If you have poor credit, you’re not alone. According to Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, 16% of Americans have a credit score of 579 or less, putting them in the “very poor” range. Worse, nearly 26 million people are credit invisible, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, meaning they have no established credit history.
If you’re looking to rebuild your credit or establish a credit history from scratch, a simple strategy is to sign up for a secured credit card.
How a secured credit card works
With a secured credit card — which is a great first credit card for beginners — you put down a refundable security deposit. The amount of that deposit is typically the same as the spending limit you'll be given. Then you just use your new card like a credit card.
As you make payments, the credit card company reports your activity to the credit bureaus. With regular, on-time payments, you could improve your credit. If you decide to close the account in the future, you'll get your deposit back.
The best secured credit cards of January 2021
Secured credit cards differ from traditional cards in that they require you to put down a deposit. Your deposit acts as collateral, minimizing the credit card company’s risk if you don’t pay up. As your credit improves, you may be able to transition to a regular credit card that is unsecured and doesn’t need a security deposit.
The secured credit card market has become fiercely competitive in recent years. Now, some credit card companies have card offers that include benefits like cashback rewards, travel benefits, and introductory APR (annual percentage rate) offers. When shopping around for a card, make sure you keep these perks in mind, but also take into account other factors, like fees and APR.
As you look for a card, consider its security deposit requirements, credit limits, and any benefits it may offer. Here are five of the most-popular secured credit cards available:
Secured MasterCard from Capital One
If you’re looking for a secured credit card with the potential to qualify for a higher credit line, check out the Secured MasterCard from Capital One.
With no annual fee, you can get approved for the card with a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, depending on your creditworthiness. The minimum credit limit you can receive is $200, and the maximum is $1,000. Don’t get discouraged if you’re only approved for the minimum. Cardholders get automatic consideration for a credit line increase in as few as six months after opening the account.
Capital One reports your payment activity to all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — so make all of your payments on time to boost your credit.
The Secured MasterCard from Capital One does not have a special intro APR. New purchases and balance transfers will be subject to the regular variable APR. To avoid paying a lot in interest charges, make sure you pay your statement balance in full each month. In addition, remember that any balance transfers will also be subject to balance transfer fee. This is all typical of secured credit cards.
The card doesn’t offer any rewards, but it does have some useful benefits, including travel accident insurance, auto rental damage collision coverage (secondary coverage), and 24-hour travel assistance services.
OpenSky Secured Visa
If you want more control over your credit limit, the OpenSky Secured Visa Card may be a smart option. OpenSky doesn’t do a credit inquiry when you apply, making it a smart choice for those looking for a credit card after declaring bankruptcy. Instead, you choose your own credit limit — from $200 to $3,000 — and secure it by making a one-time deposit for the full amount of your credit limit.
However, this flexibility does come with a cost. The OpenSky Secured Visa Card has a regular interest rate that is high in comparison to some other cards. This card also has an annual fee of $35. There are some other fees to keep in mind, too:
- Inactive account fee: If you don’t use your card for 12 months or more, you’ll be charged $10 per month.
- Dormant account fee: If you don’t use your card for 36 months or more, you’ll be charged $10 per month.
- Foreign transaction fees: If you travel outside of the country, you’ll be charged 3% every time you use your card.
The OpenSky Secured Visa Card doesn’t offer any rewards or card benefits like travel insurance. But OpenSky reports to the three major credit bureaus, helping you build your credit history.
Green Dot primor Secured Visa Gold Card
Green Dot’s primor Secured Visa Gold Card is a good option for those who want a higher credit limit. When you put down a security deposit, you can qualify for a credit limit as low as $200 or as high as $5,000. The deposit you choose is the credit limit you’ll receive.
The primor Secured Visa Gold Card has the lowest APR of the secured cards on this list. And the company reports to all of the nationwide credit bureaus. However, it does have a number of fees:
- Annual fee: The card has a $49 annual fee.
- Replacement card fee: If you lose your card and need a replacement, you’ll have to pay $29.
- Foreign transaction fee: The card charges 3% on all purchases made outside the United States.
- Credit limit increase fee: You can increase your credit limit at any time. However, you’ll have to pay up to $49 to do so.
Unlike some of the other cards on this list, the primor Secured Visa Gold Card does not offer any rewards or special benefits.
Citi Secured Mastercard
If you’re looking for a simple card with no annual fee, consider the Citi Secured Mastercard. If approved for the card, you’ll have to provide a security deposit. Your credit limit is equal to your security deposit; the minimum deposit possible is $200, and the maximum is $2,500.
The Citi Secured Mastercard will charge you a regular variable APR for all purchases and balance transfers; there is no intro APR offer. It also has a foreign transaction fee of 3%.
The card doesn’t have a rewards program, but Citi does report your activity to the three major credit bureaus. And if your card is lost or stolen, you’ll get access to Citi Identity Theft Solutions, a free program to help you resolve the problem.
First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured Credit Card
The First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured is one of multiple secured credit cards offered by First Progress. The Prestige card charges the lowest interest rate of the three cards but also has the highest annual fee at $49. Of course if you're working to build or improve your credit and paying your balance in full each month, then you won't have to worry about interest charges anyway.
There is no way to upgrade to an unsecured credit card with First Progress, so apply for the Platinum Prestige card only if you are only looking to establish credit and do not have aspirations of converting the card in the future. This card does also carry a 3% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not the best card to use for international travel.
The First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard Secured is not available to residents of Arkansas, Iowa, New York, or Wisconsin.
How to build credit with a secured credit card
Just opening a secured credit card account won't build your credit automatically, but there are some simple things you can do to help your credit score improve over time:
- Choose a credit card issuer that does monthly reporting to the three major credit bureaus.
- Always make your monthly payments on time. Late payments can have a negative impact on your credit bureau file.
- Don't spend so much that you fill up your entire line of credit.
If you keep your account in good standing, you may eventually be able to request a bigger line of credit from the credit card issuer or you may even be able to convert your secured card to an unsecured card. Not all credit card companies have the perk of being able to convert your card, so if that is important to you be sure to read all the details of the card you're interested in before you apply.
FAQs about secured credit cards
What is the difference between an unsecured and a secured credit card?
With a secured credit card, you deposit a fixed amount of money into an account. The credit card issuer holds onto that deposit as collateral and extends you a credit line that is typically equal to your deposit amount (the Secured MasterCard from Capital One is an exception to this). Similar to a regular credit card, once you reach the credit limit, you can’t use your card again until you make a payment.
Unlike secured cards, unsecured credit cards don’t require a deposit. Instead, credit card companies issue a credit line based on your credit report, reported income, and other factors that indicate your creditworthiness to them.
Do secured credit cards help build credit?
The potential for building credit is one of the biggest benefits of opening a secured credit card. A secured card can help you improve your credit score if you choose one that reports to the three major credit bureaus and if you demonstrate responsible use of the account.
Two important factors that determine your credit score are your payment history and your utilization ratio. Your payment history is reported to the credit bureaus, and if you pay your secured card on time every month, this record of steady payments could improve your credit score.
Credit utilization ratio is the amount of credit you're actively using versus the total available credit you have. If you have a secured card with a $500 limit and you charged $100 to it, your utilization ratio is $100 divided by $500, or 20%. Keeping your credit utilization below 30% is ideal for working toward a good credit score.
Can you get turned down for a secured credit card?
Yes, although secured credit cards will not have as stringent of requirements as cards for excellent credit, it is still possible get to turned down for a secured credit card. This could happen because you are not able to provide proof of sufficient income. It may also happen because you have an extremely low credit score or a history of bankruptcy. Whatever the reason, the credit card issuer will send you a letter that explains their decision. Knowing why they turned you down could help you make adjustments to your finances so you can get approved in the future.
If you can't get a secured credit card on your own, you might consider becoming an authorized user on the account of a trusted friend or family member or opting for something like a prepaid debit card if you're looking for a way to purchase things online like you would with a credit card.
If you have bad credit or no credit at all, applying for a secured card is a great first step in building your credit history. To take full advantage of your new card, use it wisely and make all of your payments on time. After several months of managing your account, you’ll hopefully see your credit score increase — you could even qualify for a higher credit limit or a traditional unsecured credit card.