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. Some of these products function like traditional credit cards, while others are more akin to charge cards.
But the point is that even if you have bad credit, limited credit or no credit at all, you have options — and some may be easier to get than you think.
Consider these alternative credit cards.
Using a credit card regularly and responsibly offers a quick and effective way to build credit. By paying on time, keeping a low balance and maintaining an open account, you can establish a good track record.
» MORE: How to build credit fast
Best alternative credit cards
Best for no credit
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
Petal's issuing bank, WebBank, might not rely solely on credit scores to determine who qualifies for this credit card. It can use a “machine-learning” underwriting model that considers such things as applicants' income, expenses, savings and debts. The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card reports your payments to the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. These companies record the information used to calculate your credit scores.
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, overlimit 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.
If you don’t have a strong enough cash flow or credit history to qualify for this card, then the Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card might be an option. It, too, has no annual fee or security deposit — though it offers less robust rewards, a higher potential APR and a lower possible credit limit. (It's also possible to incur fees with this version of the card, though they're avoidable with responsible use.) Read here to see which Petal card is right for you.
Best for fair or limited credit
Mission Lane Cash Back Visa® Credit Card
The Mission Lane Cash Back Visa® Credit Card is a no-deposit, $0-annual-fee credit card for fair credit or above (FICO scores of at least 630). It earns either 1% or 1.5% cash back on all purchases, depending on your card's terms, and it helps you build credit by reporting payments to all three major credit bureaus.
Factors beyond just credit scores are reviewed to determine your eligibility. For instance, payment history, income, credit usage and debts are taken into account. You may also be asked to provide copies of W-2s, pay stubs or benefits documents to verify your income. The company considers whether you’re eligible for a credit limit increase at least once within the first 12 months of opening the account.
If you have only poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or lower), you may qualify for a different version of this product, called the Mission Lane Visa® Credit Card. Unlike the cash-back version, this one doesn’t earn rewards, and you may owe an annual fee of $0-$59. When you go through Mission Lane's pre-qualification process, you'll learn which offer you're eligible for.
AvantCard Credit Card
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. It's issued by WebBank, but as of this writing the card may not be available in every U.S. state.
For a $39 annual fee, you’ll get a card that reports to all three major U.S. credit bureaus. It 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 range from $300 to $2,000, which is on the lower end compared with some alternative credit cards.
It's not a bad choice for those with thin credit files, but if you have at least fair credit, better options are available.
Best for poor credit
Grow Credit Mastercard
The Grow Credit Mastercard, issued by Sutton Bank, is ideal for those with no credit or poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or below). It's a virtual card that allows you to build credit while paying for qualifying monthly subscriptions that include eligible bills, TV, music and other streaming services. It's one of the few decent cards that don’t require a credit check. Instead, the company has its own proprietary technology that looks at income to evaluate creditworthiness. To weigh that information, Grow Credit requires that you link a bank account.
You can choose one of four membership plans, depending on eligibility. Each one has a different price point, a different monthly spending limit, and different subscriptions that are covered. For instance, the free membership plan allows you to build credit with subscriptions like Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime and others. The paid membership plans include "premium" subscriptions, allowing you to build credit with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile payments, among others.
The Grow Credit Mastercard functions like a credit card in some ways, but you're not free to spend on any purchase. You can charge only those specific subscription transactions. The line of credit itself is small, but payments are reported to all three major credit bureaus.
The card doesn't allow you to carry a balance from month to month either, and as a result it doesn't charge interest or fees (beyond what you might owe for one of the paid membership plans).
Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card
The Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card offers some of the buffers you may need when you’re getting a first or second chance at building credit. And while technically it's a secured card, it lacks some of the obstacles that come with many products in that class.
For instance, you don’t have to undergo a hard credit check or pay a minimum security deposit upfront. Chime can look at income to determine whether you’re eligible for the card. To do this, it requires you to have a Chime Spending Account and at least $200 in direct deposits made to that account within the past 365 days.
The money you move from that Chime Spending Account to the Credit Builder secured account determines the amount you can spend with the card. That money can also be used to pay off your balance. When you make a payment, it’s reported to all three major credit bureaus.
Also unlike many other secured credit cards, this card doesn’t allow you to carry a balance from one month to another, and it doesn’t charge interest or fees.
On July 6, 2021, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica reported that Chime customers had their accounts closed without notice, leaving them without access to funds. In ProPublica’s report, Chime said many account closures were linked to fraud, but it also admitted that several of the closures had been mistakes. If your account is closed by Chime or other neobanks without notice, there are some steps you can take to potentially remedy the situation. Act quickly by contacting the neobank to explain the situation. And, if you aren't helped by the neobank, you may file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Varo Believe Secured Credit Card
The Varo Believe Secured Credit Card requires a security deposit, but you get to choose the amount. That kind of flexibility makes it possible to build credit without straying from your budget. It does report to all three major credit bureaus, but doesn't work exactly like a traditional credit card. For instance, it doesn’t charge interest or fees since you can't carry a balance. And there's no hard credit check when you apply.
To qualify, you need a Varo bank account that has received direct deposits of at least $500 in the past 90 days. You can only spend as much as you deposit in the secured account, so you can't rack up debt. Cardholders will also have a chance to snag incentives through Varo’s online offers when they shop with select retailers.
Best for no Social Security number
Tomo Credit Card
The Tomo Credit Card, created by San Francisco-based startup TomoCredit, never conducts a credit check, even when reviewing an application. Instead, the company’s proprietary technology weighs many data points including your income, or income potential, and your account balances. (You must link your bank account.) The bank that issues the card, New York-based Community Federal Savings Bank, uses this data to determine whether you’re eligible.
There’s no security deposit, annual fee or even APR — the Tomo Credit Card doesn't let you carry a balance. If you lack a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, it's possible to apply with a passport.
The Tomo Credit Card reports payments to the three major credit bureaus.
» MORE: Review of the Tomo Card
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, the United Kingdom, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland.
Other alternative credit card options may also be on the horizon. It's still a relatively new market with plenty of room for other companies.
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