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Secured cards vs. unsecured cards

Secured cards vs. unsecured cards: What’s the difference?

You’ll come across both secured and unsecured cards when looking for a credit card. But what do they mean?

Before we get into the differences between secured and unsecured credit cards, let’s first talk about how a credit card works.

Credit cards and collateral

When you use an unsecured credit card, you’re not spending your own money right away. Instead, you’re borrowing money from your bank. In that sense, each time you use the card you’re taking out a loan that you’re expected to pay back in order to maintain a trustworthy credit history.

For a secured credit card, you’re required to put down collateral as security in order to get a credit limit. Collateral can be anything of value — typically money — that you offer to your lender. If you fail to repay your loan, your lender can seize your collateral.

Secured credit cards explained

When you open a secured credit card, you must provide your lender with a security deposit — typically $200 to $500 (lower deposits are available). This deposit acts as collateral in case you fall behind on your payments. The amount of your security deposit is also your credit limit.

A secured credit card offers the opportunity to build your credit score. If you consistently make your card payments on time, you’ll see an increase in your score over time and can graduate to an unsecured credit card. Just make sure your card provider reports your payments to all three major credit bureaus.

Why do card providers require collateral?

You may be new to credit or have a damaged credit score. In these cases, lenders tend to view you as a riskier borrower. Collateral guarantees the provider will be repaid, making them more willing to lend.

Pros and cons of secured credit cards

ProsCons
  • Get one even if you have new or damaged credit.
  • You set your credit limit.
  • Secured cards can come with low deposit requirements
    and no annual fee.
  • Rebuild your credit score.
  • You must put down a security deposit.
  • Cards typically come with high interest rates.
  • Credit is limited by your deposit.
  • Cards tend to offer few rewards.

Everything you need to know about secured credit cards

Compare secured credit cards

Rates last updated February 18th, 2018
Name Product Product Description APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Annual fee Interest Free Period
primor® Secured Mastercard® Gold Card
Low fixed interest rates with no penalty rate.
9.99% variable
$49
Up to 25 days
First Progress Platinum Prestige Mastercard® Secured Credit Card
You can increase your credit limit by adding funds to the initial deposit.
9.99% variable
$49
Up to 25 days
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
A secured Visa® credit card that helps you build your credit quickly.
18.64% variable
$35
Up to 25 days
First Progress Platinum Elite Mastercard® Secured
With just a security deposit and 19.99% variable APR, start building or rebuilding your credit history.
19.99% variable
$29
Up to 25 days
UNITY Visa Secured Credit Card
Borrow up to $10000 and get your credit score back on track.
17.99% fixed
$39
Up to 25 days
Applied Bank Secured Visa Gold Preferred Credit Card
This secured card can help you rebuild your credit with an initial deposit of $200 to $1,000.
9.99% fixed
$48
0 interest free days
State Department Federal Credit Union (SDFCU) Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card
Created to help you establish or rebuild credit.
13.24% variable
$0
Up to 21 days
SKYPASS Visa® Secured Card
Earn SKYPASS miles while building your credit history in the United States.
17.49% variable
$50
Up to 24 days

Compare up to 4 providers

Unsecured credit cards explained

When you open an unsecured credit card, you won’t have to put down a security deposit.

Typically, if your provider accepts you as a customer, it means they’ve accessed your credit history and are quite confident you’ll repay your debts. To determine your credit limit, your card provider will gauge your ability to repay. They’ll look at factors like your income and payment history. Ultimately, the credit limit they offer you is the amount they feel you can borrow responsibly.

The importance of your credit score

Your credit score will determine many aspects of your financial future such as applying for credit cards, personal loans and your ability to take out a mortgage for a home.

When it comes to credit cards, you’re better off applying for an unsecured card so you can go without putting down a security deposit — you’ll typically get better interest rates too. However, this advice tends to apply for people with a good to excellent credit score of 680 or higher.

If you have fair credit — generally 620 to 679 — you may still qualify for an unsecured card. But the ones you qualify for will likely come with higher fees, shadier terms and less favorable interest rates. You may be better off getting an excellent secured card, building or rebuilding your credit score and then moving on to a reputable unsecured card.

How can I learn what my credit score is?

If you haven’t yet requested your credit report from Experian, Equifax or TransUnion this year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually — this will include your credit score along with your credit history.

Other options include submitting a request to a score service or reporting company directly. Some services require that you sign up for a monthly subscription service, while others require a one-time fee.

Requesting your credit score from a third party service will require a soft pull, this inquiry may appear on your credit report but it will have little to no affect on your score.

Pros and cons of unsecured credit cards

ProsCons
  • No security deposit required.
  • Better rewards than secured credit cards.
  • Cards typically come with lower interest rates than secured credit cards.
  • Poor terms if you have weak credit.
  • Can severely damage your credit history if you’re not managing the account responsibly.

Which card should I pick?

When deciding between a secured and unsecured card, start with your credit score.

  • If your credit score is 680 or higher, you likely have good to excellent credit. An unsecured card is an excellent choice.
  • If your credit score is between 620 and 679, you have fair credit. You’ll still qualify for some unsecured cards, but the terms may not be very good. For better terms, consider applying for a secured card instead.
  • If your credit score is below 620, you have fair to poor credit. You probably won’t be approved for an unsecured card, so a secured card may be a better option. If your credit score is severely damaged, consider a secured card with no credit check.

Common questions about secured and unsecured cards

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