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 Lambarena
By Melissa Lambarena 
Updated
Edited by Kenley Young
Can't Get a Credit Card? Try These Alternative Options

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

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

While any credit card can adjust its rewards, benefits and fee structure at any time, new cards from startup financial technology companies are particularly prone to significant changes as they find their place in the market. Keep that in mind as you peruse this list.

Best alternative credit cards

Trying to get approved for a card?
Create a NerdWallet account for insight on your credit score and personalized recommendations for the right card for you.

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 for new cardholders 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.

🤓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 security deposit, nor does it have an annual fee for new cardholders — 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

Mission Lane Cash Back Visa Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

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. When you go through Mission Lane's pre-qualification process, you'll learn which offer you're eligible for.

AvantCard Credit Card

AvantCard Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

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.

» MORE: Review of theAvantCard Credit Card

Best for poor credit

Grow Credit Mastercard

Grow Credit Mastercard
NerdWallet rating 

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 Secured Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card

Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

The Chime Secured 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 Checking Account and at least $200 in direct deposits made to that account within the past 365 days.

The money you move from that Chime Checking 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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

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.

Chime says the following:

  • The secured Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted. Please see the back of your card for its issuing bank.

  • To apply for Credit Builder, you must have received a single qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more to your Chime® Checking Account. The qualifying direct deposit must be from your employer, payroll provider, gig economy payer, or benefits payer by Automated Clearing House (ACH) deposit OR Original Credit Transaction (OCT). Bank ACH transfers, Pay Anyone transfers, verification or trial deposits from financial institutions, peer to peer transfers from services such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo, mobile check deposits, cash deposits, one-time direct deposits, such as tax refunds and other similar transactions, and any deposit to which Chime deems to not be a qualifying direct deposit are not qualifying direct deposits.

  1. Based on a representative study conducted by Experian®, members who made their first purchase with Credit Builder between June 2022 and October 2022 observed an average FICO® Score 8 increase of 30 points after approximately 8 months. On-time payment history can have a positive impact on your credit score. Late payment may negatively impact your credit score.

  2. On-time payment history may have a positive impact on your credit score. Late payment may negatively impact your credit score. Chime will report your activities to Transunion®, Experian®, and Equifax®. Impact on your credit may vary, as Credit scores are independently determined by credit bureaus based on a number of factors including the financial decisions you make with other financial services organizations.

  3. Money added to Credit Builder will be held in a secured account as collateral for your Credit Builder Visa card, which means you can spend up to this amount on your card. This is money you can use to pay off your charges at the end of every month.

  4. Out-of-network ATM withdrawal and OTC advance fees may apply. View The Bancorp agreement or Stride agreement for details; see back of card for issuer.

Varo Believe Secured Credit Card

Image courtesy of Varo

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 $200 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.

Other options

American Express credit cards could also be options for immigrants and expats in the United States with 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.

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 — don’t require a Social Security number upfront. That card instead 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.

Find the right credit card for you.

Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.

Get Started
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.