Last updated on August 5th, 2020
Whether building your credit from scratch or rebuilding it after a few financially tough years, secured credit cards can improve your credit score and increase your credit limit in the future with responsible use. Unlike an unsecured card, a secured card requires a deposit to establish a line of credit.
Secured Credit Cards at a Glance
Secured credit cards are real credit cards that can be used to rebuild your credit if your FICO credit score isn’t as high as you want it to be and keeping you from making the purchases you want. A card issuer usually requires a deposit of 200 dollars or more to get started, and that refundable security deposit serves as the limit that you can spend using the card. Unlike prepaid cards, secured credit cards send credit reports to the three major bureaus as you build a credit history. Over time, an established pattern of responsible financial behavior using a secured credit card can help you qualify for an unsecured credit card the next time that you apply.
You don’t have to have a “good” credit score in order to successfully qualify for a secured credit card. In fact, you’re likely to be approved when you apply for most secured credit cards even if you have “bad” credit or “no credit” at all. This is due to the fact that these types of credit cards are a low financial risk for card issuers as you’ve already provided a deposit in order to open the bank account in the first place.
Credit building is your main priority with a secured credit card, not paying fees when you’re already in a difficult financial situation. Luckily, there are many well-reviewed secured credit cards that you can apply for that have low annual fees (typically under 50 US dollars) or no annual fees at all. You may come across some cards that impose “account fees” or other charges, so as you should with every single credit card you apply for, be sure to read the terms and conditions thoroughly before making your decision.
What to Look for in a Secured Credit Card
Many secured credit cards offer comparable benefits and perks. When searching for a new card, be sure to look out for one with these favorable features.
Manageable and Refundable Deposit: Secured credit cards require a deposit, so you’ll want to look for one that you can afford on your current budget. Similarly, if you regularly max out your credit cards, you’ll want to keep that limit low so that you can always pay it back in full as you build your credit score up. This shows creditworthiness and helps qualify you for unsecured credit cards in the future. You will also want to apply for a secured credit card that grants a full refund of your deposit when you close the account, just in case the unsecured credit card you later apply and qualify for comes from a different issuer. There are better odds of you receiving your full deposit back if your balance is paid off in full when you close the secured credit card, so again, keep it within a range you can handle.
Easy Application Process: The best credit card applications use language that is clear and easy to understand. This is especially important when applying for a secured credit card as you don’t want to be surprised by extra fees that you may have agreed to pay without fully understanding when signing up. Select card applications may charge a processing fee, for example, that other similar cards don’t. Chances are that your low credit score has caused previous credit card applications to be declined. This threshold is removed completely when applying for certain secured credit cards, as the deposit you’ll be making covers the risk that the issuer is taking on. While not the case for all secured credit cards, there are some available to you even with a really bad credit rating.
Upgrade to Unsecured Credit Card: If you use your secured credit card responsibly and pay off your balance each month, in a few years or sooner, you may qualify for an unsecured credit card. These financial products do not require a deposit on your part, and generally offer a better APR and much more enticing benefits, such as a higher return on travel rewards points and cash back on dining and entertainment purchases. Some issuers may automatically switch you over to an unsecured credit card after you’ve established your credit and improved your score. Often you will have to apply for these cards on your own, though you’ll be in a better position to qualify for the unsecured card that you want with your improved credit score in hand.
No Annual Fees: Having to pay an annual fee for a secured credit card doesn’t automatically make it unfavorable, though there are many available that waive said charge. If you find a credit card with the limit, APR, and perks that you prefer, paying an annual fee isn’t a bad thing if the benefits are greater than the cost. Depending on your creditworthiness, you may be able to find a secured credit card that balances both of these aspects perfectly.
Online Monitoring Tools: The time that you’ll be spending establishing or building up your credit with the responsible use of a secured credit card is not the time that you should be forgetting to make even a single account payment. Doing so may hurt your credit score and increase the time that it will take you to eventually qualify for an unsecured credit card. Nearly all credit card issuers and financial institutions offer nowadays offer online banking features to help account holders keep track of their expenses 24/7. There are also mobile apps that can be installed on your smartphone and other online electronic devices from these institutions that will alert you if you are approaching your limit or have a payment due soon, making the process of building your credit more convenient than ever before.
Cashback Rewards: It’s not unheard of to come across secured credit cards that offer cash back rewards, though they are more difficult to find than their unsecured counterparts. Finding one with these benefits can serve as another incentive to use the card responsibly, aside from showing your creditworthiness to the three credit bureaus. Why Use a Secured Credit Card vs an Unsecured Credit Card or Prepaid Card?
Why Use a Secured Credit Card vs an Unsecured Credit Card or Prepaid Card?
Secured credit cards are great financial tools to turn your financial standing around if you have poor credit or no credit, as using them responsibly can improve your credit score through reporting to the three major credit bureaus in the United States. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, do not report your activity to the three bureaus, so using them won’t boost your credit score.
You may not have the necessary credit to qualify for an unsecured credit card quite just yet, which is where secured credit cards come in. While the APR and benefits offered by some unsecured cards are often more appealing, they may also be far stricter when it comes to their application process in terms of evaluating personal income, assets, and other factors. In time, you’ll get there too.
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