A secured credit card is a tool that you can use to establish and build your credit in the United States. Credit card companies create these cards specifically for people who are new to credit or who currently have poor credit. As a result, it’s easier to get approved for a secured credit card than an unsecured card.
The drawback is that you’ll have to send the issuer a refundable security deposit (that’s what “secures” the account), which will also generally determine your card’s credit limit. Some secured cards also have high fees and few perks. But others can be great options for building credit.
In narrowing down our list of best picks, we looked for cards that have no (or a low) annual fee, report your account to all three major credit bureaus and offer at least one additional benefit to cardholders.
Best secured card with no U.S. bank account: The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
While you’ll likely want to open a bank account in the U.S. at some point, you might want to start building your credit before you get to that point. Many secured credit cards require you to use a U.S. bank account to fund the security deposit, but you can open the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card with a money transfer or check.
What the card offers: The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card doesn’t require a credit check, which can make it easy to qualify for if you’re new to the U.S. credit system or have been in the system and have bad credit. Applying for the card won’t result in a hard inquiry, which could otherwise hurt your credit score a little.
Combined with the no bank account requirement, the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card can be a good way to build your credit.
Potential cons to beware of: While getting an OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card may be easy, the card has a $35 annual fee. The fee is in line with what you’ll pay for many secured cards, but there are secured cards that don’t charge any annual fee and build your credit in the same way.
You can choose your security deposit amount (from $200 to $3,000), and that will also be your card’s credit limit. However, because the card has a high annual percentage rate (APR), you shouldn’t open this card to make large purchases and pay them off over time.You’ll also be charge a 3% foreign transaction fee for any purchases abroad or made in non-USD.
Best secured card with a low APR: Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card
Green Dot Bank offers prepaid cards and credit cards in the U.S. While you can use prepaid cards or debit cards in place of a credit card, they won’t get reported to the credit bureaus and won’t help you build credit like a real credit card.
In contrast, a credit card can also help you deal with unexpected expenses, allowing you to use your card today and pay off the bill over time. Credit cards tend to have high interest rates if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month and using a card to finance purchases can be a costly decision. If you think you may need to use your card this way, look for a card with a relatively low APR.
What the card offers: The Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card has a fixed 13.99% APR for purchases that’s lower than what you may receive with other secured cards. Carrying a balance can still cost you a lot in interest over time, but the low APR helps limit your interest expenses.
There’s also no minimum credit history or minimum credit score requirement, making it easy to qualify this secured card. However, you’ll need a U.S. bank account to pay for the $200 to $5,000 security deposit.
Potential cons to beware of: You’ll have to pay the Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card’s $39 annual fee and there’s a $29 replacement card fee if your card is lost or stolen. Most major issuers will send a replacement card for free, although you may find other secured cards have a replacement card fee as well. There’s also a 3% foreign transaction fee.
You could alternatively consider the Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Gold Secured Credit Card, which has an even lower 9.99% fixed APR but a higher ($49) annual fee. But unless you frequently revolve large balances—in which case, you might want to start budgeting—it’s probably best to opt for the lower annual fee.
Research your decision before applying as Green Dot charges a $49 fee if you want to upgrade to the Gold Card later and a $49 fee if you want to increase your credit limit after opening your account. And, these fees accrue interest charges immediately based on the card’s higher APR for cash advances.
Best secured rewards card: Discover it® Secured
There are a few secured cards that have a rewards program in addition to their credit-building capabilities. The Discover it® Secured requires a Social Security Number, a credit check and a U.S. bank account. But if you meet the requirements, it’s one of the best secured cards you can get.
What the card offers: The Discover it® Secured offers 2% cash back the first $1,000 you spend in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations every quarter (of the year). You’ll also earn 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
Discover also doubles your cash back rewards at the end of your first year with the card, which means you’re earning at least 2% cash back on your purchases—a good rewards rate compared to what most unsecured cards offer. You also won’t have to pay an annual fee or foreign transaction fees and Discover waives your first late payment fee. But be sure to bring your account current within 29 days to avoid hurting your credit.
Another potentially helpful feature is that Discover will monitor your account and credit. Starting at the eight-month point, the company may decide to upgrade your account to an unsecured card and send your deposit back.
Potential cons to beware of: The biggest con may be that Discover cards aren’t accepted at as many stores as American Express, Visa or Mastercard credit cards. Even if the card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, you may find it’s difficult to use it back in your home country.
Additionally, the bank account, Social Security number and credit check requirements could mean some U.S. newcomers won’t qualify for the card right away.
Best secured card with a low deposit: Capital One® Secured Mastercard®
Your security deposit amount will generally determine your card’s credit limit, which can impact your card’s usefulness. The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is one of the few cards that may offer you a higher credit line.
What the card offers: The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has a $200 to $1,000 initial credit line depending on how much you send as your security deposit. However, after reviewing your application, Capital One may offer you the $200 line of credit with a $49 or $99 security deposit requirement rather than the full $200. Even if you don’t receive a low initial deposit offer, Capital One may increase your credit line (without asking for an additional deposit) if you make your first five monthly payments on time.
There are also no annual fees or foreign transaction fees for the card, making it a good option even if you aren’t concerned about the security deposit amount or credit limit.
Potential cons to beware of: While you may be able to save money by avoiding an annual fee, there’s a high variable APR that can make revolving a balance particularly expensive. You’ll also need a checking or savings account to qualify for the card and send your security deposit.
How do secured credit cards work?
Secured credit cards work like other credit cards. The difference is that you’ll need to send the credit card company a refundable deposit to get the card—this is what “secures” your account.
Your security deposit amount will often determine your credit limit on the account. If you stop making payments on your account, the credit card company may keep part or all of your deposit to cover your past-due balance. However, it will send back the full amount if you close your account after paying off all your bills.
How to build credit with your secured credit card
Many credit card issuers will report both secured and unsecured credit card activity to the three major U.S. credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. When you open your account, the company sends information about the credit card account and personal information from your application, such as your name and address, to the bureaus. The bureaus can add this information to their databases and use it to create a credit report.
Your credit report is the basis for credit scores in the U.S., such as those created by FICO and VantageScore. And many companies—including lenders, card issuers, landlords, and insurance companies—will check your credit reports and scores to determine your creditworthiness.
Responsible card use is one of the keys to building good credit. In general, responsible use means paying your bill before the due date and maintaining a low credit utilization ratio.
Your payment history is one of the most important credit scoring factors, so making on time payments is especially important for building credit. Your credit utilization can be a little more complex. But, in short, it's a comparison of your credit card balances to your available credit.
For example, if you have a card with a $1,000 credit limit and you make $200 worth of purchases, your credit utilization ratio is 20%. A lower utilization rate is best for your credit scores, which can be difficult when your secured card has a lower credit limit. If you're focused on building credit, try to use your card for one small purchase and then pay your bill in full every month.
Can I only get a secured card if I’m new to the U.S.?
Most newcomers to the U.S. have traditionally had to start from scratch when building their credit history. But that’s changing: if you’re from countries like Mexico, India, or Canada and have a record of on-time payments at home, you can now use Nova Credit to translate your international credit history into an equivalent report for U.S. lenders through our partner organizations. Companies like American Express partner with Nova Credit to incorporate the choice to share your international credit history into their application process. Once you establish a U.S. credit account using the credit you’ve earned elsewhere, you can start building a local credit history. Here are some unsecured cards we suggest for U.S. newcomers.
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