The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

12 Best Credit Cards for Low-Income Earners (2020)

12 Best Credit Cards for Low-Income Earners (2020)

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer
By: Brittney Mayer
Updated: January 27, 2020
Advertiser Disclosure

With seemingly endless options available, finding the best credit cards for low income may seem like a challenge. Thankfully, that broad range of card options means there are a number of credit cards suitable for those currently earning less than average.

Although the median household income in the U.S. is a respectable $57,617, that number doesn’t really tell the whole story. By its nature, a median number is simply the one in the middle — which means 50% of Americans take home less than the national median, including more than 40 million people who live below the poverty line.

For many struggling to make ends meet on a low income, it isn’t always a matter of sticking to a simple budget; in many cases, it really comes down to finding every last penny — and putting them to work. While this can mean cutting out unnecessary expenses, some things can’t always be cut. Credit cards, for instance, have become a virtual necessity in today’s digital world but, thankfully, they don’t have to be an expensive one.

Fair Credit | Bad Credit | No Annual Fee | Low Ongoing APR

Best “Fair Credit” Cards for People with Low Incomes

Those with fair credit are often consumers who are just starting to build a credit history or who are rebuilding their credit scores after a few mistakes — both situations that can be made more difficult by a low income. When it comes to unsecured credit cards, many fair-credit applicants will need to choose between a basic card with no annual fee or a rewards card with a fee.

Whether or not an annual fee is worth paying will depend mostly on how much value you’ll get out of the rewards and perks offered by the card. If you’ll earn enough cash back to break even (or better), the annual fee may not be a deal-breaker. Some of our top-rated fair-credit cards include unlimited cash back rewards and other popular perks.

Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy peace of mind with $0 Fraud Liability
  • Qualified applicants will receive a card with a competitive APR and no annual fee along with 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, terms apply
  • View updates to your Experian credit score with free online access, terms apply
  • Make paying your bill easier with the ability to choose your payment due date, terms apply
  • Access your account on-the-go with the Credit One Bank mobile app
  • Never miss an account update with customizable text and email alerts
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% to 23.99% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair
Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card with Cash Back Rewards Review

at Credit One'ssecure website

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Qualified applicants will receive exclusive benefits such as 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, no annual fee, and a competitive APR. Terms apply.
  • Manage your account quickly and easily from your mobile device by using the Credit One Bank mobile app.
  • Use your Apple device to make purchases securely through Apple Pay®. Apple Pay is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
  • Your account is safeguarded against unauthorized charges with Zero Fraud Liability at no additional charge.
  • Take advantage of free online access to your Experian credit score and credit report summary so you can track the key factors impacting your credit health. Terms apply.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% to 23.99% Variable
$0 - $99
Fair

+See More Cards for Fair Credit

With fair credit, you may be near the edge of the range of acceptable credit profiles, particularly if you’re applying for cards that tend to prefer applicants with good credit or better. If you’re on the fence about which card to apply for and want to get an idea of your chances of being approved for cards from a particular issuer, you can try checking for pre-qualification offers.

While not a guarantee of acceptance, pre-qualifying for a particular card can mean you have a decent chance of approval. Similarly, not being pre-approved for a card can indicate your chances of approval are low. The best part is that pre-qualification uses a soft credit inquiry to estimate your approval chances, so checking for pre-qualification offers won’t damage your credit score.

Keep in mind that signing up for pre-qualified offers can increase the number of pre-approval offers you receive in your mailbox at home. If you want to opt-out of pre-qualification or pre-approval credit card offers at any time, visit OptOutPrescreen.com.

Best “Bad Credit” Cards for People with Low Incomes

Perhaps one of the most difficult situations to find yourself in is trying to rebuild bad credit with a low income. Without the ability to put forward capital or down payments, new lines of credit are often hard to obtain when your credit has been damaged by things like late payments, defaulted accounts, or even bankruptcy discharges.

Besides paying down your outstanding debt as quickly as possible, one of the best things you can do for your credit is to start rebuilding a positive payment history. This may mean obtaining a credit card designed for bad-credit applicants and using it to make small purchases each month, always ensuring you pay in full and on time. You can start your card comparison with our picks below.

Surge Mastercard® Review

at Celtic Bank'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.1/5.0
  • All credit types welcome to apply!
  • Free access to your Vantage 3.0 score From TransUnion* (When you sign up for e-statements)
  • Monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus
  • See if you’re Pre-Qualified without impacting your credit score
  • Fast and easy application process; results in seconds
  • Free online account access 24/7
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
See website for Details
N/A
25.90% - 29.99%
See website for Details
Bad, Poor Credit
Indigo® Unsecured Mastercard® - Prior Bankruptcy is Okay Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Pre-qualifying today will not affect your credit score
  • Less than perfect credit histories can qualify, even with prior bankruptcy!
  • Mobile friendly online access from anywhere
  • Fraud protection for stolen or lost cards
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
24.9%
$0 - $99
Fair/Good
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your card.
  • Use the NetSpend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. Click "Get My Card " for full details.
  • See additional NetSpend® Prepaid Visa® details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Up-to $9.95 monthly
Not applicable

+See More Cards for Bad Credit

When you need to build — or rebuild — your credit score, your credit card options will likely come down to an unsecured credit card with high fees, a closed-loop store card, or a secured credit card. Unsecured and store cards for bad credit will typically have high APRs, so you may want to consider a secured card with a lower APR if you are prone to carrying a balance.

Although some consumers are wary of the deposit required to open a secured credit card, most secured cards will allow you to make a smaller initial deposit, then add to your card over time to increase your limit. Plus, unlike the annual and processing fees from unsecured cards, your deposit will be returned to you when you close your secured credit card account.

Best “No Annual Fee” Cards for People with Low Incomes

One of the most common fees in the credit card world is the annual fee, usually charged by credit card issuers to cover the cost of special perks or particularly lucrative rewards. Given the number of superfluous credit cards on the market these days, however, a large number of issuers have started offering cards without annual fees as a way to entice new applicants.

While plenty of options are available for a wide range of credit types, if you want to earn rewards without paying an annual fee, you’ll likely need at least good credit. Many of our favorite annual-fee-free credit cards will provide solid rewards, including both bonus category and unlimited cash back options, as well as including introductory 0% APR offers for extra value.

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
8

Discover it® Cash Back

This card is currently not available.

Best Overall Rating

★★★★★
N/A

OVERALL RATING

N/A
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% 15 Months
N/A
14.99%–23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

+See More Cards with No Annual Fee

Although annual fees can be a pain, there are some cases in which they might be worth paying. One such case is when the rewards you can earn will pay for the annual fee — and add a little profit, too. A great example of this phenomenon is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6% cash back on groceries up to $6,000 a year. Spend more than $32 a week on groceries and you’ll come out ahead.

Another situation in which paying an annual fee might be worth the cost is in cases when you have an existing credit card that charges a fee. Depending on the age of the card and the size of its credit limit, canceling the card rather than paying the annual fee might actually hurt your credit score. Consider the possible implications before canceling any credit accounts.

Best “Low Ongoing APR” Cards for People with Low Incomes

It isn’t usually the annual fee that makes credit cards an expensive problem. With the average credit card charging an APR between 16% and 21%, the most expensive part of paying with plastic for many people will often be the compounding interest fees.

The easiest way to avoid interest fees is, of course, to pay your total balance before the end of the grace period, which extends to your bill’s due date each month. When you know you’re prone to carrying a balance, however, the better option is to find a card with a low ongoing APR. Our top-rated cards with low ongoing APRs offer rates in the low teens to those who qualify.

LOW APR RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • The Citi Rewards+℠ Card - the only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
  • Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfer fee — either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
$0
Good/Excellent

LOW APR RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer. After that, the variable APR will be 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness. All transfers must be completed in first 4 months.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 13.74% - 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • If you transfer a balance with this offer, after your 0% Intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balance, are paid in full.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment℠, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 21 months
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

LOW APR RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% for 18 months
13.99% - 23.99% (variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

+See More Cards with Low Ongoing APRs

For the most part, each credit card has a predetermined range of potential APRs associated with that card based on its potential user demographics. Cards marketed toward lower-risk applicants will have lower APR ranges, while those marketed toward higher-risk applicants will have higher APR ranges. For example, a prime credit card might have a range from 12% to 18%, while a subprime card might go from 21% to 27%.

While the card’s range establishes the potential APRs available, your credit profile — usually represented by your credit score — will have the most impact on where in a given card’s APR range your offer falls. Those with the best credit scores will typically receive an offer at the lower end of the range, while those with lower scores will generally receive an offer at the higher end of the range.

Low-Income Cards Can Still Have Big Rewards

Depending on the size of your family and the area in which you live, even the nation’s median income of $57,617 might not be enough to provide more than a modest quality of life. For the millions of households making well below that median, making ends meet can be a daily struggle.

Unfortunately, no matter how much you tighten your budget, some of life’s expenses aren’t avoidable, and a credit card is increasingly becoming one of those unavoidable expenses. With a little research, however, you can often find credit card options for low-income applicants that won’t break your budget’s bottom line.

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CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation from many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across the site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.