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USAA® Secured Card American Express® Card review

Published: October 3, 2018

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Published: October 3, 2018

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Ratings Policy
Credit Building Rating:
3.4 rating
3.4 rating
3.4 / 5
Cost of Membership 2.5
Ease of Building Credit 2.5
APR 4.8
Features 5.0

In a Nutshell:

If you can afford to invest more than $250 into a security deposit, this military-friendly credit builder card offers a number of appealing perks, including a flexible credit limit, below average APR and consumer-friendly fee schedule.

Learn more about this card

Average cost of membership per year ($3,600 annual spend)
$35

Security deposit required
$250-$5,000

Initial credit limit
$250-$5,000 (equal to your deposit)

Access to higher credit line?
No specified time frame

APR
11.65-21.65% (variable)

Annual fee
$35

Other rates and fees

  • Balance transfer fee: 3% (maximum fee of $200)
  • Foreign transaction fee: 0%
  • Cash advance APR: 11.65-21.65% (variable)
  • Cash advance fee: 3% (maximum fee of $200)
  • Late payment fee: Up to $35
  • Penalty APR: None
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $35

Rewards
None

Features: Free credit score, special rate for active-duty military, Apple Pay, car rental insurance, extended warranty, travel and emergency assistance, travel accident insurance, price protection, concierge services, $0 fraud liability

If you’re looking for the least expensive card you can find to help rebuild your credit score, the USAA Secured American Express card probably isn’t your best pick. It charges a higher annual fee than many of its competitors and requires a significant amount of money upfront to open it.

But if you have some extra cash on hand and are looking for a good way to improve your score more quickly, then this card offers some intriguing benefits – including a flexible credit limit up to $5,000 – and a uniquely low interest rate for a subprime card.

The USAA Secured American Express card is also a good pick if you’re associated with the military. For example, it includes a number of perks for military families who live or travel frequently abroad, including no foreign transaction fee. In addition, it offers special perks for service members, including an extra low rate when cardholders are deployed abroad.

Don’t rely on this as your only piece of plastic, though. Although it’s getting better, the American Express network isn’t as widely accepted as MasterCard and Visa, so you may occasionally have trouble using your card for certain purchases. You also need to be associated with the military or be the son or daughter of other USAA members in order to qualify.

Here’s what else you should know about the USAA Secured American Express card:

A somewhat high deposit

If you don’t have more than couple hundred dollars on hand, then you may want to look for a different card. The USAA Secured American Express card requires a significantly higher entry fee than many of its competitors. For example, to open an account, you’ll have to put down at least $250. That can be a tough sell if you’re already struggling financially.

Many secured cards, by contrast, require no more than $200 to open an account. Some cards, such as the Capital One Secured Mastercard, may even let you open a low limit card for as little as $49.

Flexible credit limit

There’s a big plus, though, to the USAA card’s larger deposit: The deposit that you put on your card is your credit limit, so you could potentially secure a much bigger credit limit than you’d get on another card. USAA allows you to put down anywhere between $250 and $5,000.

If you can afford to put down a couple thousand dollars, the higher limit that you’ll receive in return could significantly boost your credit score. Credit scores tend to go up when cardholders are granted higher limits – especially if their debts are also relatively low.

Look elsewhere for rewards

You won’t find any rewards on this credit-building card, though. So, if you’re looking for cash back, you’re better off choosing a secured card, such as Discover it® Secured card or the SunTrust Secured credit card.

Somewhat high annual fee

The USAA Secured American Express card also loses points for its annual fee, which is on the higher side for a secured card.

The card’s $35 annual fee is more affordable than the $39 to $49 annual fees charged by some competitors. But if you compare cards based on annual fees, you can also find secured cards with annual fees as low as $9 to $29. Others don’t charge an annual fee at all.

Affordable interest rate

That said, many of the secured cards that waive annual fees also charge unusually high interest rates. The average APR for credit cards geared for consumers with poor credit scores currently stands at 24.27 percent. The most the USAA Secured American Express card charges, by contrast, is 21.65 percent.

Some USAA cardholders may even be able to secure a rate as low as 11.65 percent – a rate that’s practically unheard of on subprime cards. Even cardholders with excellent credit have a hard time securing that low of an interest rate.

More forgiving terms

You can also rest easier using this card since it offers more forgiving terms than the average credit card. For example, it doesn’t charge a penalty rate, so you won’t see your APR spike to a huge APR if you fall behind on bills.

It also charges somewhat lower fees than many cards these days. It charges just 3 percent for both balance transfers and cash advances. Even better, it waives foreign transaction fees – a major perk for people who live or travel abroad. It also doesn’t charge an over limit fee.

It does charge up to $35 when you make a late payment, though, so you’ll want to watch your credit card due date and avoid accidentally missing a bill.

USAA Secured American Express card benefits

Some of the most distinctive features separating this card from other secured cards on the market are the special perks that USAA offers to military families. For example, military service members who are deployed abroad or who receive a permanent change of station are given a 4 percent interest rate for up to 12 months. Meanwhile, new cardholders who enter active duty service with existing balances also qualify for a 4 percent interest for up to 12 months after their service is completed.

In addition, the card offers a large number of other money-saving perks:

  • Free credit score – A free monthly credit score report allows you to keep tabs on your credit score.
  • Extended warranty – USAA will double the warranty of items that you purchase with the card up to 48 months and up to $15,000 per claim.
  • Price protection – If you purchase an item with the card and the price changes within 60 days of your purchase, USAA may reimburse the price difference.
  • Car rental insurance – USAA will cover rental vehicles that you pay for with the card in the case of damage or theft. The coverage is secondary, which means it only covers costs not covered by another insurance policy.
  • Travel and emergency assistance – USAA provides card members with emergency travel, medical, legal and roadside assistance services when they are traveling.
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance – USAA will also reimburse you up to $1,500 in the event of cancellation or interruption of a trip that your purchased with the card, for a qualifying reason.
  • Baggage delay insurance – USAA will reimburse you up to $100 per day for up to three days in case your bags are delayed on a trip purchased with the card.
  • Travel accident insurance – You will be reimbursed up to $500,000 in case of accidental death or dismemberment during a trip purchased with the card.
  • Concierge services – USAA provides 24/7 access to a concierge, who can help you with trip planning and everyday needs.

USAA Secured American Express card approval odds

As long as you can afford to put down a minimum of $250, then you should have no trouble qualifying for this card. The USAA Secured American Express card is designed for cardholders who are building their credit scores from scratch, or rebuilding them after falling deeply behind on their bills. Even cardholders with substantial black marks on their credit reports, such as bankruptcy, should be able to qualify for this secured card.

Why get the USAA Secured American Express card?

  • You’re a member of the military and want to work with an issuer that specializes in serving military families.
  • You want a secured card with a low interest rate.
  • You want some control over your credit limit.
  • You want a plain vanilla card, rather than a rewards card.

How to use the Secured American Express card

  • Secure a higher credit limit by depositing as much savings as you can afford.
  • Consider pairing this with a second card. Not all vendors will accept American Express.
  • Take advantage of the card’s free credit score by reviewing your credit monthly.

2018’s best secured credit cards that help to build credit

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