All things considered, a secured credit card is one of the best ways to establish a credit history if you need to rebuild your credit or you don’t have a credit history.
“Borrowers typically use secured cards to establish credit if they are new to borrowing, or to fix credit if they’ve made some mistakes in the past,” says Michael Dinich, financial advisor and owner of Your Money Geek.
Not only are secured credit cards easier to get than personal loans for bad credit, but they also typically charge lower interest rates. What’s more, you never have to pay a dime in interest on a secured credit card, as long as you pay your balance in full each month. (Note: It’s a common misconception that you have to carry a balance from month to month to build credit).
That said, secured credit cards aren’t ideal for many people. They require a security deposit — one card’s deposit is as low as $49, but most require at least $200 or $300 — which some low-income consumers may not be able to afford.
But if you can afford the upfront deposit, here are four secured credit cards that rise above the rest.
The 4 best secured credit cards today
If you’re in the market for a secured card, you might get taken advantage of if you’re not careful. Pay close attention not only to the features these cards offer, but also the fees and interest rates.
This is by far the best secured credit card on the market today. It’s one of the few secured cards that offer rewards, which are actually better than many unsecured cards. This card also offers a refundable security deposit.
When you use your Discover it Secured, you’ll earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations, up to $1,000 spent each quarter, plus 1% cash back on everything else. What’s more, Discover will double all the cash back you earn your first year. \
So, you’re essentially getting at least 2% cash back on everything the first year. That puts it in competition with some of the best cash-back credit cards on the market.
Most secured cards will give you your deposit back once you close the account. But this one may give it back early. Discover starts reviewing your account after eight months to see if it can return your deposit.
The card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, although international acceptance of Discover is abominably low. Discover will also give you free access to your FICO credit score, so you can track your score as it increases.
If you can’t afford a big security deposit, the Capital One Secured might be a good choice. Depending on your creditworthiness, the card’s minimum security deposit can be $49, $99, or $200. Also, Capital One may give you access to a higher credit line after you make five on-time payments.
The card doesn’t offer rewards, but there is also no annual fee or foreign transaction fees. Additionally, you can choose your monthly payment date to make it work with your budget and cash flow.
Despite the fact that a security deposit essentially eliminates the risk for credit card issuers, some secured cards aren’t available if you have serious negative items on your credit report — for example, a bankruptcy, unpaid tax lien, or foreclosure.
If you have one of those items on your report, the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card might be a good option because it doesn’t run a credit check at all. It also doesn’t require that you have a checking or savings account, which is a pretty standard requirement for most credit cards.
The card’s main drawback is that it has a $35 annual fee.
If you plan to carry a balance on your new card, you’ll pay an arm and a leg in interest with most secured cards. This one, however, charges an even lower interest rate than the national average.
The card also has no annual fee and doesn’t charge balance transfer or cash advance fee.
To get the card, though, you have to become a member of Digital Federal Credit Union. There are several ways to become a member, but it’s still an extra step you have to take.
Picking the right secured credit card
Secured credit cards are best if you don’t anticipate having problems with overspending. But if that’s not the case, consider a credit-builder loan instead.
“With credit-builder loans, the banks lend money that is typically placed into a certificate of deposit (CD)o,” says Dinich. “The bank uses the CD as collateral for the loan and the borrower makes monthly payments to pay the loan off. When the loan is paid off, the CD goes to the borrower.”
If you’re going ahead with a secured card, stay vigilant with your budget. “Borrowers should make a budget and be honest with themselves if they can commit to managing the card properly,” says Dinich. “Otherwise, they may be starting off on the wrong foot, or revert to making previous mistakes.”
To make sure you’re getting the best deal, compare rates and terms of several secured credit cards using SuperMoney’s credit cards review page. You can filter for secured cards and other features you’re looking for.
“Look for a secured card without an annual fee, and consider a card that offers rewards and a grace period before interest is charged,” says Dinich.
As you take the time to do this, you’ll be in a much better position to choose the best secured card for your needs, and you can start building credit in no time.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance writer and a credit cards expert who loves helping consumers and business owners make better financial decisions. His work has been featured in Time, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, CNBC, Success Magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post and many more.