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Comparing Secured Credit Card Offers
Updated: August 1, 2018
If your credit isn't its best or you are new to credit, your options can be limited. But with a secured card, you can build your credit in a few months so that you can apply for a more rewarding unsecured card.
Secured cards require a refundable deposit that you are borrowing off of for your available credit limit. In many cases, they may be your only option. But they are a great way to build credit and to develop good payment habits.
We evaluated more than 200 secured credit cards using such criteria as: rates and fees, deposit amounts, ability to improve credit, customer service, and miscellaneous features and benefits. Below are our top picks for the best secured cards and further information to help you make your decision and improve your credit so you can qualify for even better offers. Here, we look at:
Wondering how to get a secured card? Or not sure how to use one? We explain below.
At a Glance: Best Secured Credit Cards of 2018
|Card||Best For:||Minimum Deposit Required||Annual Fee|
|Discover it® Secured||Cash back||$200||$0|
|Capital One® Secured Mastercard®||Building credit||$49, $99, or $200||$0|
|Citi® Secured Mastercard®||No annual fee||$200||$0|
|OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card||No credit check||$200||$35|
|First PREMIER® Bank Secured Credit Card||Fully refundable deposit||$50||$200|
|USAA® Secured Card Visa Platinum® Card||Low APR||$35||$250|
|First Progress Platinum Prestige MasterCard® Secured Credit Card||Low interest||$200 - $2,000||$49|
|Self Lender — Credit Builder Account||No hard credit pull||See Terms||See Terms|
|USAA® Secured Card American Express® Card||Servicemembers||$35||$250|
|Green Dot primor® Visa® Gold Secured Credit Card||Easy application||$200||$49|
Secured credit cards analyzed: 228
Criteria used: Credit needed, ease of application, ability to move credit limits, deposit required, rates and fees, credit score tracking, other benefits and features, customer service, security, rewards rates
What is a secured card and how do they work?
Secured cards are ideal for the consumer with credit that's not its best or someone new to credit. Because of this, bank issuers have certain systems in place to make sure their investment is protected. Here is what a secured card is and how it works:
What is a secured card?
A secured card is a credit card designed for a consumer with bad credit or a thin credit file. They require you to pay a refundable deposit, which secures your available credit, usually several hundred dollars. Because having a credit card is the easiest and fastest way to build credit, a secured card can be worth your while. Just make sure the issuing bank will report your credit behavior to the 3 major credit bureaus.
How do secured cards work?
- What it is. A secured card is a credit card that requires a refundable deposit in exchange for a credit limit, typically $200 or more. Most credit cards are unsecured credit cards, which means a security deposit isn't required.
- What to watch for. Even if a secured card has no annual fee, you'll need to check for other kinds of fees, including late fees and returned payment fees.
- How to get approved. Check your credit score and the bank's requirements to make sure you are likely to be approved. Be honest on your application, because if you are caught lying, you can lose the account.
- What to do first. If you are approved, you'll be required to pay the refundable deposit. Then, you'll be approved for a credit limit, typically starting at $200.
- How to use it. Even if your credit limit is $500, that doesn't mean you should spend it. If you carry a balance of $250, that means your utilization ratio is 50% -- you want your ratio to be as close to zero as possible, for credit-building purposes. Also, you need to pay on time each month, again to ensure you are building your credit.
- Rinse and repeat. Check your credit score after several months and see if you qualify for a better card. Some cards, such as the Capital One Secured Mastercard, increase your credit limit after several months of on-time payments. For good measure, check your credit reports, as well, looking for errors or mistakes that need to be corrected.
- Time for an upgrade? The Discover it Secured offers the option for an unsecured card after 8 months of good credit habits.
How do you use a secured card?
You can use a secured credit card in the same way you use an unsecured card – simply present the card to the retailer to make a purchase, provided the merchant accepts the network displayed on the front of your card (Visa, Mastercard or Discover).
You can use the card for all manner of purchases; to rent a car or hotel room; or even, in some cases, for rewards.
However, because the credit limit is typically only several hundred dollars, it's worth your while to limit use of the card to one or two small purchases a month, then pay off the bill in full before the due date. This will allow you to build your credit more effectively by keeping your balance low compared to your available credit, called your utilization ratio. Here's how it works:
If you have $500 in available credit, and you have a balance of $250, your utilization ratio is 50%, which is way too high. You want to keep your ratio as close to zero as possible and at least below 30%.
Because you don't know exactly when during the month that the card issuer will report your credit habits to the 3 credit bureaus, it's a good idea to pay in full several times a month, keeping the utilization ratio as low as possible. Create 3 reminders each month to ensure that you pay on time and often enough.
Do secured cards really help your credit?
Secured credit cards can help your credit, if you pay in full and on time each month and you make sure the issuing bank reports your credit habits to the 3 major credit bureaus. By paying in full and on time, you are building your credit history as well as improving 65% of your score with a single action. If you ensure that your credit habits are being reported, then you know that the credit bureaus have what they need to share with the credit score models and lenders.
Some 32% of consumers get a credit card to build credit, while 31% get a card to build their credit limit -- both great reasons for getting a secured card. Experian polled consumers to find out what were their primary reasons for taking out a card. As you can see, building your credit and improving your credit limit were 2 of the reasons:
Primary reasons for credit cards...
- Purchase things I need
- Earn reward points
- Provide an emergency cushion
- Build my credit
- Improve my credit limit
- Provide extra money for things I want
- Pay off other debt
Source: Experian survey
As you can see, everyday purchases lead the pack, even more than rewards, but almost a third of consumers are working to build their credit, something that secured cards are good for.
How much is a typical deposit on a secured credit card?
Most secured cards give you a credit limit to match your security deposit, although the Capital One Secured card might give you a higher limit than your security deposit.
The deposit is refundable once you close the account, and in some cases, after you've shown yourself to be credit-worthy, you can get your deposit back and also keep the card.
Here are 3 secured cards with the required deposit and features that make them appealing:
Typical secured card deposits...
|Capital One Secured Mastercard||$49, $99 or $200 refundable deposit based on creditworthiness||Access to higher credit line after first 5 monthly payments on time|
|Discover it Secured||Minimum deposit of $200||Account reviewed monthly starting at eight months, to see if deposit can be returned|
|First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured Credit Card||$200-$2,000||Approve at any credit score, no minimum required|
How to get a secured card
You know that a secured card is a great way to build your credit, but how do you get one? Here, we look at the steps you should take before you get and while you have a secured card:
- Check your credit report. Review your credit reports for inaccuracies and get them corrected. Also, fix any unpaid charges so that they don't continue to build bad habits on your reports each month. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com for free reports from the 3 credit bureaus or get your free TransUnion report on CreditCards.com.
- Check your credit score. Before you apply for a credit card, check your credit score so you know what you qualify for. You can get your score for about $20 each through MyFICO.com or you can get your VantageScore for free through CreditCards.com.
- Check for surprise fees. You can quickly incur add-on fees through a starter card. Charges can be in embedded in the text of the rates and fees notice, so read carefully.
- Be honest. Don't lie on your application, because if caught, that's a sure-fire way to lose your account.
- Make sure the issuer reports to the credit bureaus. If the issuer doesn't report to the credit bureaus, you won't benefit from all those good credit habits.
- Apply for one card at a time. Avoid applying for multiple cards at once. Each time you apply, your score takes a little hit, whether you get the card or not.
- Pay in full and on time. Once you have the card, congratulations! Now, pay on time and in full each and every month to ensure you are building your credit.
Things to consider when comparing secured cards
One of the biggest disadvantages to a secured card is that they can nickel and dime you with fees. But there are secured cards with very few fees as well, as you'll see below.
In a CreditCards.com survey, 100 cards were looked at for fees, identifying the cards with the most and the least fees. While a secured card was among the cards with the most fees, another secured card had among the fewest.
The survey also found that cards on average had 6 fees, and that foreign transaction fees were on the decline. The 100 surveyed cards charged a total of 591 fees in 2017, compared to 593 in 2016 and 613 in 2015.
Cards with most fees...
- 11 fees
- BankAmericard Secured Card*
- 10 fees
- PNC Points Visa
...and cards with least fees...
- 1 fee
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa
- 2 fees
- Sam's Club Mastercard
- 2 fees
- Capital One Secured Mastercard
Source: Creditcards.com fees survey
As you can see, a secured card can bulk up in fees, or it can have as few as 2, so it's worth your while to research.
Another thing to consider when getting a secured card is whether the card issuer will report your credit habits to the 3 major credit bureaus. This is a must, so that your credit is building over time.
Also, you want to look at whether it's a card you can grow into – for example, look at whether the card will allow you to eventually increase your credit limit or keep the card while returning your deposit.
And, what about rewards? Some cards, such as the Discover it Secured, offer such rewards as 2% back on gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 a quarter, as well as double back at the end of your first year.
Types of credit cards to avoid when building credit
While it depends on your goals which kind of card you get, there are a few general rules about what to avoid or at least pay attention to. For example hidden fees can surprise you after you've gotten that new card, so it pays off to do your research. Here are things you should watch out for, particularly with a secured card:
- Watch out for hidden fees. While some fees are clearly marked in the "Schumer Box" at the top of cards' rates and fees disclosures, lesser known fees with credit-builder cards can be mentioned lower in the copy. They can have vague descriptions, such as "copy fee" or "telephone payment fee," and can pile up fast.
- Check the annual fees. While some cards with annual fees are a good idea because of rewards offered, with a credit-builder card, there is little need. Here are 2 cards with no annual fee that are credit-builder cards:
Secured cards with no annual fee...
|Capital One Secured Mastercard||Limited, bad||Higher credit line after 5 on-time payments|
|Discover it Secured||Fair, new to credit||2% back at gas stations & restaurants up to $1,000/quarter|
- Does the issuer report to the credit bureaus? The whole point of a credit-builder card is to build credit, and to do that, you need to make sure the card issuer is sending your credit habits to the 3 credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
- Is the interest rate high? If you plan to carry a balance, you'll want to avoid a card with high interest rates because the interest charges can pretty quickly overtake the principal when the rates are high.
- Don't become enamored with rewards. When you are trying to build credit, you want to pick a card with few fees and such features as an increase in available credit if your credit score increases, as in the case of Capital One Secured Mastercard. Rewards should not be a priority right now, because you are not going to be using the card for big charges. That said, think about how you might use the card down the line, because while you may not use a card's rewards today, they may be advantageous a year from now.
Secured cards vs. unsecured cards
A secured credit card is an excellent financial product for building credit when your credit hasn't been its best. But eventually, you want to work toward an unsecured card, because options open up for you including superior rewards and benefits.
Here, we look at the different elements of secured cards vs. unsecured cards, both good and bad:
Secured cards vs. unsecured cards...
|Secured credit cards||Unsecured credit cards|
|Refundable deposit required||No deposit required|
|Build credit||Build credit|
|Lower credit limit||More robust credit limit|
|Some rewards possible||Richer rewards|
|Can have tacked-on fees||Might have fewer fees, depending on type|
|Often has annual fee||Some, such as cashback cards, likely won't have annual fee|
For now, a secured card may be best for you, but down the line, an unsecured card could work best. But what can an unsecured card offer? Here we look at some of the better unsecured cards you can look forward to:
Types of unsecured cards...
|Type of card||Card||Features||Credit required|
|General-purpose travel||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 miles/$3,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X miles for every purchase||Good, excellent|
|Hotel||Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express||75,000 pts/$2,000 spend in 3 mths; 25,000 pts/$1,000 spend in 6 mths; weekend night reward every calendar yr/$15,000 spend. Terms Apply||Good, excellent|
|Cash back||Discover it® Cash Back||Enroll quarterly to earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in rotating categories throughout the year; cash back match at end of first yr||Good, Excellent|
How to improve to an unsecured card
Unsecured cards often come in the form of a rewards card, one of the favorite types of cards for consumers (more on that later).
There are airline cards, general purpose products, hotel cards – all of these can deliver benefits that make upgrading your card worthwhile.
By upgrading to an unsecured card, you also have access to excellent balance transfer cards, luxury cards, and other products just not available as secured cards.
So, what's your first step? It all has to do with your determination to improve your credit, thereby improving to a better card. Here is what you need to do to improve to an unsecured card:
- Pay on time and in full each month. Paying on time and having a low utilization ratio make up 65% of your FICO credit score. Pay in full multiple times a month to ensure your ratio stays low.
- Use your card. Don't forget to use your card so you are building those good credit habits on your credit reports.
- Check your credit score and report. Stay on top of your credit reports from the 3 major credit bureaus, checking each one once a year and spacing them out so that you are checking one every 4 months. Also, check your score periodically. You can access your TransUnion report and your VantageScore for free on CreditCards.com.
- Apply for one card at a time. When your score is in a place where you want it to be, research the kind of card you want, ensuring that you have a high likelihood of getting it. Just apply for one at a time, because each time you apply, your score takes a hit, even if you are denied.
While secured cards are one of the top card types (as you can see below), we are all striving to get a rewards card or airline card, right? With a rewards card, you can earn tens of thousands of points or miles a year or hundreds of dollars back just by taking full advantage of the card's offers.
Here are the top cards consumers have in their wallets, which can give you motivation to keep working on your credit building:
The credit cards in our wallets...
- Retail store-specific card
- Other types of rewards cards
- Secured card
- Balance transfer card
- Airline-specific card
- Business/corporate card
- Student card
Can you use a secured credit card to rent a car?
One of the biggest advantages of having a credit card is convenience, and having a secured card is no exception.
When you travel, it can be difficult to rent a car or hotel room without a credit card (although hotels will sometimes accept debit cards, cash or traveler's checks), because most rental car companies and hotels want identification and a credit card. A secured card can help with that.
Heads up, however, that it's a good idea to keep your balance low and to not spend a lot on the card while traveling, because rental car companies and hotels will often put a hold on the card.
Also, because secured cards usually have low available credit, particularly when you first get it, rental cars and hotel rooms can add up quickly. And you don't want to go over your limit, because you can be fined and even lose your card.
While the person at the counter may not know the amount that will be put on hold, the industry standard is typically $50 to $200 a day. You will see it under your "pending" charges until the end of the visit and the card issuer has paid the vendor for the visit.
There are a couple of reasons for the hold: a) to make sure incidentals such as room service and restaurant charges are paid for; and b) to ensure you don't trash the room. The more expensive the room, the higher the hold.
While you ultimately aren't charged for the hold, you lose the ability to charge that amount on other things. For example, if you have available credit of $500 and a hotel puts a $400 hold on the card, then you temporarily only have $100 available credit. It takes as much as a week for the hold to clear, and the quickest way to make that happen is to pay the bill.
To lessen your anxiety and put yourself in the driver's seat, consider signing up for alerts. This way, you can know when the hold is place and when it is removed.
How to use your secured credit card wisely
As you know by now, secured cards are best for credit building. Building rewards and convenience come later. As long as your primary card is a secured card, though, you'll want to follow a few basic financial rules:
- Pay on time. While it takes months to build your credit with good payment habits, one or two late payments can cause a big drop in your score. And not only is paying on time good for your credit, it keeps you from having to pay late fees and higher interest charges, and even losing your card.
- Pay in full. In fact, pay multiple times a month to keep your utilization ratio low – because you don't know when your issuer will send your account information to the 3 major credit bureaus.
- Use for credit building. Don't use the card to carry a balance. In general, carrying a balance is not advisable with any credit card, but with a secured card, the stakes are even higher. That's because your available credit is so low.
- Place a small charge on the card. Don't forget to use the card each month. If you lose your card to inactivity, you can't build credit month by month. Put a recurring reminder on your calendar to ensure that you don't forget.
- Make a budget. Once your available credit has increased, and you can use your card for convenience, create a budget that outlines your monthly expenditures for both your checking account and your card. Review the budget each month to make sure you are staying on track and are able to pay in full each month.
* The information for the BankAmericard Secured Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by Bank of America.
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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