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The best credit cards for people with bad credit

Conventional wisdom may lead you to believe that if you have bad credit, you should swear off credit cards. However, if you want to improve your credit score, you’ll have to prove you can handle credit responsibly, and one way to do that is—you guessed it—to have a credit card. When used responsibly, having and using a credit card can actually be a helpful tool to assist in rebuilding bad credit. While a low credit score might limit which credit card you can qualify for, luckily, there are a whole host of products catered to people in this situation. These cards often come with higher interest rates and lower spending limits; however, they can be a good starting point to re-establishing a respectable credit score. This in turn will help you get approved down the line for loans, a line of credit or even a mortgage. Some of these cards even earn you rewards, too.

Card Details Annual fee
Plastk Secured Visa
(get more details)
*
• Points on every purchase
• Min. deposit: $300
• Secured card
• 17.99% APR
$120*
Neo Card (Secured)
(get more details) *
• Up to 15% cash back at Neo partner stores
• Min. deposit: $50
• Secured card
• 19.99% APR
$0
Home Trust Secured Visa
(get more details)
*
• Min. deposit: $500
• Secured card
• 14.90% APR
$59
Capital One Low Rate Guaranteed Mastercard • Secured card
• 14.99% APR
$59
BMO Air Miles Mastercard for students • Earn up to 3 miles per $25 spent
• 20.99% APR
$0
Scotiabank Momentum No-Fee Visa (get more details) * • Earn 1% cash back on select purchases
• 19.99% APR
$0

*The Plastk Secured Visa has a $48 annual fee and a $6 monthly maintenance fee.

Secured vs. unsecured vs. prepaid credit cards

A poor credit history will limit the cards available to you, but that ’s not to say you don’t have much choice. For starters, when using a credit card to rebuild your credit score, you’ll first need to choose between a secured and an unsecured card. A secured credit card is offered on the condition that you “secure” it with collateral, usually in the form of a refundable deposit that can be claimed by the lender if you default on your payments. These cards are marketed directly to those with bad credit, so they have an easier approval process and come with no frills. And lenders report back your activity to the credit bureau, which builds up your score as you continue to repay responsibly. With a prepaid card, the credit limit is directly based on the holder’s deposit.

While not generally available to those with bad credit, unsecured cards are occasionally offered to consumers with “fair” credit scores—generally in the 600 to 650 range. As the name suggests, an unsecured card doesn’t require a deposit. Plus, unlike secured cards, many unsecured cards offer rewards (think points or cash back, which is a nice perk, isn’t it?). That said, they can command tougher approval requirements than unsecured cards. And like all contracts, it’s always a good idea to read the fine print when selecting your card.


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Plastk Secured Visa Credit Card *

plastk secured visa

At a glance: The Plastk Secured Visa offers users with poor credit a tidy package with a welcome bonus, the ability to earn rewards, credit tracking features and a below-average interest rate. Although the $48 annual fee is modest, users will have to pay $6 monthly to maintain their account, bringing the total annual cost to $120.

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Interest rate: purchases 17.99%, cash advances 21.99%
  • Minimum deposit: $300
  • Income requirements: None
  • Welcome offer : Customers get 5000 Rewards Points ≈ $20.00 redeemable after 3 months*.
  • Additional benefits: Earn referral credits; comes with zero fraud liability

Pros

  • Earn points which you can use to pay off your credit card bill.
  • Earn 1,250 points (a $5 value) when you make a referral.
  • Get a 0% interest rate on purchases for the first 3 months, which gives you extra time interest-free.
  • The purchase interest rate of 17.99% is lower than with most regular cards.

Cons

  • The monthly maintenance fee on the account is an additional $72 annually, so along with the $48 annual fee, users pay $120.
  • This card charges a 4.5% currency conversion fee on purchases made in foreign currencies. Most regular cards charge between 2.5% and 3%.
  • If you fail to make the minimum payment for two consecutive months or twice in a calendar year, your interest rate increases to 29.99%.

Best secured credit card for rewards

Neo Card (Secured) *

At a glance: You can start using the no-annual-fee Neo Card (Secured) with a deposit of as little as $50, and it has a cash back program that can get you an average of 5% cash back for purchases at partner businesses. You can subscribe to optional “Bundles” that give you the ability to make your card more suited to your spending habits, with boosted rewards and various perks like insurance.

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Interest rate: purchases 19.99% (19.99% to 25.49% for Quebec residents)
  • Minimum deposit: $50
  • Income requirements: None
  • Welcome offer : New customers get $25 cash back after signing up and being approved for the card. Conditions apply.
  • Additional benefits: Access to optional Bundles; Insights lets you track your spending

Pros

  • Tailor the card to your needs using customizable Bundles.
  • Earn unlimited cash back on your purchases.
  • Open a Neo account without a hard credit check, which means you won’t damage your credit score further.
  • This is a guaranteed approval credit card.

Cons

  • You’ll have to shop with partners to get the most cash back.
  • There are almost no extras with this card unless you subscribe to a Bundle.

Best secured credit card for low interest

Home Trust Secured Visa Low Interest Option *

At a glance: The low interest option Home Trust Secured Visa has a 14.90% interest rate when you pay an annual fee of $59—a sum that can be well worth it if you’re carrying a balance. You can deposit as little as $500 or up to $10,000 to your account and that amount becomes your card’s spending limit. This card reports back to the credit agencies, so it can be used to build or boost your credit.

  • Annual fee: $59
  • Interest rate: purchases 14.9%
  • Minimum deposit: $500
  • Income requirements: None
  • Additional benefits: Zero Liability protection

Pros

  • You can pay your annual fee in a lump sum or installments.
  • Cardholders can choose between an annual fee of $59 and a 14.90% interest rate or no annual fee and a 19.99% interest rate.

Cons

  • There’s a $12 additional fee for accounts that are inactive for a year.
  • This card doesn’t have any extras or perks.
  • Not available to residents of Quebec.

Best credit card for bad credit

Capital One Guaranteed Secured Mastercard

Capital One Guaranteed Secured Mastercard

At a glance: You are guaranteed to be approved for the Capital One Guaranteed Secured Mastercard, as long as you’re of the age of majority in your province, you don’t have an existing Capital One account (or have applied for one in the past 30 days), and you haven’t had a Capital One account in bad standing in the past year. This card offers an effective way to build your credit—even if you have a low credit score—and even offers a few extras.

  • Annual fee: $59
  • Interest rate: 19.80% on purchases, 21.90% on cash advances, 19.80% on balance transfers
  • Minimum deposit: $75 (minimum, in security funds, up to a maximum of $300)
  • Income requirements: None
  • Additional benefits: Travel benefits including up to $250,000 in common carrier travel accident coverage and baggage delay; car rental collision/loss damage waiver; 24/7 travel assistance; price protection; purchase assurance and extended warranty

Pros

  • You’re guaranteed approval as long as you meet basic eligibility criteria.
  • Comes with some travel benefits, including common carrier travel accident coverage and car rental collision/loss damage waiver.

Cons

  • Comes with some travel insurance, but you’ll likely need to buy supplemental protection.

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BMO Air Miles Mastercard for Students

At a glance: With the BMO Air Miles Mastercard for Students, cardholders can earn Air Miles they can redeem for travel, merchandise or cash rewards. While this no-annual-fee card doesn’t offer anything in the way of extras, it does welcome new members with a healthy bonus of 800 Air Miles.

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Interest rate: purchases 20.99%, cash advances 22.99%, balance transfers 22.99%
  • Minimum deposit: None
  • Income requirements: None
  • Additional benefits: None

Pros

  • Earn 3 miles for every $25 spent at participating partners, 2 miles for every $25 spent at any eligible grocery store, and 1 mile for every $25 spent on everything else.
  • You can “double dip” using this card and your Air Miles card at sponsored locations to increase your Air Miles earned.

Cons

  • This card doesn’t come with any extras.

Best credit card for newcomers to Canada

Scotia Momentum No-Fee Visa *

At a glance: Newcomers often have no Canadian credit record which can hinder a person’s ability to apply for a loan or mortgage, or initiate a relationship with their bank. The Scotia Momentum No-Fee Visa remedies that with a no-fee card that earns cash back rewards and comes with a beefy welcome bonus to boot.

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Interest rate: purchases 19.99%, cash advances 22.99%, balance transfers 22.99%
  • Minimum deposit: None
  • Income requirements: $12,000
  • Welcome offer : Earn 5% cash back on all eligible purchases for the first three months (up to $2,000 total in purchases). Also, get a 0% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months. After that, the rate returns to 22.99%. Offer ends April 30, 2023.
  • Additional benefits: Up to 25% off base rates at participating Avis and Budget car rental locations

Pros

  • Transfer balances from other cards and pay no interest for six months.
  • Earn 1% cash back on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, drug stores and recurring payments, and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
  • Supplementary cards are free, so you can have family members or trusted friends on your account.

Cons

  • This card doesn’t offer any included insurance protections.
  • After six months of benefitting from 0% interest on balance transfers, the interest reverts to 22.99%.

How to get approved for a credit card with bad credit

Having a credit card and using it responsibly is a powerful way to repair your credit history and credit score. But you’ll have to be strategic with the card you choose to apply for. Expect to qualify for cards with fewer perks than the popular credit cards available , as well as less favourable terms or even cards that require a deposit. Once you begin establishing your creditworthiness, you can upgrade to a card with better rewards and terms .

There are several ways to go about getting a credit card if you have bad credit.

  1. Secured cards mitigate the risk for those with bad credit by attaching collateral, usually in the form of a monetary deposit that can be used to cover unpaid debt. There are many options (including the best credit cards for bad debt ), so you should be able to easily locate one that works for you.
  2. Unsecured cards do not require collateral so they can have a slightly higher threshold for qualification. Those with a fair rating may be able to get one. Aside from not requiring a deposit, these cards sometimes come with some perks like points or cash back.
  3. Pre-paid cards are what they sound like: Credit cards that you load with money prior to spending, rather than paying off your debt on a monthly basis. These cards are really useful for those who have trouble sticking to a budget, and because they have to be pre-loaded, you can’t overspend.
  4. No-frills cards are essentially stripped-down cards specifically tailored for those with bad credit. Many big banks offer these as part of their credit card range. These may not offer any perks and benefits but they can help you improve your financial picture.
  5. Smaller financial institutions frequently have special offers or unique products to try and attract new customers. If a big five bank won’t lend you money, try a lesser-known but trusted (and insured!) lender.
  6. Fintech , short for “financial technology,” is a broad term for any type of technology that’s used in place of traditional financial services—and it’s actually a burgeoning industry in Canada. Fintechs offer a wide variety of products and services, including secured credit cards, loans, credit building tools and budgeting tools. And many are specifically designed for people with bad credit history and scores.

Search for credit cards and personal loans. Once you’ve researched which cards you might qualify for… wait. Every application you send in will affect your credit score, so you want to be thoughtful about when and how you apply. Compare your options, paying close attention to fees, interest rates, repayment terms and available perks. When you’ve made your prioritized list, it’s time to submit your first application. And be completely honest with your application. Wait for the response before moving down your list. Most creditors have a very quick turnaround so it’s not worth making multiple submissions to only jeopardize your credit score.

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Your credit score is expressed as a number, generally between 300 and 900, that represents how credit-worthy you are. Meaning: how much of a risk you could pose to lenders or creditors to not pay them money back. Your score is affected by all sorts of variables including the amount of debt you carry, whether you repay in full and on time, and even how long your credit history is. The higher your credit score, the better.

Category Range
Poor 300 to 659
Good 660 to 724
Very good 725 to 759
Excellent 760 to 900

Credit scoring models do differ, so each institution can have its own metrics for what scores of “good” and “bad” are. But generally, a credit score of 760 and over is considered “excellent.” Scores between 660 and 759 are “good” or “very good.” And most lenders will accept the risk associated with these borrowers. If your credit score is below 660, you may have trouble finding a creditor—or if you do, the terms may not be optimal.

Just as your financial habits created your credit score, so they can improve it. Here are the five variables that most affect your credit score, with the most impactful first.

  1. Payment history refers to whether you pay your bills in full and on time, as well as if you’ve missed any payments and how long you were in arrears (had money owing).
  2. Debt load is the total amount of money you owe creditors, including credit cards, personal loans and mortgages.
  3. Types of credit you carry (such as credit cards, mortgages, personal or business loans, and retail accounts) affect your credit score. The more creditors you’re beholden to, the more of a risk you might pose to the financial institution.
  4. Loan applications affect your credit score too. E ach time you apply for credit, your score takes a small but temporary hit. This is because it signals to lending institutions that you need credit. This is completely normal and to be expected, but worth understanding so you don’t apply for multiple sources of credit, over a short period of time.
  5. Credit history counts too. You might think that if you’ve never applied for credit, your score would be perfect. But that’s wrong! Having a credit history is important as it shows lenders that you’re capable of repaying your debt. This is why you should apply for a credit card early, and use it responsibly.

Establishing your credit score as a newcomer to Canada

Unfortunately, if you’re a newcomer to Canada, your credit score from your home country won’t follow you here. As a result, your credit card choices may be more limited, but this also means you can start building a new score from scratch—which, for some, can be a positive. One approach is to use a secured card to help you get started, with the goal of graduating to a better, unsecured card.

Another way to build your Canadian credit score might be through a program for newcomers at one of the banks. For example, Scotiabank’s StartRight program is designed specifically for newcomers to Canada, providing access to credit, a savings account, no-fee international money transfers, and help from the bank’s financial advisors. Similarly, BMO’s NewStart Program can issue you a credit card, a bank account, a safety deposit box, and even mortgage options.

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