another may allow advances of up to 100%. Cash advances incur interest from Day 1, and their relatively high APRs encourage you to repay them as quickly as possible.

If you don’t already have a credit card, cash advances will have to wait until you receive one (unless the issuer will allow an advance beforehand). Also, some cards do not allow cash advances to new cardholders, requiring a waiting time of up to 95 days.

If you happen to own your home and have equity in it, consider opening a home equity line of credit (HELOC) This is a revolving account much like a credit card, except that it’s secured by the equity in your home. If you have a HELOC, you can write checks up to the credit limit without first obtaining permission.

Another source of quick money is the equity in your car. You can perform a cash-out refinance relatively quickly by using an online car lending network that works with local car dealers — you may be able to complete the loan in a couple of days.

The problem with asset-backed loans is that you could lose your collateral by defaulting on your payments. Personal loans and credit card cash advances (from unsecured cards) do not require collateral.

Which is the Easiest Credit Card to Be Approved For?

Secured credit cards are far easier to obtain should you have bad credit. Unlike unsecured cards, these are backed by collateral — a cash deposit you make that’s equal to the card’s credit limit. Credit card companies undertake much less risk when they issue secured cards since the cash deposit outweighs the applicant’s credit score.

If you held a secured card, the issuer would use your cash deposit in cases where you missed a payment or overspent your credit limit. Specifically, the issuer would draw from your deposit to recoup its money and reduce, at least temporarily, your credit limit accordingly. You would also be hit with penalty fees and, if applicable, a penalty APR.

Multiple infractions would no doubt cause the issuer to cancel your account and return any remaining deposit money not already forfeited. All of this would appear on your credit report and your credit score would suffer. You are thus highly incentivized to make timely payments and observe your credit limits.

The two secured cards in this review both come from First Progress. Of the two, we give a slight preference to the First Progress Platinum Elite Mastercard® Secured Credit Card due to its lower annual fee.

However, if you plan to stretch payments over multiple months, you will probably prefer the First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard® Secured Credit Card, since its APR is much lower.

Prepaid cards are also easy to get, but they are NOT credit cards. They are much closer to debit cards since they draw from the money you already have on deposit. Unlike secured cards, prepaid cards extend no credit when you make purchases — you simply are using a convenient substitute for cash and checks.

Whereas a bank debit card uses money from your checking account to pay for purchases, a prepaid card uses cash you deposited into the card’s account. Prepaid cards are popular with unbanked individuals since they don’t require you to have a banking relationship of any kind.

Prepaid vs Credit Cards

The two prepaid cards in this review, the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® and the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card, are similar in convenience and functionality.

The PayPal card is a natural choice for consumers who have PayPal accounts, as it allows you to transfer funds back and forth. The Netspend card has flexible payment options that let you choose between monthly and pay-as-you-go fees.

A store credit card or student cards are also easy to obtain. Students don’t need a credit history to get student cards, and many of these cards offer rewards on purchases. A store credit card is easy to get but it usually can be used only at the issuing store chain. Other types of cards, such as a business credit card, are harder to get and usually require higher credit scores.

The unsecured cards reviewed above are relatively easier to get compared with the universe of all unsecured cards. They are aimed at consumers with bad credit who want to prequalify in only a few minutes. However, a secured card is still easier to get than it is to obtain even the simplest unsecured card.

Can I Get an Unsecured Card with a 500 Credit Score?

It’s difficult but not impossible to get an unsecured card with a credit score as low as 500. When you’re saddled with a really bad score, you need to overcome some significant hurdles to have your application approved. These include high fees, possibly including ones for simply accepting the card, and monthly maintenance fees not found on better cards.

Our top pick in this category is the Surge Mastercard®. It is festooned with fees of just about every type while offering few benefits and a low maximum credit limit. These characteristics are what make the card easy to obtain.

The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® For Rebuilding Credit is probably harder to get, but well worth the effort due to its cash back rewards and other perks not found on other unsecured cards in this group. It does no harm to your credit score when you attempt to prequalify for this card, and the fees are less oppressive than those of some of its competitors.

Which Credit Cards Give You Instant Approval?

All cards nowadays offer fast approval, seldom taking longer than half an hour. The initial prequalification step can be completed in 10 minutes or less, and subsequent approval requires not much additional time.

In marginal cases, the decision may be delayed, but will seldom spill into the next business day.

It takes longer to get a secured card because of the time required to transmit and deposit security money. While the process is slower, approval is much more likely.

What’s the Difference Between Secured and Unsecured?

Secured credit is backed by collateral that can be cashed in to make a creditor whole if a debtor defaults on an obligation to pay. In the case of credit cards, the collateral is cash deposited into a special account maintained by the credit card company. Other types of secured credit include mortgages and car loans.

Unsecured credit is not guaranteed by collateral. Creditors must rely on the creditworthiness of borrowers, although they can go to court to try and collect unpaid debts.

The following chart summarizes the differences between secured and unsecured credit cards:

Secured vs Unsecured Cards

If you have bad credit, you will find it harder to obtain unsecured credit, but it’s not impossible.

What Interest Rate and Fees Will I Pay for a Credit Card?

The interest rates on credit cards usually range from 9.99% to 35.99%. The lowest rates are usually reserved for secured cards, but surprisingly some secured cards have above-average rates. For unsecured cards, rates vary by credit score, as summarized in the following chart:

Credit Card APRs

Higher APRs can potentially inflict significantly greater costs on credit card consumers, but only in situations where interest is charged:

  • Stretched payments: One obvious benefit of credit cards (as opposed to debit, charge, and prepaid cards) is your ability to stretch payments over multiple payment periods. For example, you may want to stretch the payments over 24 months for a big-ticket purchase costing $5,000. You’d pay $620 in interest if your APR were 13%, but you’d have to fork over nearly $1,300 with a 23% APR. If you instead paid the bill entirely in the first month, you’d avoid all interest charges. Most credit cards grant you a grace period during which you can avoid interest charges by paying your entire account balance. Grace periods usually run from 21 to 25 days following the period end date (also called the statement date). The payment due date is the last day of the grace period. Once in a while, you’ll come across a credit card that offers no grace period. In this case, you start accruing interest on the purchase transaction date unless you also pay for a purchase on the same date. This kind of card is dangerous, even if it does offer a lower-than-average APR because interest can build up quickly.
  • Cash advances: A cash advance is a quick loan against your credit card’s credit limit. Actually, many cards impose a cash advance credit limit well below that for purchases. Cash advances never get the benefit of a grace period and may charge a higher APR than that for purchases. With bad credit, you can expect to pay an APR of at least 29.9% on cash advances.
  • Balance transfers: Many cards offer a balance transfer feature in which you can consolidate your various credit card balances onto one card. The APR for balance transfers usually matches that for purchases, but grace periods do not apply.

Better credit cards may offer 0% introductory APR promotions on purchases and/or balance transfers for periods of at least six months following account opening. Some cards offer these promotions for 18 months or longer, but you will seldom see any of these promotions from cards aimed at consumers with bad credit.

As for fees, credit cards can stack them up pretty high, something you typically see in cards for bad credit. Here for example are the fees charged by one such card that happens to have a purchase APR of 34.99%:

  • Setup fee, $95: This is a one-time fee assessed when you open the credit card account.
  • Annual fee, $75 first year, $48 thereafter: This is a fee also charged at account opening and recurs every year on the anniversary date.
  • Monthly service fee, $6.25/month: This fee typically is waived for the first year. Only found on cards targeting consumers with bad credit.
  • Cash advance fee, the greater of 3% or $10: Another fee that is typically waived for the first year. Note that some cards do not permit cash advances in the first 90+ days after account opening.
  • Penalty fees, up to $40: These fees apply for late or returned payments and when you exceed your credit limit. A few cards may waive the fee for the first offense.
  • Additional card fee, $29: The card issuer will demand this fee if you want an additional card, say for an authorized user. The amount is prorated for the first year based on when the additional card is issued.
  • Credit limit increase fee, 20%: If you are given a credit limit increase, be prepared to cough up 20% of the increase as a fee.
  • Express delivery fee, $35: The fee charged for express delivery of the card in approximately two to three days. Overnight delivery, if available, would cost substantially more.
  • Copying fee, $3 per page: A charge when you need a paper copy of a monthly billing statement or another document.
  • Foreign transaction fee, 1%: Some cards do not permit foreign transactions, and some cards waive this fee entirely.

If you have good credit, you should be able to get a credit card that waives many of these fees. Make sure you read all the terms and conditions before agreeing to accept the card offer.

What If My Approved Credit Limit is Too Low?

You can ask for a higher credit limit, but usually, you must wait at least six months after account opening. You need to demonstrate during that time that you are creditworthy by paying your bills on time and keeping your balance low. You should aim for a credit utilization ratio (total credit used divided by total credit authorized) below 30%, and you should not apply for more cards during the waiting period.

Many cards aimed at consumers with bad credit will automatically review your account and possibly offer you a credit limit increase. In addition, issuers of secured cards may decide to refund your security deposit after a suitable period, converting your card to unsecured.

A higher spending limit increases the convenience of your card. For example, you may want to pay for a fancy vacation or even a wedding using your credit card. It’s easier to do so on a single card than to split the expense over several, each one requiring its own minimum monthly payment.

The flip side of a high credit limit is that you have the potential to fall into deeper debt. If you have trouble controlling your use of credit, you can request a low credit limit (or simply cut up your credit cards and live the debit lifestyle).

How Can I Use a Credit Card to Build Credit?

Most cards designed for subprime consumers report your payment activity to at least one credit bureau, but often all three. The information gleaned by this process helps to set your FICO score and to rebuild your credit. The following chart shows the factors going into FICO’s score calculation:

How Scores Are Calculated

Paying your bills on time is the most important factor in rebuilding your score because 35% of your FICO score stems from your credit history. The rule is simple enough: On-time payments help your score, late payments hurt.

Usually, payments aren’t reported unless they are more than 30 days late. Collections, write-offs, and bankruptcies can crush your score for up to 10 years.

As mentioned earlier, keeping your total outstanding debt under 30% of your combined available credit limits is another important factor. Lenders and creditors like to see a debt-to-credit ratio of 30% or below. The other factors are minor, but they do offer guidance regarding your credit cards:

  • Length of credit history (15%): Do not close old credit card accounts, because this will reduce the average age of your accounts, which is a negative indicator.
  • New credit (10%): When you apply for a new card, the credit card company will conduct a hard pull of your credit report, which shaves five to 10 points off your score for up to one year. Refrain from new applications when you’re trying to rebuild your credit.
  • Types of credit (10%): You’ll be mildly rewarded by having a wide mix of credit types beyond credit cards.

Treat your credit cards with respect, and they’ll eventually reward you by lifting your credit score and improving your access to a more comfortable lifestyle.

Research Emergency Credit Cards for Bad Credit Before Applying

Our review identifies 11 credit cards that you should be able to obtain quickly, even if your credit is bad. You can connect to any of them by clicking the Apply Here link and reading the card’s terms and conditions. You can also prequalify for most cards without hurting your credit score, which will prevent you from wasting time on cards beyond your reach.

Whichever cards or loans you choose, it’s always a good idea to create an emergency fund before the unexpected occurs. Financial professionals advise putting aside enough money to pay four to six months of expenses. You may dislike this kind of sacrifice now, but it could be a real lifesaver sometime down the road.

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