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 LambarenaMay 24, 2021
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.

Nerdy tip: 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.

Best alternative credit cards

Best for no credit

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

Petal 2 Credit Card
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Petal's issuing bank, WebBank, 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® 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, 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.

Nerdy tip: 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.) For more information, see our full review of the Petal® 1 "No Annual Fee" Visa® Credit Card.

Best for fair or limited credit

AvantCard Credit Card

AvantCard Credit Card
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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, too, is issued by WebBank. (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 major U.S. 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 company 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.

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 three 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 and is technically an installment loan for credit-building purposes. It’s reported that way 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 Secured credit card

Chime Credit Builder

The Chime Credit Builder Visa Secured 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, which allows you to establish credit.

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.

Tomo Card

The Tomo 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.

You'll earn rewards, and there’s no security deposit, annual fee or even APR — the Tomo 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 application process isn't as straightforward as with other cards and may take longer, but for those who can't qualify for other credit card options, it might be worth the wait.

The Tomo Card reports payments to the three major credit bureaus.

Best for no Social Security number

Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students
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The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is an excellent option for students who can’t qualify for a credit card because they lack a U.S. credit history.

International students may also qualify without a Social Security number. Deserve uses its own underwriting model to determine creditworthiness for the card, evaluating things like financial documents, contact information, income and U.S. bank account balances to determine your ability to pay.

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students earns an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases, a statement credit for a 12-month Amazon Prime Student subscription (up to $59) and a $30 statement credit every time you refer a friend who qualifies for the card. The card also reports to all three credit bureaus. The annual fee is $0.

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

Jasper Mastercard®

Jasper Mastercard®
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The $0*-annual-fee Jasper Mastercard® targets working professionals who are new to credit. Also issued by WebBank, 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 company evaluates applicants using factors such as debt-to-income ratio. The Jasper Mastercard® requires no security deposit and earns rewards of at least 1% cash back on all eligible purchases. It offers a credit limit of up to $5,000, depending on eligibility. The Jasper Mastercard® reports to all three credit bureaus.

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.

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. The X1 Card, for example, currently has a waitlist and has not yet officially launched. It vows to place more value on your income when evaluating creditworthiness. Once it starts accepting applications, it will conduct only a soft pull on credit reports instead of a hard inquiry.

Frequently asked questions

You can’t get a credit card if you’re under 18, have too much debt, lack enough income, or have credit scores that are too low to meet the credit card issuer's requirements. And in most cases, if you don't have a Social Security number, you won't be able to apply. Some alternative credit cards may allow you to sidestep some of these obstacles.

You have to be at least 18 to qualify, and even then there are a lot of other requirements to meet, especially for those under 21. For instance, you need to have enough income and meet the issuer’s credit requirements. The amount of debt you have in relation to your income is also considered. Most cards also require a Social Security number. With the right strategy, you can get approved for a credit card. By knowing your credit score and other factors, you can apply for credit cards that are within reach.

A credit card application may be denied if you have a short or spotty credit history or insufficient income. Too much debt may also be a red flag for a credit card issuer, as can the number of accounts you've opened recently. After getting denied a credit card, it’s important to understand why you were rejected. It can help you decide whether to apply for a credit card that’s more within your reach or hold off until you can improve your finances.

When your credit card application is denied, the rejection itself doesn’t hurt your credit scores, but the application process may cause a temporary drop in them. That's because lenders typically conduct a “hard inquiry” to check your credit when they're evaluating your application. But your scores can bounce back eventually with responsible credit use.

Easy credit cards to get approved for with no credit or bad credit include secured credit cards and alternative cards like the Chime Credit Builder Visa Secured credit card, Grow Credit Mastercard and Tomo Card. All of these options can help you build credit. For more about the easiest credit cards to get, see our guide.

When you don’t have a Social Security number, you can get a credit card with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or alternative documents if the issuer allows it. An ITIN has nine digits and can be used in place of a Social Security number on some credit card applications. Some alternative credit cards like the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students and the Jasper Mastercard® don’t require a Social Security number upfront. The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students, for instance, allows international students without a Social Security number to apply with a student visa, passport ID and school documents, such as an I-20 form or DS 2019. For more on how to apply for a credit card without a Social Security number, see our guide.