The Amex Optima* is American Express’ exclusive card for those with bad credit. Available by invitation only to Amex Members who’ve settled debts with Amex in the past and who need help rebuilding credit, the card offers no rewards, no perks and charges an annual fee. With a hefty penalty APR, this card is truly for those who have no other choice.

At a Glance

Known around the interwebs as the, “second chance” card, the Amex Optima has no official webpage advertising its features. This may be in part because it has so few, but more likely it’s because the card can only be applied for after an Amex Member has defaulted upon and settled a balance on a previous Amex account.

The card has an annual fee and next to no perks or rewards. It charges a foreign transaction fee and late and returned payment fees. The card’s standard purchase rate APR is the prime rate plus 14.99%, but the penalty APR jumps to prime plus 25.99%.

For those former Amex members who’ve received an offer for this card, it may be a good opportunity to earn back creditworthy status with Amex, but it’s important to read all the fine print. Ensure whatever circumstances forced a default on a previous account have passed and defaulting again isn’t a concern—second chances may not ever become third.

Other Card Benefits

  • Annual Fee
  • No rewards
  • Prime + 14.99% standard APR
  • Prime + 25.99% penalty APR
  • Available only to Amex Members who’ve defaulted on and settled previous accounts

Fine Print

  • Zero Fraud Liability: Cardholders are not liable for unauthorized charges.

How The Card Stacks Up

If you’ve received an offer for the American Express Optima card, see your invitation for current rates and fees. Generally, this card offers comparable fees to similar products on the market.

Compare American Express Optima Credit Card with Other Cards

American Express Optima vs. Discover it® Secured Credit Card

The Amex Optima is an unsecured card, where the Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers a card requiring a deposit as cash collateral. Where the general public can apply for the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, only those who’ve defaulted upon and settled accounts with American Express might be invited to apply for the Amex Optima.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card, unlike what we know about the Amex Optima, offers cash-back rewards and a number of standard Discover perks, like Discover’s Cashback Match, access to FICO scores, $0 fraud liability and more. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a gold standard for secured cards.

That said, those who have the opportunity to repair their status with American Express may be able to do so faster through the American Express Optima Card, if given the option, than by rebuilding through other banks. If given the option to apply for the American Express Optima card, it makes sense to review the terms of the card and compare to other available options.

American Express Optima vs. Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card*

The Bank of America Cash Back Secured Card offers rewards and an array of standard Bank of America credit card perks, like $0 fraud liability and access to FICO score. It does not charge an annual fee, but does require a deposit.

From what we know about the Amex Optima, the Bank of America card seems like the better option. The reality may be, however, that those with damaged credit may not be able to receive approval even for a secured card and may need the boost from the Amex Optima to get back on track.

American Express Optima vs. Avant Credit Card

With a high standard APR and a fairly low credit limit, the Avant card charges a scaling annual fee structure depending on how an applicant finds out about the card (mail offers may provide some potential cardholders a better deal).

The card’s advertised transparency makes finding information on it slightly easier than the Amex Optima, but with no rewards, no major perks and with the Amex Optima’s annual fee falling on the higher end of the Avant’s annual fee range, these cards are fairly well matched for those who might be applying for both. The major substantive differences are that the Avant has no foreign transaction fees and that the Amex Optima’s standard rate APR may be lower than the Avant’s, depending on the prime rate.

Is This The Card For You?

For Amex customers who’ve made mistakes with their credit, overspent or otherwise run into credit trouble, the Amex Optima may be a viable way to get back into Amex’s good graces. Unfortunately, not much is known about the card beyond its rates and annual fee. While many solid secured card options exist out there to try, for those loyal Amex customers who’ve fallen out of favor, this card may be the last best hope for redemption. We strongly advise anyone considering this card to read carefully all the fine print provided to them and consider other available options before applying.