Some people will tell you (mistakenly) that the best way to fix your poor credit is to cut up every card you’ve ever owned, and to avoid them like the plague thereafter. Folks who offer this advice mean well, but they’re dead wrong. The best way to beat your bad credit is actually the intentional use of a “bad credit” credit card.
Even if it was card usage that got your score into trouble, a credit card for bad credit can be your redeemer. And even if this approach seems counter-intuitive, the best way to repair your credit is still to get a credit card.
You need the right kind of credit cards for bad credit, and you need to use them the right way—so keep reading to find out how!
Credit Cards for Bad Credit
Let’s face it: life without a credit card is nearly impossible these days. There are plenty of places that won’t even take cash, and a lot more places that won’t touch a check. If you’re without a card, what are you supposed to do?
Cards are required for online shopping, making reservations, paying some bills, and sometimes even collecting a paycheck. If you’ve been told to get rid of all your cards, you’re probably in a state of near panic at the prospect!
But here’s the thing. Your credit score is determined by your ongoing activity in the financial world, and inactivity can be just as detrimental as “negative” activity! Did you know that?
You may have figured you’d just hunker down, pay cash for everything, and “wait out” the negative hits to your credit score. However, if you are not actively engaging in positive, credit-building financial activities, your score will just keep sinking.
What you need, then, is a way to reverse the unhealthy momentum of your sinking score. You need credit card transactions that are foolproof. (No, you’re not being called a fool. But you need assurance that neither mistakes nor circumstances will unintentionally dent your credit any further. And that’s where the “bad credit” credit cards come in.)
You may imagine that it’s going to be difficult to qualify for a card, since applications are often denied in cases of poor credit history. That’s why some of the bad credit cards are so well suited to your situation; they are secured in various ways to make them easy to get, regardless of your credit score.
Types of Credit Cards for People with Bad Credit
Credit cards for bad credit in Canada come in several different types, with varying benefits and usage possibilities. Here’s a breakdown of the possibilities so you can see what best suits your situation.
Secured credit cards.
If you’re familiar with secured loans, you know that they backed by collateral—something of value that the lender can repossess if you don’t make your payments. That’s how a home mortgage works, for example, with the house being the collateral that secures the loan.
A secured credit card (sometimes also called a guaranteed credit card) operates on the same principle. When you open the account, you make a deposit up front that acts as collateral on your line of credit. If you deposit five hundred dollars, you have a limit of $500. The card company doesn’t take a risk in letting you use their card (up to that limit), so they don’t mind issuing you a card.
You might wonder why this is beneficial, since it’s really your own money you’re borrowing against when you use this card. Well, the benefit comes in the transactions you make, which show up as “credit card use” on your report. Suppose you pay your power bill and buy gas with your card; your credit history now incorporates those transactions, and your payment on the credit card bill. If you had kept that $500 and paid for power and gas with cash, those payments would have not helped your score at all.
Low interest credit cards.
It may be more difficult to get a low interest card, but if you do qualify, it’s a good one to have. If you find yourself carrying a balance on your card, you want to be paying as little interest as possible on that balance while you work on improving your credit score.
It should be noted here that carrying a balance on your card does not negatively impact your credit score. So long as you pay the minimum (and pay on time!) carrying a balance can actually boost your score. (That’s not too mysterious when you think that your credit score is essentially a measurement of your desirability as a money-borrower; a person who pays interest is a desirable borrower from their perspective.)
If you can qualify for a low interest credit card, look for cards with introductory offers. Some cards will not charge any interest for the first few months, or even a year, after you open the account. (After that point they’ll charge interest on the entire remaining balance, so you should be careful and keep the “deadline” in mind. But that grace period can actually enable you to use the time to pay off your debt.)
Some of these cards will also allow you to transfer your balance from other cards with higher interest, consolidating your debts under the lower interest rate.
Prepaid credit cards.
A prepaid card operates very much like a debit card for a checking account, but without the actual bank account. You purchase the card and “load” it with whatever amount of money you choose, and then you can use the card exactly like a debit card, drawing on the funds you have already loaded.
This approach has all the benefits of a secured card, but with more flexibility. You can determine how much you want to load, usually without required minimums or maximums. You can reload any time you have money, rather than being held to the monthly credit-limit amount of a secured card (like the $500 example used above). You can even have an employer make direct deposits of your paycheck onto the card, just as if it were a checking account.
Store credit cards.
Sometimes a large retail store will approve card applications from folks with less-than-stellar credit, because they want to tempt you into their store with the rewards associated with the card. Once you have been approved, that card can be used in any venue, not just the issuing store. And because they’re less picky than stand-alone card companies, you have a better shot at getting one. It may have a low credit limit, but it gives you a tool for rebuilding your credit score.
Rebuilding Your Credit with a “Bad Credit” Credit Card
Now you’ve seen the different types of cards and their different options. The other important piece of the plan is how to use a “bad credit” credit card in Canada in order to improve your credit score.
The critical component of card use is understanding what types of transactions boost your score (and doing those things!) as well as what types of transactions will hurt your credit score (and avoiding those!).
On-Time Payment (Preferably in Full)
This is the number-one way to boost your credit rating! And it’s a very black-and-white issue; even if your payment is one day late, it goes down as a late payment. A payment that’s three days late will look just as bad as a payment that’s three weeks late (though admittedly, not as bad as one that’s three months late).
The way your credit gets measured, payments are broken down into categories. The “good” category is payments that are made on time or ahead of time. The “bad” categories break down your late payments by how many months they’re late—for example, if a late payment is more than 30 or 60 days past due when it gets paid.
Keep in mind, too, that these payment timelines get more or less etched in stone on your credit report. If you were five days late on your card payment when you paid it, it will go down as a late payment. So make it a habit to pay your monthly bill a little ahead of time every month.
Pretend it’s a Debit Card
This will be easy to do if you have a prepaid card, because those work exactly like debit cards. The idea here is that you only spend money you actually have, rather than assuming you’ll be able to pay the bill when it comes due, or (worse) using your credit without planning to pay the full balance.
Carrying a balance on your card (if you have a card that allows you to do so) will not, in and of itself, lower your credit score. The reason you want to avoid it, though, is that it’s a sign you don’t have a handle on your spending. First you’ll be carrying a balance, next thing you’ll be missing a payment. It’s just a step in the wrong direction now that you’re trying to manage your money better and raise your credit score.
Don’t Carry Too Many Credit Cards
Don’t go overboard and load up on too many cards. Even if you’ve found another easy-to-get credit card, you don’t want to have too much credit, because that can actually count against your score. Credit companies look at how many different “obligations” you have (in terms of loans and lines of credit) and weigh that when they consider whether you’re a good risk. If they think you’re already overextended, they’ll decide they have a lower chance of getting paid if you were to default or get behind on your payments.
Top Picks: Canadian Credit Cards for Bad Credit
When you’re shopping around for a “bad credit” card in Canada, the following four are the top picks for rebuilding your credit score:
- Affirm Financial MasterCard: An unsecured credit card specifically designed for people with poor credit. Affirm updates your information at credit bureaus with every payment, so you can see your score improve more quickly than with other cards.
- Peoples Trust Secured credit card: A secured card that allows a credit line equal to the entire collateral deposit you make (a minimum of $500 to start).
- Home Trust Secured Visa: A secured credit card (minimum deposit of $500) with no annual fee.
- No-Fee Scotiabank Value Visa Card: An unsecured credit card, relatively easy to get and no deposit needed.
In Conclusion… Bad Credit? Great Plan!
Hands down, the most solid game plan to rebuild your credit is the intentional, careful use of “bad credit” credit cards in Canada. Take your pick of the easy to get cards, and stick to your guns to use them in a way that will benefit your credit score.
If you track your spending so it doesn’t outstrip your income, use your cards as often as possible, and pay your bills on time (and preferably in full), your credit rating will climb in no time!