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11 Unsecured Credit Cards for Fair Credit (2020)

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Most consumers prefer unsecured credit cards for fair credit because they don’t require a large upfront deposit to secure the line of credit.

If you have a fair credit score — a FICO score between 580 and 669 — you shouldn’t have to accept terms associated with bad credit when shopping for a credit card. That means skipping the secured credit card listings that call for large deposits and heading straight for the unsecured card offers.

We’ve compiled a list of the best unsecured credit cards for fair credit that can not only help you build credit, but they can also help you obtain a higher credit limit and lower annual fee.

Best Overall | Other Recommendations | How to Build Credit | FAQs

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card has everything that someone with average credit could want in a card. And while your initial credit limit may be lower than you’d like, you can earn quick credit limit increases with consecutive on-time payments.

  • Pay no annual fee
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Use online banking to access your account, even from your smartphone, with our mobile app
  • Check out quickly and securely with a contactless card, without touching a terminal or handing your card to a cashier. Just hover your card over a contactless reader, wait for the confirmation, and you’re all set.
  • Pay by check, online or at a local branch, all with no fee – and pick the monthly due date that works best for you

N/A

N/A

26.99% (Variable)

$0

Average, Fair, Limited

Capital One actively monitors your account and will automatically increase your credit limit after you make your first six monthly payments on time. This card also features a competitive interest rate, no penalty APR for late payments, fraud protection, and unlimited access to the issuer’s CreditWise program that monitors your credit report.

And, since Capital One reports your payment history to every major credit bureau, you may quickly earn an improved credit score by using your card responsibly.

While the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card tops our list, it’s by no means the only option you should consider. The cards below offer unsecured credit with no need for large security deposits or overwhelming fees.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.8

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Earn cash rewards without signing up for rotating categories
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
  • Monitor your credit profile with the CreditWise® app, free for everyone
  • $0 fraud liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • No limit to how much cash back you can earn, and cash back doesn’t expire for the life of the account

N/A

N/A

26.99% (Variable)

$39

Average, Fair, Limited

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card quickly makes up for the annual cost of the card with its cash rewards.

By charging $500 each month to your card — which you can likely do simply by paying some of your monthly bills through your account — you can earn a profit each year with the card. Just be sure to pay off every charge you make right away. Otherwise, the interest charges will negate the earnings potential.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.7

  • 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

See website for Details

N/A

25.90% – 29.99%

See website for Details

Bad, Poor Credit

The Surge Mastercard® has one of the highest initial credit limit offerings for someone with average credit. But don’t expect that higher limit to come cheap.

The Surge Mastercard® has rather high annual fees that get higher after the first year. A higher-than-average interest rate doesn’t make the charges any lighter on your bank account. But if you need a higher limit, and don’t mind paying for the privilege, this card may cover you nicely.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.7

  • 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

N/A

N/A

17.99% to 23.99% Variable

$0 – $99

Fair

Just how valuable the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® is to you will depend upon how fair your credit is. That’s because this card bases its annual fee and interest rate on your creditworthiness. The better your credit, the lower your fees.

If you’re on the higher end of fair credit (a FICO score closer to 650 than 600), you could pay no annual fee and have a competitive interest rate to match. Just keep in mind that Credit One Bank starts off all cardholders with a fairly low initial credit limit. You aren’t guaranteed a credit limit increase with on-time payments, either.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.5

  • 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.

N/A

N/A

17.99% to 23.99% Variable

$0 – $99

Fair

The Credit One Bank® Visa® Credit Card with Cash Back Rewards charges a slightly higher interest rate than the market average, but don’t let that scare you away from this card.

Cardholders can earn cash back on some purchases. If you pay your bill in full each month, you can avoid the heavy interest charges and make a little money on the side with the cash back.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.5

  • Prequalify for a card today and it will not impact your credit score
  • Less than perfect credit is okay
  • Mobile account access at any time
  • Protection from fraud if your card is stolen
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.

  • *Dependent on credit worthiness

N/A

N/A

24.9%

$35 – $99

Bad, Poor Credit

Milestone makes it easy to find the best credit card to match your credit history. The Milestone® Mastercard® – Less Than Perfect Credit Considered is one of several cards in the issuer’s portfolio. You can find which card you’re most likely qualified for by prequalifying before you officially apply.

This allows you to research your options before adding a hard inquiry to your credit report. Plus, you’ll have the peace of mind that you likely won’t face the dreaded rejection screen.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★★

4.5

  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • You can help build your credit with responsible use of a card like this
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months

N/A

N/A

26.99% (Variable)

$0

Average, Fair, Limited

A student credit card helps young adults build a credit history before heading into the real world, and the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is one of the best options on the market.

Whether you have fair credit or limited credit, this card offers the ability to earn cash back rewards that increase when you pay your bill by the due date. It also has no foreign transaction fee, which makes this card a great companion if you study abroad.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★

4.4

  • Pre-qualify for a card today and it will not impact your credit score
  • Less than perfect credit is okay
  • Mobile account access at any time
  • Fraud protection for stolen or lost cards
  • Account history is reported to the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.

N/A

N/A

24.9%

$0 – $99

Bad, Poor Credit

You can prequalify for the Indigo® Mastercard® for Less than Perfect Credit without impacting your credit score. You may be approved for an account that has no annual fee for the first year, depending on your credit history.

Just keep in mind that after the first year, every cardholder pays the same annual fee. Since this card charges a higher-than-average interest rate, you may want to consider the other options above and consider this card as a last resort.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★

4.4

  • Checking Account Required
  • Fast and easy application process; response provided in seconds
  • A genuine Visa credit card accepted by merchants nationwide across the USA and online
  • Manageable monthly payments
  • $300 credit limit (subject to available credit)
  • Reports monthly to all three major credit bureaus

N/A

N/A

See Terms

See Terms

Fair, Bad Credit

The Total Visa® Card works with consumers who have bad credit and fair credit — but the card’s fee structure leans toward the bad credit end. New cardholders must pay a one-time program fee and an annual fee when they activate their card.

Since the initial credit limits remain low, these two fees will eat up almost half of the credit limit before you even use your card. Still, this card does provide a credit building opportunity if you’re struggling to find approval for an unsecured credit card elsewhere.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★

4.3

  • Easy application! Get a credit decision in seconds.
  • Build your credit history – Fingerhut reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • Use your line of credit to shop thousands of items from great brands like Samsung, KitchenAid, and DeWalt
  • Not an access card

N/A

N/A

See Issuers Website

$0

Poor Credit

The Fingerhut Credit Account technically isn’t an open-loop credit card. Instead, this account offers access to an unsecured credit line you can use to purchase name-brand merchandise through Fingerhut and its online retail partners.

And since Fingerhut reports your payment history to each major credit bureau, you can improve your credit history — and upgrade to a traditional unsecured credit card — with responsible use.

FAIR CREDIT RATING

★★★★

4.3

  • Qualified applicants will enjoy benefits including 1% cash back rewards on all purchases, no annual fee, and a competitive APR. Terms apply
  • CreditOneBank.com and the Credit One Bank mobile app makes it easy to access and manage all your account information and make payments whether you’re at home or on-the-go.
  • Zero Fraud Liability protects you if your card is ever lost or stolen. Rest easy knowing you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges.
  • Use your Apple device to make purchases securely through Apple Pay®. Apple Pay is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
  • Keep an eye on your credit information with free online access to your Experian credit score. Terms apply.
  • Get access to billing statements online when you Go Paperless. Enjoy quicker access to your account documents without the hassle of having to wait ‘til they arrive in the mail.

N/A

N/A

17.99% to 23.99% Variable

$0 – $99

Fair

The Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® with Cash Back Rewards is another top option from Credit One Bank® with the same terms as its sister offers. Qualified applicants will receive cash back rewards and a competitive APR. The fees you pay are determined by your creditworthiness.

You can manage your account via its mobile app,  enjoy $0 fraud liability, and use your card at all locations that accept Visa, which is basically everywhere, all without putting up a security deposit.

As with most important things in life, building a credit history takes time and patience. Banks like to lend money and extend credit to someone who has a long track record of paying off debts on time and in full. A limited credit history doesn’t prove much in their eyes.

You may not find success if you’re looking to jump from bad credit to good credit in a matter of a few weeks. But after a few months, you could see your score improve from fair to good if you properly use your new credit card.

The first step in preparing your credit-building plan is reviewing and understanding the state of your credit report. That means figuring out what’s holding your score down and learning how to fix the issues.

Several factors come into play when calculating your FICO credit score. The most important are your payment history and amounts currently owed. Those two alone make up 65% of your score.

The other 35% of your credit score is determined by the length of your credit history, the types of credit listed on your report (also known as your credit mix), and the number of new accounts on your credit reports.

How to Build Credit with a Credit Card

A credit card can positively impact all of these categories if you’re financially responsible. For one, opening a new card will increase your available credit, which helps your amounts owed.

Your available credit plays almost as important a role as the amount you owe. This is also known as your credit utilization. For example, if you have $1,000 in total credit and a $250 balance, you have a 25% credit utilization.

That looks OK to a bank, which may start to flinch once you surpass 30% in credit utilization. If you add a new credit card with a $0 balance, you’re increasing your total available credit, which in turn lowers your utilization.

For example, imagine a person with 25% utilization. If he or she adds a new card with a $500 limit and $0 balance, their total credit jumps to $1,500. That $250 balance is now 16.6% utilization. Banks love that.

A credit card can also combine with a personal loan, auto loan, or other loan product to improve your credit mix. Most lenders want to see that you’ve responsibly made payments on different types of loans.

But make sure you don’t take on too many loans simply to look good to lenders. While lenders may want to see that you can successfully pay different types of loans, they won’t be anxious to approve you for more financing if you’re already weighed down by debt.

Also, since most credit card issuers report your payment history to each credit reporting bureau, you can improve your credit score by adding on-time payments and low balances to your credit report.

This solves one of the biggest issues most people have with their credit score. In many cases, a poor credit or fair credit score hinges on payment history or current debt load. One single late payment can drop your score by as much as 100 points. That late payment will live on your credit report for two years, but its importance weakens over time.

If you have recent late payments, the only way to lessen their impact on your credit report is to make all of your current payments on time while waiting for your late payments to get a little older. Your negative marks will have less impact on your credit score over time.

If you have a lot of current debt, you could easily sink your debt-to-income ratio, which can decrease your credit score quickly. The only real way to fix this is to pay down your existing debts as much as possible.

Credit card issuers and lenders typically report your balances to each credit bureau each month. Depending on when you pay a chunk of your balance down, you may have to wait up to one month to see an impact on your credit score.

But if you’re patient, persistent, and responsible with your new credit card, you could leverage that piece of plastic to catapult you from fair credit into the good credit range. Once that happens, you could find a whole new world of cards available to you.

There are two distinct types of credit card and loan products — unsecured and secured — and knowing the difference can save you some money.

Unsecured vs Secured Credit Cards

With a secured credit card, you must pay a refundable security deposit to the card issuer before you receive your card. This acts as a form of collateral if you stop making payments on your account.

The amount of your deposit typically equals the credit limit on a secured card. For example, you must pay the bank $500 for a secured credit card with a $500 limit.

The bank holds that money until you close your account. If you have no outstanding debts at that time, the bank refunds your deposit to you.

Your security deposit doesn’t act as payment for any charges you make to your account. If you use that new $500 secured credit card to go out to dinner right after you activate it, you’ll still have to pay off that charge when the bill is due.

An unsecured credit card requires no collateral or security deposit for approval. Depending on the card, you may have to pay an annual fee or application fee when you activate your new card. Typically, these fees are deducted from your initial available credit limit.

Most consumers prefer unsecured credit cards because they don’t require an upfront investment. But since the bank has no collateral or recourse if you default on your payments, getting approved for these cards is a little more difficult.

Lenders like security. After all, they can’t stay in business if you don’t pay off your loan. Without a security deposit, they want to make quite sure that you will pay your unsecured debt. That doesn’t mean that a less-than-perfect credit score will disqualify you from your unsecured card goals.

Many issuers offer unsecured credit cards for bad credit despite the risk associated with them. These cards tend to have higher annual fees and interest rates to make the reward worth the risk to the bank.

Equally, there’s no shortage of unsecured credit cards for fair credit. The trick is to find a card that’s specifically designed for consumers who have fair credit, such as those listed above.

Far too often, card issuers clump bad credit and fair credit together. In reality, there’s a pretty large difference between the two. Still, these cards charge the same sky-high fees — typically those designed for bad credit applicants — to all cardholders. That’s simply not fair for someone who has a score in the mid-600s and is nearing good credit territory.

With a card designed for your specific credit history, you’ll pay the right fees and interest rate. That can save you money over the long haul. Plus, most of the issuers of the cards above also offer cards for consumers who have good credit.

As your responsible behavior reflects upon your credit report, you could qualify for a card upgrade without having to fill out extra applications or pay unnecessary fees.

Fair credit is kind of like being in the middle of the pack. Think of it as a C-average student or a .200 hitter in baseball. You aren’t the worst, but you aren’t the best.

But there’s a positive way to look at fair credit. You can always go up from where you are.

Just like studying for a test or practicing your baseball swing, no rule says you have to be average forever. In fact, having fair credit gives you a bit of a head start on building a good credit report.

FICO bases its scores on a range between 300 and 850. Lenders consider everything below 580 as very poor. The area between 580 and 669 is fair. From 670 to 739 is good. Between 740 and 799 is very good, and 800 to 850 is excellent.

FICO Score® Ranges

 

As you can see, fair isn’t far from good. Depending on where you fall within the scale, you may only be a few points from being in a category that offers you several more credit card options.

You can gain those score points simply by making on-time payments, paying down existing debt, or increasing the credit limit on one of your credit cards — thus improving your credit utilization.

You should consider a few things if you’re closing in on good territory but really want to apply for a credit card right now. The most important consideration is that unsecured credit cards for fair credit don’t compare to the same cards for consumers who have good credit. You’ll likely receive a higher credit line with a more favorable interest rate and no annual fee.

Average APRs by FICO Score

You could shave off up to 7% from your card’s APR by waiting to apply when your score improves.

Cards for fair credit tend to target consumers who are building credit — hence the higher fees and other charges. When deciding which card to apply for right now, look at the cards that each issuer offers to good credit applicants as well. If you can qualify for the fair credit offering, you can spend a few months proving your trustworthiness to the lender.

When the time is right, you can request an upgrade to the next card up. If your current card issuer doesn’t offer a card for good credit, you lose that opportunity. Your only other recourse is to apply for a different card when your credit rating improves.

You can either keep your old card (and continue to pay higher annual fees and charges) or cancel the account. If you cancel your credit line, though, you’ll lose that available credit and the advantage it gives to your credit utilization on your credit report.

Unsecured cards aren’t all created equal. Some have more value than others — which makes them a little harder to get. If you’re simply looking for a credit line that can help you build credit, you’ll have the least trouble when applying for a store credit card.

These cards often have a catch: A store-branded card may only allow you to use the credit line at that store, otherwise known as closed-loop. And you’ll often find a higher interest rate and lesser rewards with these specialty cards.

Fingerhut Credit Account

Store cards, like the Fingerhut Credit Account, are among the easiest to be approved for with a poor credit score.

But these cards often consider applications from consumers who have bad credit because it helps stores increase their business. If you have a credit card to a certain store or company, you’re more likely to shop there and make larger purchases that you can pay back over time. That’s a form of brand loyalty that no advertising or marketing campaign can build.

When choosing a store credit card to add to your wallet, don’t just look at the company that runs the business. In most cases, that company has nothing to do with the credit card itself. Instead, the company hires a bank to issue and maintain credit accounts.

When you make your payment, you make it to the bank — not to the store. The bank runs your transaction and lends you the money to pay for your purchase. Two of the most popular issuers of store credit cards are Comenity Bank and Synchrony Bank.

Comenity doesn’t have the best reputation for its customer service. In 2015, Comenity was ordered to repay more than $61 million to cardholders it had fraudulently sold payment protection products to.

In short, these cards may be the easiest to get, but they’re often the hardest to get rid of.

If you have a fair credit score and want to rebuild your credit without the hassle of a potentially problematic card issuer, consider the tested and proven cards listed above. Each has a long history of providing reliable customer service and credit products with fair terms for your current financial situation.

Credit card issuers don’t print their minimum guidelines for approval, so there’s no way of knowing the exact credit score you need to get the card of your dreams.

But fair credit isn’t a turn off for most lenders. There are nearly as many credit cards for bad credit as there are unsecured credit cards for fair credit. That means that there’s a lot of competition in the marketplace — and a good chance that you can find approval if you know where to look.

And, depending on who you talk to, your bad credit score may not be so bad after all.

Traditionally, a credit score of between 300 and 650 is considered bad credit. However, some card issuers rate scores of 550 to 650 as being poor credit and may consider your application for an unsecured credit card.

Since the same range considers any score between 580 and 669 as fair, you can possibly fall well below the fair line and still qualify for an unsecured credit card. If you’re firmly in the poor category — and are against building credit with a secured card — you can consider a card designed for bad credit.

These unsecured cards sometimes cost more than a secured card (especially when you consider that a secured card refunds your security deposit when you close your account in good standing). But if you’re willing to pay the fees, you can possibly find a card that can help you out until you’re ready to upgrade to a new piece of plastic.

If you’re unsure whether you’ll qualify for an unsecured credit card, look for card issuers that provide a prequalifying form. This form conducts a soft credit pull to determine whether you’re a good fit for the card.

Screenshot of Capital One Pre-Approval Page

Many issuers will let you check for preapproval offers to get an idea of your approval chances.

While passing the prequalifying test doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the card when you officially apply, it does give you a better idea of your chances if you take the next step.

Milestone, for example, allows you to see if you prequalify before formally applying for the card. By submitting a short form, you’ll find out if you can add the popular Milestone® Mastercard® – Less Than Perfect Credit Considered to your wallet. If you aren’t approved for that card, Milestone will possibly suggest another card in its portfolio that may match your needs and abilities.

And as you improve your credit rating over time, you may be able to upgrade to another Milestone card that provides a lower APR and higher credit line. That upward momentum is great for improving your financial health.

Business credit is one of the hardest types of credit to build, but it’s not impossible.

Most business credit cards lean on your personal credit rating when considering your application. That’s because many small businesses don’t have enough credit history tied to the company to warrant a trustworthy credit score.

If you have a less-than-perfect credit rating, many business credit card issuers will reject your application, but a few cards can give you just what you need.

Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business

The Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business is a top choice for fair-credit entrepreneurs.

An easy way to infuse some capital into your growing business is with the Capital One Spark® Classic for Business card. This card typically accepts applicants who fall in the 670-and-up range and offers cash back opportunities and no annual fee, as well as all of the fraud protections and other perks you’d expect from Capital One.

And every cardholder automatically enters the Capital One Credit Steps program. This free program allows Capital One to automatically review your account every six months to see whether you qualify for a credit limit increase or card upgrade. If you do qualify, the issuer will automatically adjust your account accordingly.

This removes one burden from your entrepreneurial shoulders. Typically, card issuers require you to call them or fill out an online form to request a card upgrade or credit limit increase. Through the Credit Steps program, you’ll get your well-deserved upgrade without having to ask.

Another perk of the Capital One Spark® cards is that the issuer currently offers five different cards with varying levels of rewards and utility. While four of the five require excellent credit, there’s nothing stopping you from upgrading over time as you improve your credit rating. These cards also help you build business credit — which can open doors to new financing opportunities and other valuable financial products that you’ll need as you grow and scale your business.

Since more than half of all small businesses fail within five years — most because of a lack of capital or credit — a card like this can mean the difference between making it through tough times or hanging the dreaded Out of Business sign on your door.

As with a bathing suit or new bicycle one size doesn’t always fit all. The same goes for credit cards, where your needs are as important as the issuer’s approval standards.

For example, a store card may work for some, but it wouldn’t do much for you if you’re looking for a credit card that you can use anywhere. You also may not find much use for a card that starts you out with a $300 limit if you need access to $1,000 or more. A student credit card isn’t suitable for a 40-something professional.

While we’d all love to slide a top-of-the-line card with all of the bells and whistles into our wallet, some people need to work on their credit profile before they can make that move.

To find the card that best suits your needs, you need to first define what those needs are. Create a list of what you think you need right now, six months from now, and a year from now. Use that as the starting point for any card you consider.

Next, pull your annual free credit report. While this report won’t reveal your actual credit score, it will show you the negative items holding your score down.

How to Check Your Credit Reports

If you have a lot of recent negative items, you may want to consider waiting a few months for them to age before applying for a new card. If your negatives are older, you can choose your next step for finding the right card.

That step should include finding a credit card company that offers a prequalifying form before you officially apply. This form will tell you if you’re likely to gain approval or rejection when you apply.

The beauty in these forms is that they use a soft credit pull to access your credit report info. This form of a credit check doesn’t reflect on your credit report as would a hard inquiry. Too many of the latter can lower your credit score.

Also, consider your life situation when deciding which card you want. A student credit card can offer great value if you’re currently enrolled — or about to enroll — at an accredited institution. These cards can also give you interest rate reductions or statement credits if you maintain a certain GPA.

Some cards may also offer perks if you’re a military veteran or social service employee. A bank credit card may provide savings account benefits if you have multiple financial products through the institution.

In short, your situation will dictate the right card for you. When you factor in your credit score, financial health, and overall credit needs, you can whittle down the options to find the card that stands alone as your best choice.

You wouldn’t buy a new car without test driving it or purchase a new home without touring it first. The same should hold true with applying for a credit card.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re well along in your research for the best unsecured credit cards for fair credit. Your next step is to research the individual cards listed above to find the one that best matches your needs. Once you get a feel for how each card works, you can move on to the next step in your research.

That means looking for prequalifying forms that can give you an idea of your approval chances before you officially apply. Doing so will limit your exposure to hard inquiries and keep your score trending upward.

Once you’ve added your new credit card to your wallet, you should continue your current level of research and responsibility by keeping your balance low and your payments on time. You’ll soon find yourself researching the best credit cards for good credit.

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Bad Credit

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.


The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”


The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.


In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?

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Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune

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By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: gameoffortune.money. To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit taelee.money and nevergobroke.money or email tae@taelee.money; you also can follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nevergobrokeinc) and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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