Can’t Get a Credit Card? Try These Alternative Options

Startup issuers are exploring new ways of evaluating creditworthiness beyond FICO scores and credit history.

Melissa LambarenaJune 17, 2020
Can't Get a Credit Card? Try These Alternative Options

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Getting a credit card without a credit history can present many obstacles if you can’t meet the requirements imposed by the traditional FICO scoring model. Secured credit cards are sometimes an option, but they require an upfront deposit and might not work for everyone.

Alternative credit card issuers are trying to bridge this gap by using their own nontraditional underwriting standards to assess creditworthiness based on factors such as income, employment and bank account information.

The upshot: Even if you have limited credit or no credit at all, you have options. Consider these alternative credit cards.

Top alternative credit cards

  • Deserve® Pro Mastercard

  • Petal® Visa® Credit Card

  • Jasper Mastercard®

  • AvantCard Credit Card

  • Other options

Deserve® Pro Mastercard

Qualify with little or no credit

The Deserve® Pro Mastercard is for professionals and new immigrants — those with L-1, O-1 or H-1B visas and green cards — who meet certain income and employment verification requirements. You can qualify with little or no credit as long as you have a Social Security number. Deserve uses its own underwriting model to determine creditworthiness for the card, evaluating things like financial documents, contact information, income, employment and U.S. bank account balances to determine your ability to pay.

The Deserve® Pro Mastercard offers a credit limit of up to $10,000, depending on eligibility. Its annual fee is $0, and it earns rewards: 3% cash back per $1 spent on travel and entertainment and 2% cash back at restaurants (on up to $500 in combined spending on 3% and 2% categories per billing cycle), plus 1% back on all other purchases.

As a Mastercard, it also makes an ideal travel companion, with broad international acceptance and no foreign transaction fees.

Nerd tip: Deserve offers three credit cards. If you’re not approved for the Deserve® Pro Mastercard, you might be considered for the $0-annual-fee Deserve Classic, which doesn’t earn rewards but can help you establish credit. If you’re a student, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students offers rewards and a $0 annual fee. International students don't need a Social Security number to apply for it.

Petal® Visa® Credit Card

Qualify with no credit

Petal's issuing bank might not rely solely on credit scores to determine who qualifies for its credit card. It can use a “machine-learning” underwriting model that considers such things as applicants' income, expenses, savings and debts. The Petal® Visa® Credit Card reports your payments to the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, allowing you to build a credit history.

The card does not require a security deposit and even offers a cash-back rewards program. The annual fee is $0, and you won't be charged late fees, over-limit fees or foreign transaction fees. (The card does not allow cash advances or balance transfers.)

You must be a U.S. resident with a valid Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number to qualify.

Nerd tip: In response to the COVID-19 economy, the Petal® Visa® Credit Card has temporarily returned to an invite-only application process. Applications are only available by invitation to a limited number of applicants who can meet certain requirements. You can submit your email address on Petal’s website to receive an update when the application process reopens.

Jasper Mastercard®

Qualify with no credit and no Social Security number

The $0*-annual-fee Jasper Mastercard® targets working professionals who are new to credit. It doesn’t require a credit score or credit history, or even a Social Security number upfront in some cases (although you must report one within 60 days of activating the card).

Applicants without a Social Security number must provide passport and visa information, along with proof of income in the U.S. The issuer evaluates applicants using factors such as debt-to-income ratio. The Jasper Mastercard® doesn’t earn rewards, but no security deposit is required. It offers a credit limit of up to $5,000, depending on eligibility. (Note: As of this writing, the Jasper Mastercard® reports only to Equifax and TransUnion, meaning activity on your account wouldn’t show up in credit scores or reports pulled from the other credit bureau, Experian.)

AvantCard Credit Card

Qualify with limited or fair credit

The AvantCard Credit Card requires that you have some credit history established, at least limited or fair credit. It weighs that factor along with your income and debt to determine eligibility. (Note that this product isn't available in Colorado, Iowa, Vermont, West Virginia or Wisconsin.)

For a $39 annual fee, you’ll get a card that reports to all three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. The AvantCard doesn't earn rewards, but it will save you money on foreign transaction fees, and you don't have to pay a security deposit. As a Mastercard, it will also be widely accepted by merchants abroad. Credit limits can go as high as $1,000, which is on the lower end compared with other alternative credit cards. But the issuer may review your account periodically to determine your eligibility for a higher credit limit.

It's not a bad choice for those with thin credit files, but if you have at least fair credit, better options are available.

Other options

American Express credit cards could also be options for immigrants and expats in the United States with no Social Security number and no credit history here.

Typically, any credit history you may have built in your native country will not follow you to the U.S. But in late 2019, AmEx teamed up with international credit-reporting startup Nova Credit to launch a feature that can translate eligible international credit reports from qualifying countries into U.S.-equivalent credit reports.

The feature is currently limited to credit reports from qualifying credit bureaus in Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

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