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The Best Tax Software of 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

 

If you’re like most Americans, you dread filing your taxes. You have to track down the right forms, deal with the IRS, and try to remember all your deductions and credits. That’s why so many people turn to online tax software to help file taxes. Great tax software simplifies the filing process without draining your pocketbook. But choosing the right software can be as much work as filing your taxes.

To help you choose the right software, we’ve tested 11 of the leading online tax software packages. We’ve ranked each software on the following criteria: usability, helpfulness of support articles, availability of audit support, and accessibility of tax and technical support. Then, we compared these criteria to the price to determine which software package is best for your situation.

Which tax software fits your needs? Find out below.

Best Tax Software of 2017

Best Free Filing Service

Of the 11 tax software packages we reviewed only two allow all users to file state and federal taxes for free.

Best Software: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax features an outstanding user interface with easy interview questions. The built-in calculators make Credit Karma appropriate for even complex filers. You can’t import information, and Credit Karma doesn’t have robust help, but it’s easily the best software you can use for free.

 

Runner-up: DIY Tax

DIY Tax is a joint partnership between Liberty Tax Services and eSmart Tax. Their user interface is clunky, but it has all the functionality you need. Their software interface allows you to import prior tax returns, and they have excellent support articles.

Best for Simple Filing

Simple filers are W-2 employees who claim the standard deduction. You typically file as Single or Married Filing Jointly. You don’t have dependents, and you earn less than $100,000.

Best Software: TaxAct, free edition

TaxAct offers completely free state and federal filing options for simple filers. However, they do charge $10 for prior year import. The user experience is easy, and TaxAct offers free tax and technical support.

Runner-up: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax offers free filing for all users, and they have an easy-to-use interface. While they only offer email tech and tax support, Credit Karma allows simple filers to explore more complex credits and deductions for free.

Best for Maximizing Deductions and Credits

Charitably inclined people, most homeowners, parents who pay for child care, and people who qualify for the earned income tax credit may want to maximize deductions and credits.

Best Software: Credit Karma Tax

Most software packages require you to upgrade to itemize deductions or claim credits. With Credit Karma Tax you can claim them for free. The only problem with Credit Karma Tax? If you fail to qualify for a credit, they don’t offer great explanations.

Runner-up: TaxSlayer Classic

TaxSlayer Classic offers federal filing for $17 and state filing for $22. The software is easy to use and intuitive. It even allows you to upload your W-2 form. For maximizing deductions and credits, you won’t find a better software for the price. TaxSlayer gives you access to technical support, but you need to upgrade to ask tax-related questions.

Easiest for New Filers

We assume that new filers have simple forms to file, but they want a clear user interface and ready access to tax and technical support.

Best Software: 1040.com EZ

1040.com offers free federal filing, and state filing for $9.95. Normally, we don’t recommend paying for a service that you can get for free elsewhere, but new filers will love 1040.com’s user interface and live chat support. Their tax and tech professionals can quickly guide you if you get stuck.

Runner-up: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax has an excellent user interface that you can use for free. Even new filers can use the interview questions to determine whether they qualify for credits or deductions. Unfortunately, Credit Karma only offers email support.

Best Audit Protection

The IRS has the right to audit anyone, but people with complex taxes run a greater audit risk. No tax software (or accountant) can prevent you from getting audited. However, some tax software will give you access to a tax specialist or accountant if you undergo an audit. These are the software services that can lend a hand if you need it.

Best Software: FreeTaxUSA Deluxe

FreeTaxUSA Deluxe costs $6.99 for federal filing and $12.95 for state filing. FreeTaxUSA does not feature an intuitive user interface, but they have built-in calculators that most complex filers need. They also promise to give you personal assistance if you’re audited. If you can stand the software, it’s the best price for audit protection.

Runner-up: TaxSlayer Premium

TaxSlayer Premium costs $35 for federal filing and $22 for state filing. At the Premium level, trained tax professionals will help you if you’re audited after using the TaxSlayer software. The software is generally easy to use. However, the amortization and depreciation calculators can be confusing.

Why H&R Block and TurboTax didn’t make the cut

Historically, H&R Block included audit assistance with all of their paid programs. This year, you can only get that protection if you purchase the desktop software. If you purchase H&R Block online, you can pay an additional $79.99 for a “Best of Both” package. In this package, a tax professional reviews your filing, and they offer in-person support if the IRS audits you.

In the past, TurboTax included audit assistance with their paid package. This year, if you want audit assistance from TurboTax, you have to pay for the $44.99 “MAX” package. They give some additional security measures and access to in-person support if you’re audited.

Because of the increase in price, these historic powerhouses didn’t make the cut for best audit protection.

Best Interface for Health Care Premium Tax Credit

Health insurance isn’t only confusing during open enrollment. Tax time means that you’ll need to figure out how much of the premium tax credit you qualified for during the year. If you were on an Obamacare health plan for any part of the year, you’ll need to look for software that can handle this credit.

Best Software: OLT.com

OLT.com offers free federal filing and $9.95 state returns. It’s got a poor user interface, but their Affordable Care Act section offers excellent support articles, and it’s easy to use. You can’t import forms, but it’s easy to copy data from your 1095-A onto the software.

This software is only appropriate for simple filers with a marketplace plan. Everyone else should look elsewhere.

Runner-up: TurboTax Deluxe

TurboTax Deluxe costs $34.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. This is a steep price if you want to itemize deductions and maximize credits. However, TurboTax offers the best Affordable Care Act information on the market. They even allow you to upload your 1095-A form to the software.

Best for Investors

If you buy and sell stocks, bonds, or options outside of your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, you need a tax software that can handle all your information. Tax software for investors needs to handle dividends as well as short-term and long-term capital gains.

Best Software: H&R Block Premium – Online version

H&R Block Premium online software costs $54.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. But the price is well worth it in this case. H&R Block allows you to import all major forms from many financial institutions. If you actively trade, you need this capability. H&R Block also has accurate accounting for short-term gains and losses, which will help investors minimize the tax they owe. H&R Block also has helpful community forums and unlimited real-time chat support if you need help.

Runner-up: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax offers a free solution for all kinds of investors. You must manually enter all your trading information, but Credit Karma calculates capital gains and losses and the appropriate tax rate. It’s a decent (and free) solution for less active investors.

Best for Real Estate Investors

Real estate investors need to calculate depreciation. They need to amortize certain expenses and deduct others. This can be confusing for DIY tax preparers. The best tax software for real estate investors needs to feature helpful support articles, intuitive depreciation and amortization calculators, and as many import features as possible.

Best Software: TurboTax Premier

TurboTax Premier costs $54.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state. The real estate portion of TurboTax is second to none. If you use QuickBooks software to manage your real estate accounting, you can connect it directly to TurboTax. If you don’t, you can still upload a Schedule E or use the robust calculators.

Runner-up: H&R Block Premium

H&R Block Premium also costs $54.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state. The software allows users to import many documents including an entire Schedule E. The depreciation and amortization calculators offer standard inputs, but they are flexible enough for special events. H&R Block also makes it easy to import last year’s tax return. Most real estate investors need this to accurately report depreciation.

Best for Self-Employed People

Are you a freelancer or contractor? If so, you know that you can deduct many business-related expenses. This means that taxes can get messy in a hurry. The best tax software for self-employed people makes it easy to claim business deductions. It will also offer robust explanations that will help you understand amortizing equipment expenses and whether you qualify for a home office deduction.

Best Software: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax makes it easy for you to find and deduct appropriate expenses if you’re self-employed. Their built-in amortization calculators are easy to use, and Credit Karma offers helpful explanations. Outside of the most complex self-employment situations, Credit Karma is a simple filing solution.

Runner-up: Jackson Hewitt Basic

Jackson Hewitt Basic software offers one of the lowest cost Schedule C-EZ forms if you’re self-employed. The cost is $19.95 for federal returns and $36.95 for state returns. Their extensive support articles and helpful interface mean that you can find the help you need at the right price. Plus, you can get unlimited live chat support from technical assistants. If you need help from tax experts, you will have to pay for a consultation at a local Jackson Hewitt office.

Best Bargain for Self-Employed People

When you’re self-employed, you don’t always have the luxury of choosing the best-value product. Sometimes, you just need the cheapest product that will get the job done. If that’s you, these are the software products you should consider.

Best Software: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax is the best 100% free option if you’re self-employed. It offers all the functionality you need.

 

Best Software: FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA allows free federal filing and $12.95 state filing. Their calculators and website are adequate for self-employed people. This software allows you to deduct mileage, amortize expenses, and categorize meals and entertainment. FreeTaxUSA isn’t beautiful, but it gets the job done at a low price. If you upgrade to Deluxe, you’ll even get audit assistance.

Best for Small Businesses

Sole proprietors and single member LLCs can also use tax software for self-employed people. As long as the software supports a Schedule C, it will work for your small business needs.

If you’re part of a partnership, a corporation, or a multi-member LLC, then you need more than the standard tax software that we reviewed above.

Corporations need software that supports Form 1120. S Corporations (with more than one member) need tax software that supports Form 1120S. Partnerships and multi-member LLCs need software that supports Form 1065.

If you need business tax software consider one of these options.

TurboTax Business

$149.99 federal (up to five federal e-files); $49.99 per state + $24.99 per state e-filing fee.

TurboTax Business offers the same interview style interface that consumers love, but it offers increased functionality. Small business owners will especially love that they can use it to create unlimited W-2 forms and 1099-MISC forms.

H&R Block Premium and Business

$79.95 federal (up to five federal e-files); first state software free, after that: $35 per state + $19.95 per state e-filing fee. H&R Block offers an excellent interview style user interface with increased functionality such as creating employee forms. This software supports the major forms for businesses, plus the form for nonprofit organizations.

TaxAct for Small Businesses

TaxAct bundles federal and state filing and software for a total of $100. You can purchase federal filing only for $60. TaxAct has a slightly more stripped-down user interface than H&R Block or TurboTax, but business owners can easily complete everything. You can even create as many employee tax forms as you need.

 

Tax Software Pricing, Plans, and Insights

Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax offers free federal and state filing for all users. With a robust and easy-to-use interface, it’s an excellent default choice for most filers. Their guided path through the tax software is as good as the most expensive tax software on the market. But it has a few shortfalls. You can’t import your prior year’s taxes. This makes year-to-year comparisons impossible within the software. You also can’t import any forms, which can be a pitfall for active traders and real estate professionals.

Credit Karma offers tax and tech support via email. They currently have at least a 3-day wait time for answers. Credit Karma doesn’t offer audit support either.

Superlatives: Best Free Filing Service, Best for Maximizing Deductions and Credits, Best for Self-Employed People, Best Bargain for Self-Employed People, Runner-up Best for Simple Filing, Runner-up Easiest for New Filers, Runner-up Best for Investors

DIY Tax

DIY Tax offers 100% free federal and state filing for everyone. Their user interface is a bit clumsy, but it proves accurate and usable. They even allow you to import your prior year’s taxes for your reference. Real estate investors and small business owners need to be careful with this platform. The depreciation and amortization calculators can be confusing. Their software offers technical support, but they push Liberty Tax Service offices for tax support. The software doesn’t come with an audit support guarantee.

DIY Tax is sponsored by Liberty Tax, and you will see ads for their offices in the software. Remember, filing in a Liberty Tax office isn’t free.

Superlatives: Runner-up Best Free Filing Service

eSmart Tax

eSmart Tax and DIY Tax are the same software package. However, you have to pay for eSmart Tax. Why would you pay? The Deluxe and Premium packages offer unlimited phone or email support from tax specialists, which can prove helpful. But in most cases eSmart Tax isn’t a great option.

 

Free Basic Deluxe Premium
Price $0 Federal $29.95 State $14.95 Federal
$29.95 State
$19.95 Federal
$29.95 State
$34.95 Federal
$29.95 State
Best For 1040EZ Homeowners, people with dependents, sole proprietors Stock market investors without capital gains or losses Freelancers, real estate investors, people who sold a home in the previous years

Superlatives: None

TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer has an incredible user interface and helpful support articles. When it comes to itemizing deductions or finding credits, it is one of the easiest to use tax software packages on the market.

Unlike most tax software, TaxSlayer supports all forms on its second-tier Classic level. This means that anyone could complete their entire tax return at a relatively low price. Their Premium level gives you access to live chat support, audit protections, and help from tax professionals.

However, TaxSlayer has two demerits. First, you cannot import a prior year’s tax return from a competitor. The only tax information you can use is information you entered into TaxSlayer during a previous tax year. Second, TaxSlayer doesn’t allow you to see internal calculations for depreciation and amortization. That makes TaxSlayer inappropriate if you’re a real estate investor or self-employed.

 

Simply Free Classic Premium
Price $0 Federal
$0 First State ($22 each additional)
$17 Federal
$22 State
$35 Federal
$22 State
Best For 1040EZ All others (itemizers, stock market investors, real estate investors, self-employed, etc.) Comes with audit assistance, ask a task professional, and live chat support

Superlatives: Runner-up Best Audit Protection, Runner-up Best for Maximizing Deductions and Credits

TaxAct

When does free really mean free? When it comes to simple tax filing through TaxAct. People who file a 1040 or 1040EZ can file federal and state taxes for free through TaxAct. Even if you don’t qualify for free filing, TaxAct usually represents an excellent value. At any level, you can receive phone and email support from tax and technical professionals. TaxAct doesn’t offer audit support, but it is priced accordingly.

For the most part, TaxAct simplifies tax filing. It uses simple questions, helpful knowledge articles, and easy navigation to help you complete your taxes. They even make it easy to import your prior year’s taxes into their software. TaxAct also offers some of the best guidance if you’re a stock market investor or self-employed.

Despite all these praises, the software stumbles somewhat on its real estate coverage. The depreciation calculator seems clumsy in certain areas. Outside of this flaw, TaxAct offers tremendous value for the price.

 

Free Plus Premium
Price $0 Federal
$0 State
$27 Federal
$33 State
$37 Federal
$33 State
Best For 1040EZ, 1040A (no dependents, claiming standard deduction) Itemizers, stock market investors Self-employed, real estate investors

Superlatives: Best for Simple Filing

OLT.com

OLT.com offers bargain basement pricing, but it shows in the interface. You have to pay $7.95 for tax and technical support. Nonetheless, the $7.95 also brings audit support, which offers some value.

Their clumsy user interface only allows you to import prior year tax forms from its own database. Their support articles send you to the even more confusing IRS website.

However, OLT.com offers a few bright spots. The health insurance coverage is easy and accurate. It is the only tax software that makes it easy to claim the premium tax credit for part of the year. Also, the real estate depreciation calculators are flexible enough to deal with complex circumstances.

In most cases, we don’t recommend OLT.com, but a few people may benefit.

 

Free Premium
Price $0 Federal
$9.95 State
$7.95 Federal
$7.95 State
Best For All major schedules supported Anyone who wants audit support

Superlatives: Best Interface for Health Care Premium Tax Credit

1040.com

According to 1040.com, tax filing should be smart and simple. If you’re a new filer or a freelancer with basic expenses, 1040.com delivers. 1040.com offers free live chat and email technical support. They also have support articles that are approachable and informative.

In fact, their entire software is friendly and informative. New filers are likely to appreciate the high-quality and low-cost support from 1040.com, but other simple filers can find better deals elsewhere. Their friendly interview style interface starts to falter if you’re a real estate or stock market investor. You will need to add forms that don’t have built-in calculators. This means that 1040.com is best for people with less complexity in their filing.

 

Free $19.95 $39.95
Price $0 Federal
$9.95 State
$19.95 Federal
$14.95 State
$39.95 Federal
$19.95 State
Best For 1040EZ Stock market investors Self-employed, real estate investors, itemizers

Superlatives: Easiest for New Filers

H&R Block Online

H&R Block is one of the biggest names in tax software for good reason. People with complex tax returns will love the value that H&R Block offers. H&R Block offers unlimited technical support to all filers, and phone and chat tax support for those who pay. The only disappointment is that H&R Block online filing customers do not get a free in-person audit support. This is reserved for those who purchase a $79.99 “Best of Both” upgrade or who download H&R Block’s software.

However, the H&R Block interface offsets this disappointment. H&R Block offers easy navigation, helpful interview questions, and robust articles that can help you untangle even the most complex filing situation. H&R Block’s built-in calculators are flexible enough to deal with uncommon filings. Plus, you can import most major forms, including prior year’s tax returns from competitors. This makes H&R Block ideal for anyone with complex filings.

Their software isn’t quite as easy to use as TurboTax, but it’s quite a bit less expensive. In particular, freelancers and self-employed people with basic expenses will see huge value since they can purchase the Deluxe edition.

 

Free Deluxe* Premium*
Price $0 Federal
$0 State
$34.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$54.99 Federal
$36.99 State
Best For New filers, basic filers (allows for earned income tax credit), homeowners Stock market investors, self-employed with basic expenses, other itemizers Real estate investors, self-employed with more complex expenses

*Deluxe and Premium filers can upgrade to a $79.99 “Best of Both” package. This means that a CPA will review your return and you’ll receive in-person audit assistance.

Superlatives: Best for Investors, Runner-up Best for Real Estate Investors

TurboTax

If you’re looking for the Cadillac of tax software, TurboTax emerges as the winner. Their interface is easy to use and navigate. TurboTax even allows you to import last year’s taxes from any of their competitors. 1040EZ filers will even get to file federal and state returns for free. After that, the price climbs quickly. But for many filers the high price is well worth the cost.

The interview style format makes tax filing simple, even if you’re facing a complex situation. Paying customers who get stuck can get help from tax or technical professionals. TurboTax takes their support seriously. With your permission, support staff can “draw” on your screen to guide you through tough situations.

Real estate investors, self-employed people, and small business owners will appreciate TurboTax’s robust interface. The one thing they won’t appreciate? The price of audit support. TurboTax’s MAX costs $44.99. This is the only way to get audit support from TurboTax this year.

 

Free Deluxe Premium Self-Employed
Price $0 Federal
$0 State
$34.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$54.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$89.99 Federal
$36.99 State
Best For 1040EZ/ 1040A Itemizers Investors, real estate investors Self-employed

*Anyone can upgrade to TurboTax’s MAX for $44.99.

Superlatives: Best for Real Estate Investors, Runner-up Best Interface for Health Care Premium Tax Credit

FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSAand TaxHawk offer the same tax software at the same price. They are owned by the same parent company, and you can even move your profile from one site to the next. The websites aren’t pretty, but experienced filers will find everything they need to complete their taxes. You can even upload prior year’s tax returns from competitors. This is a huge value given the bargain basement pricing.

FreeTaxUSA offers two pricing tiers. Both levels support all major tax forms. You can also access chat support from tax and technical specialists from both levels. However, upgrading will give you priority access to specialists. Upgrading also gives you access to a tax specialist if you’re audited.

The name might lead you to believe you’re getting free tax filing, but you’ll have to pay at least $12.95 for state filing. Nonetheless, FreeTaxUSA is a great bargain — especially if you have a complex filing situation.

 

Free Premium
Price $0 Federal
$12.95 State
$6.99 Federal
$12.95 State
Best For All major schedules supported Anyone who wants audit support

Superlatives: Best Audit Protection, Best Bargain for Self-Employed People

Jackson Hewitt Online

Jackson Hewitt brings the neighborhood tax filing office online. They feature excellent knowledge articles and easy interview style tax filing. It’s easy to import your taxes from any major competitor or from Jackson Hewitt. This makes switching to Jackson Hewitt Online easy.

Built-in calculators make depreciation and amortization easy. However, Jackson Hewitt doesn’t offer many import options. This makes their relatively high pricing difficult to justify. Simple filers (1040EZ) and self-employed people with basic expenses may see high value in the Jackson Hewitt software. After all, they offer live chat tech support to all their customers. If you need tax support, you’ll have to upgrade to Premium to get the phone support.

Jackson Hewitt also allows online filers to pay extra for an in-person tax consultation. Prices for these meetings vary by location.

It’s important to note that this review is only for the online Jackson Hewitt software package. Magnify Money did not review Jackson Hewitt office preparations.

 

Free Basic Deluxe Premium
Price $0 Federal
$0 State
$19.95 Federal
$36.95 State
$34.95 Federal
$36.95 State
$54.95 Federal
$36.95 State
Best For 1040EZ Freelancers Investors, families with dependents, homeowners, itemizers Small business owners, real estate investors

Superlatives: Runner-up Best for Self-Employed People

 

Tax Software FAQs

Is online tax software safe?

Tax-related identity theft is the number one reported form of identity theft. However, most theft isn’t the direct result of using online software. Any time you apply for a credit card or use online banking, your information enters the digital world. If this information gets stolen, you’re at risk. Nobody can eliminate the possibility of identity theft, but you can work to protect yourself.

Part of protecting yourself involves only giving out your information on trusted websites. When you file your taxes, you provide all your personally identifiable information to a software service. You need to know whether or not that information is safe.

Every software company that we reviewed is an Authorized IRS e-File provider. This means that these sites comply with the security and business standards set forth by the IRS.

None of the software packages we reviewed will sell your personal information to a third party. Each of the software packages we reviewed requires you to use multi-factor authentication. This makes it difficult for hackers to access your personal information. These websites are as secure as possible, but they are not 100% safe.

If you think you’ve been the victim of tax fraud, contact the IRS immediately at 1-800-908-4490 to work with their resolution specialists. You will need to file an identity theft affidavit that explains that someone filed taxes in your name.

What if I don’t want to use tax software?

If you don’t want to use tax software, you can choose a paper filing option. Each state requires you to mail your check to a different office.

You can also use the IRS’s free electronic fillable forms. However, these offer limited guidance and can be difficult to use. With so many other free options, these should be a last resort.

Finally, you can hire a professional tax preparer to do your taxes for you. Be sure that the person you hire is in the Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.

Should I hire an accountant?

An accountant can save you time, headache, and in some cases, money. Tax professionals must follow the tax code, but their specialized knowledge helps them pick up on deductions or credits that you might miss on your own.

In general, the more complex your tax return, the more you may want to hire an accountant. If you choose to hire an accountant, be sure that they are an authorized tax return preparer. They should sign your return as an authorized preparer.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Best of, Earning Interest

The Top IRA CD Rates – September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top IRA CD rates
Source: iStock

Perhaps you’ve decided to build a CD ladder within your IRA, or maybe you’re looking for a safe way to store your retirement cash for a specific period of time. Whatever the reason, you’re interested in getting an IRA CD and, understandably, want to know what products will give you the best rate of return.

You can get an IRA CD with terms ranging from three months to more than six years, with interest rates generally increasing with the term length. There are lots of options, so we’ve rounded up the top IRA CD rates that are available right now for a variety of terms. You’ll select your IRA CD terms based on your CD-ladder master plan or whenever you’ll need access to your money.

Every month, we choose the top IRA CD rates using data from our sister company DepositAccounts.com, a database of offerings at more than 17,100 banks and credit unions. On Sept. 5, 2017, we sorted the products by APY, then eliminated institutions with a health rating below a B. We then eliminated products that are not available nationwide. From there, we chose the IRA CD with the highest APY among products with a minimum deposit no greater than $5,000. Here are the best options.

The best IRA rates in September 2017

3 Month IRA CD – Northpointe Bank, 92-182 Day Fixed IRA

Three-month IRA CDs typically offer the lowest interest rates of any IRA CD term. Northpointe
Bank offers the best rate of 0.90% APY and a minimum deposit of $500, but that will only earn you a mere $1.12. Still, that interest rate is better than the nationwide average for regular CDs, currently at 0.226% APY. (DepositAccounts.com calculates the national average for each term based on the rates in its database.)

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6-Month IRA CD – Nationwide Bank, 6-month IRA

Six-month IRA CDs typically earn a little bit better, but they’re still not great. Nationwide Bank offers the highest interest rate at 1.20% APY for deposits less than $100,000. That translates into an earning of $5.98 on a $1,000 deposit. Compare that to the average of all regular 6 month CDs, at 0.384%.

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1-Year IRA CD Rates – EverBank, 1-Year Yield Pledge IRA

Regular one-year CDs earn an average interest rate of 0.6% APY. EverBank, however, is offering a one-year IRA CD at 1.60% APY. You’ll need a $5,000 minimum deposit, but with this amount you would earn $80.00.

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18-Month IRA CD Rates – EverBank, 1.5 Year Pledge IRA

Regular 18-month CDs earn an average interest rate of 0.728% APY. The top pick in this category is again EverBank, which offers an interest rate of 1.67% APY on a $5,000 minimum deposit. With those terms, you would earn $125.77 by the time the CD matured.

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2-Year IRA CD Rates – First Internet Bank of Indiana, 24-Month IRA

Two-year regular CDs earn an average interest rate of 0.843% APY. The First Internet Bank of Indiana, on the other hand, is currently offering 1.81% APY on their 2-year IRA CDs. This would translate into an earning of $36.53 with a minimum $1,000 deposit.

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3-Year IRA CD Rates – GTE Financial, 36-Month IRA Certificate – Member Advantage

Three-year regular CDs are earning an average interest rate of 1.064% APY currently. GTE Financial is nearly doubling that, with an interest rate of 2.02% APY with their Member Advantage 36-month IRA Certificate. With those interest rates and a $500 minimum deposit, you would earn $30.92 when the certificate matures. Anyone can qualify for this credit union membership with a one-time $10 membership fee to GTE Financial’s nonprofit educational financial club, CUSavers.

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4-Year IRA CD Rates – GTE Financial, 48-Month IRA Certificate – Member Advantage

Four-year regular CDs are currently earning an average interest rate of 1.264% APY. GTE Financial again claims the top interest rate for these IRA CDs, with an interest rate of 2.27% APY. You would earn $46.97 on this CD with a $500 minimum deposit.

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5-Year IRA CD Rates – GTE Financial, 60-Month IRA Certificate – Member Advantage

Five-year IRA CDs hold the top spot for interest rates out of any category on our list. National averages for a regular 5-year CD is 1.534% APY, however GTE Financial once again outperforms the average with a 2.58% APY on its 5-year IRA CD for members. The minimum deposit is $500. With those terms, you would earn $67.92 by the time the CD matured.

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6+ Year IRA CD Rates – Discover Bank, 7-Year IRA

Interestingly, these very-long-term IRA CDs don’t offer higher interest rates than the shorter-term five-year IRA CDs. Discover Bank offers the highest term for their seven-year IRA CD, at 2.30% APY. That’s still a lot less than GTE Financial which offered a 2.58% APY for a five-year IRA CD. Still, with Discover Bank’s seven-year IRA CD, you would earn $431.36 on a minimum deposit of $2,500 when the IRA CD matures.

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3 questions to consider before opening an IRA CD

Opening an IRA CD generally requires filling out a form or talking to a banker. You’ll have to have a way to fund your IRA CD, whether that’s rolling over an existing retirement account into an IRA CD or depositing cash into the product. The same limits that apply to IRA contributions apply to IRA CDs: $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you’re over age 50) of your own money across all your IRA accounts each year, and you can do a rollover once per year.

Unless you’ve invested in a bump-up IRA CD, you won’t be able to take advantage of a higher rate until your CD matures. Withdrawing funds from an IRA CD before they mature will result in a stiff penalty. Bump-up IRA CDs give you a chance to increase your interest rate to a higher level if it’s available, but you’re generally only allowed to do this once or twice during the life of the CD.

You can either use the the direct-transfer method or the indirect-transfer method. The direct transfer method requires setting up your new IRA account filling out a form authorizing the bank or credit union to transfer money from the old account into the new account. The indirect transfer method involves you asking for a check from your old IRA account. You have up to 60 days to deposit that check into your IRA CD to avoid incurring a penalty.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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The Top 6 month CD Rates – September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The top 6 month CD rates
Source: iStock

Short-term certificate of deposit (CD) accounts offer investors a safe opportunity to squirrel away money for a future expense. If you’re looking for a brief solution for storing your cash and want to earn more interest than a typical savings account will offer, a 6 month CD can make a lot of sense. (It’s also a good place to start if you’re building a CD ladder.)

Using information from our sister company DepositAccounts.com, a database of offerings at more than 17,100 banks and credit unions, we found the five banks and five credit unions with the top 6 month CD rates. If there was a tie, we chose the institution with the smaller minimum-deposit requirement. We pulled these rates Sept. 5, 2017, and we excluded promotional offerings. The national average APY on 6 month CDs (among banks and credit unions) is 0.38%, according to the DepositAccounts.com database. These options outperform that average by a long shot. (You may also want to view our picks for the overall best CD rates.)

Banks with the best 6 month CD rates

Virtual Bank

VirtualBank

6 month CD APY: 1.36%
Bank information: VirtualBank is a subsidiary of Louisiana-based IBERIABANK Corp., offering 24/7 digital or telephone access on eCDs, open to applicants anywhere in the U.S.
Where to open CD account: Online (paperless account options)
Minimum balance to open: $10,000
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 30 days’ interest

First Internet Bank of Indiana

First Internet Bank of Indiana

6 month CD annual percentage yield (APY): 1.32%
Bank information: A subsidiary of First Internet Bancorp, this online bank founded in 1999 has no branch locations, but offers service online in all 50 states.
Where to open CD account: Online
Minimum balance to open: $1,000
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

Live Oak

Live Oak Bank

6 month CD annual percentage yield (APY): 1.25%
Bank information: Live Oak Bank started in 2008 with a focus on small-business financing. It also offers personal banking products, including a range of CDs, to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Social Security numbers.
Where to open CD account: Online
Minimum balance to open: $2,500
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

Nationwide Bank

Nationwide Bank

6 month CD APY: $100,000+, 1.25%; less than $100,000, 1.20%
Bank information: Nationwide began offering banking services in 2007 under its parent company, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. Its corporate headquarters are located in Columbus, Ohio. The bank offers CDs with terms from three months to five years, open to anyone in the United States meeting minimum requirements.
Where to open CD account: Online
Minimum balance to open: $500
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

ableBanking

ableBanking

6 month CD APY: 1.05%
Bank information: ableBanking was founded by former professionals from brick-and-mortar banks. A solely online bank, ableBanking is a division of Maine-based Northeast Bank, founded in 1872. CD accounts are open to all U.S. residents over 18 years of age.
Where to open CD account: Online
Minimum balance to open: $1,000
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

Credit unions with the best 6 month CD rates

Chevron FCU

Chevron Federal Credit Union

6 month CD APY: 1.05%
Credit union information: Founded in 1935, the Chevron Federal Credit Union is a private, not-for-profit institution with branches in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Utah.
Membership details: Membership is open to Chevron Corp. employees, retirees and affiliates, residents of San Francisco, and residents in Frederick County, Md.
Where to open CD account: Branch locations and online
Minimum balance to open: $500
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

Northwest Federal

Northwest Federal Credit Union

6 month CD APY: $250,000+, 1.05%; $100,000-$249,999, 0.95%; $1,000-$99,999, 0.85%
Credit union information: Founded 70 years ago, Northwest Federal Credit Union currently serves approximately 200,000 members.
Membership details: Government employees, retirees and household members affiliated with the National Reconnaissance Office, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and member companies.
Where to open CD account: Online banking, branches, or phone: 703-709-8900 (844-709-8900 toll-free).
Minimum balance to open: $1,000, $100,000, and $250,000.
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: The credit union uses an APY calculation that reduces interest earnings based on the amount withdrawn prior to maturity.

Blue Federal Credit Union

Blue Federal Credit Union

6 month CD APY: 6 month Sapphire, 0.90%; 6 month Gold, 0.65%; 6 month Silver, 0.40%. (Interest-rate rewards — Sapphire, Gold and Silver — are calculated based on length of membership.)
Credit union information: Blue Federal was founded as a member-owned, not-for-profit institution in 2016 with the merger of Warren Federal Credit Union (chartered in 1951) and Community Financial Credit Union (chartered in 1956). Today it serves 74,000 members at its branches in Colorado and Wyoming.
Membership details: Applicants must be a family relative of an existing member, employed with F.E. Warren Air Force Base and Military Entities, or an employee (or retiree) of one of Blue Federal’s Select Employee Groups.
Where to open CD account: At BFCU branches in Colorado and Wyoming.
Minimum balance to open: $2,000
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: Determined by credit union based on interest percentage earned on amount of withdrawal.

Penfed

PenFed Credit Union

6 month CD APY: 0.85%
Credit union information: PenFed, established in 1935, today serves more than 1.6 million members at branch locations in all 50 states and select overseas facilities.
Membership details: Open to current or retired members of the U.S. military, federal employees, affinity partners, members of qualifying organizations (see online membership application page), or by donating to Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association.
Where to open CD account: Branch locations or online
Minimum balance to open: $1,000
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: 90 days’ interest

USALLIANCE Financial

USALLIANCE Financial

6 month CD APY: 0.80%
Credit union information: Founded as a credit union for IBM employees in 1966, USALLIANCE Financial today serves more than 90,000 members worldwide through 6,000 branches and 25,000 ATMs (surcharge-free).
Membership details: Applicants must be a relative of an existing USALLIANCE member, reside in one of five Massachusetts counties, work in select New York and Connecticut locations, or work in participating membership companies (you can find the requirements by visiting the website, clicking “Open an Account” and then “Open a Primary Account”).
Where to open CD account: Branch locations
Minimum balance to open: $500
Maintenance fees: $0
Early withdrawal penalties: Credit union calculates a “significant penalty” of 360 days of dividends.

Pros and cons of using 6 month CDs

Pros:

  • 6 month CD rates offered by banks and credit unions are generally higher than those on savings accounts.
  • 6 month CD rates are fixed and guaranteed for the length of their term.
  • The discipline of keeping the funds in the CD means the money will be available upon maturity. (Note: Most banks offer a seven-day grace period to reinvest or withdraw the investment, after which the funds will roll over into a new CD. However, you are not guaranteed the same rate.)

Cons:

  • 6 month CD rates are lower than those offered on longer CD investment terms.
  • To tap into the CD funds — even for emergencies — consumers must accept a loss through penalties, which can include a percentage of the funds, a percentage of the earned interest, or a combination of both. A typical penalty on a short-term CD is between 30 and 90 days’ worth of interest earnings.
  • If you’re not confident you can do without access to the funds for six months, you may be better off putting your money in a traditional savings account, which is likely to earn less interest than a CD.
  • Since CD rollovers may reset at a different percentage rate, consumers must speak with the bank before the seven-day grace period ends to ensure they are getting the best deal.

Using a 6 month CD for laddering

A CD ladder comprises small-amount CDs with varying terms and respective interest rates that contribute to a long-term investment strategy. After the 6 month CD matures, the investor can withdraw the funds for a predetermined expense. Or, they can reinvest the money into a longer-term CD with a better rate. By staggering the maturity dates on short-term CDs, the consumer has access to their cash on a regular, predictable basis.

Where can you open a CD account?

Consumers can open 6 month CD accounts (or longer) from banks and credit unions. Bank and credit union CD rates are based on Federal Reserve rates, and there may be strategic times to pursue these short-term instruments following a rate increase.

Gabby Hyman
Gabby Hyman |

Gabby Hyman is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gabby here

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The Best Credit Union CD Rates – September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The top credit union CD rates
Source: iStock

Certificates of deposit (CDs) are a great way to safely store your savings at a financial institution, as they offer a guaranteed rate of return, and CD rates tend to be higher than those on traditional savings accounts. Maybe you’ve even heard that credit union CD rates offer higher returns—but is that really the case? On average, yes. As of June 2017, the average one-year credit union CD had a 0.58% annual percentage yield (APY), compared to the 0.48% APY average among one-year bank CDs. (You may also want to view our picks for the overall best CD rates.)

Using data from our sister site DepositAccounts.com, we identified the top one-year credit union CD rates, as of Sept. 5. We then eliminated any credit union with a health rating lower than a B and identified the top three offerings in three categories: restricted, no cost, and best banking app. If there was a tie by APY, we went with the product with the lower minimum deposit. Here are the best one-year credit union CD rates.

Best CD rates for credit unions with no cost to join

The thing about credit unions is that they’re not usually just open to anyone. You usually need to meet some membership criteria in order to get in and get access to all of their really nice products. These credit unions, however, will let you in for free regardless of your personal details. (Note: Only two credit unions met our criteria for this list.)

 

Unify Financial Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 0.85% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Unify FCU offers the highest interest rates on CDs (which it calls share certificates) of any credit union with no cost to join. The interest rate on their 12-month CD, for example, is 0.85%, compared to the national average of 0.597% in August. You would earn $8.50 on a $1,000 deposit. If you withdraw your money early, however, you’ll face a penalty of 90 days’ worth of interest.

NASA Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 0.55% APY, min. deposit $1,000

If the rigid inflexibility of CDs makes you leery, NASA FCU might be your best bet. They have a lot of flexible certificates, such as add-on certificates that let you start with as little as $250, and bump-rate certificates that let you opt for a one-time interest rate increase if rates go up. You can even take out a loan from your certificate should you need the cash before it’s matured. You can join NASA FCU with a complimentary membership to the National Space Society.

If you do need to make an early withdrawal, you will face a penalty of 180 days’ worth of interest.

Best credit union CD rates with restricted memberships or membership fees

Each of these credit unions have restricted membership criteria, but don’t let that scare you away. If you don’t meet their membership criteria, it’s possible to make a small donation to their charity of choice in order to become eligible for membership. Furthermore, these credit union CD rates offer some of the highest-returning share certificates out of any category.

 

Air Force Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.56% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Members and family members of the military, civilian contractors, and certain employees are eligible to join the Air Force FCU, along with anyone willing to join the Airman Heritage Foundation ($25 annual membership fee).

This credit union comes in first place overall for highest interest rates for 12-month CDs. You can earn $15.60 by depositing a minimum of $1,000 in a 12-month CD, with an APY of 1.56%. You can also use your CD as collateral to earn a lower interest rate on a loan, and membership comes with a host of discounts for parks and businesses in the San Antonio, Texas area. Watch out for the early withdrawal penalties, however, worth half of whatever you would have earned between when you withdrew the funds and when it would have matured.

Andrews Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 1.41% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Andrews FCU comes in just behind the Air Force Federal Credit Union in terms of the highest CD interest rates of any credit union on our list. With just a $1,000 minimum deposit, these CDs are much more attainable if you don’t have a lot to spare. You’ll earn $14.10 in interest on a 12-month CD, and if you withdraw your money early, you’ll face a penalty of 90 days’ worth of dividends (for CDs of less than 2 years), or 180 days’ worth of dividends (for CDs of 2 years of more).

Anyone can join Andrews FCU with a one-time $5 donation to the American Consumer Council, a national financial literacy organization.

Connexus Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.40% APY, min. deposit $5,000

If you don’t meet Connexus CU’s regular membership criteria, you can always join by making a one-time $5 donation to the Connexus Association, the credit union’s education wing. Once in, you can take advantage of the one of the highest credit union CD rates. There’s just one catch: You’ll need more money than most credit unions require to open up a share certificate—$5,000. If you’re able to swing that much, you can earn $70 with just a 12-month CD. The early withdrawal penalty is 180 days’ worth of dividends on the amount you withdraw.

Alliant Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 1.35% APY, min. deposit $1,000

You can join Alliant Credit Union by making a $10 donation to Foster Care To Success, a nonprofit that helps teenagers aging out of the foster care system, if you don’t meet their other membership criteria. A 12-month CD at Alliant CU earns 1.35% APY (still far above the national average of 0.597% APY), meaning you can earn $13.50 on a $1,000 deposit. Alliant CU is unique among credit unions in that they’ll allow you to withdraw your monthly dividends (not the whole CD) without penalty, although this will reduce your earnings.

Best CD rates for credit unions with the best mobile apps

By their very nature, CDs aren’t something that require constant attention, poking, and prodding. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of a deal, so you won’t need any spiffy banking apps to use CDs.

But, if you’d like to switch all of your banking to the same institution that holds your CDs, it might be a wise idea to consider one of these credit unions if you’re a digital junkie. Most credit unions lag behind their bank compatriots in terms of mobile banking apps, but these credit unions offer top-notch mobile apps, according to MagnifyMoney’s 2016 mobile banking app analysis.

 

Wright-Patt Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.34% APY, min. deposit $500

Unlike many credit unions, you can’t just make a simple donation to join Wright-Patt CU if you fail to meet their membership criteria. You need to live in certain areas of Ohio, be associated with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or be an employee of their select employer group, among other options.

You can earn $6.70 on a 12-month CD with just a relatively small $500 deposit. Early withdrawal penalties vary depending on the original term of your CD, however they’ll be anywhere between 5-12 months’ worth of dividends.

Eastman Credit Union – 1-Year Investment Certificate, 1.25% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Eastman Credit Union also has pretty restrictive membership requirements. You’ll have to be an employee (or a family member of an employee) of one of their select employers, or live in certain parts of Tennessee, Texas, or Virginia.

Eastman CU is another one of the rare credit unions that allow you to withdraw your dividends penalty-free before the maturity date, although again, doing so will lower your total returns. Currently, you can earn an interest rate of 1.25% on a 12-month CD. With a minimum deposit of $1,000, that translates into earnings of $12.50 after one year. If you withdraw your money before the CD matures, you’ll owe a penalty fee of anywhere between seven days’ worth of dividend earnings or all of your dividend earnings.

Delta Community Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 0.75% APY, min. deposit $1,000

There are many ways to join Delta Community CU, such as living in certain parts of Georgia, being a member of one of their select employers, or being a member of one of their partner organizations. Interestingly, citizens of many countries like Argentina, France, and Peru are also eligible to join.

At 0.75% APY for a 12-month CD, Delta Community CU ranks as one of the lowest-earning credit unions on our list—not much above the current national average of 0.597% APY. You’ll earn $7.50 on a 12-month CD with the minimum deposit of $1,000. Early withdrawal penalties range are 90 days worth of interest on a 12-month CD.

3 questions to consider before opening a credit union CD

Banks are more likely to call their products certificates of deposit, while credit unions often refer to them as share certificates. Aside from the name, the biggest difference between the two is that credit unions have higher average annual percentage yields (APYs), as of June 2017. That’s good news: It means more money back in your pocket when the CD matures (i.e., reaches the end of its term and is available for withdrawal).

There really is no difference in safety between depositing money in a CD with a credit union versus a bank, as long as they participate in either the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) for credit unions, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for banks.

According to Neal Frankle, a Los Angeles-based Certified Financial Planner with Wealth Pilgrim, deposits of up to $250,000 per financial institution are “backed by the full faith and credit of United States Government, so it’s pretty solid.”

For the most part, choosing a CD at a bank or a credit union boils down to your preference as a consumer: Do you want to be a bank customer or a member of a credit union? Here’s a primer on the differences.

The biggest advantage of credit union CDs over bank CDs is that you can likely earn more interest. But with both products, the longer the CD term, the more interest you will earn. And with a CD laddering strategy, you can have the best of both worlds: frequent access to your money, yet you can still keep it locked away in high-interest, long-term CDs.

Beyond that, the disadvantages of opening a credit union CD are the same as if you’re opening a CD with a bank. You can’t access that money without paying an early withdrawal penalty until the CD matures. While CDs do offer some of the highest rates for any financial product you’re likely to come across at a bank or credit union, they still don’t really earn great interest. If you’re investing for the long-term (like retirement savings), your money is better invested in the riskier (but higher-earning) stock or bond market.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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9 Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

There are a lot of 0% APR credit card deals in your mailbox and online, but most of them slap you with a 3 to 4% fee just to make a transfer, and that can seriously eat into your savings.

At MagnifyMoney we like to find deals no one else is showing, and we’ve searched hundreds of balance transfer credit card offers to find the banks and credit unions that ANYONE CAN JOIN which offer great 0% interest credit card deals AND no balance transfer fees. We’ve hand-picked them here.

If one 0% APR credit card doesn’t give you a big enough credit line you can try another bank or credit union for the rest of your debt. With several no fee options it’s not hard to avoid transfer fees even if you have a large balance to deal with.

1. Chase Slate® – 0% Introductory APR for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer FEE

Chase Slate<sup>®</sup>
This deal is easy to find – Chase is one of the biggest banks and makes this credit card deal well known. Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee and get 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

You can get this offer if you complete the balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account. So it’s worth a shot to see how big of a credit line you get. If it’s not enough, move on to the other options below.

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on Chase’s secure website

2. Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® – 0% Introductory APR for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer FEE

Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard<sup>®</sup>
This card is available if you have excellent credit. Be aware that you have 45 days to complete this transfer after opening the account.

You can also nominate and vote on charity partners to donate card profits each year and there are no foreign transaction fees if you use the card abroad.

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on Barclaycard’s secure website

Tip: The remaining no fee cards on this list are deals for 12 months or less. You might be better off paying a standard 3% balance transfer fee for a longer deal, like 0% for 18 months from the Discover It, one of the better deals with a balance transfer fee of 3%. If you’re trying to transfer from Chase, consider a deal from Bank of America with $0 transfer terms.

3. Alliant Credit Union Credit Cards – 0% Introductory APR for 12 months, NO FEE

Alliant is an easy credit union to work with because you don’t have to be a member to apply and find out if you qualify for the 0% Introductory APR deal.

Visa® Platinum Card from Alliant CU

Just choose ‘not a member’ when you apply and if you are approved you’ll then be able to become a member of the credit union to finish opening your account.

Alliant Credit Union

Anyone can become a member of Alliant by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success.

If your credit isn’t great, you might not get a 0% intro rate – rates for transfers are as high as 5.99%, so make sure you double check the rate you receive before opening the account, and they might ask for additional documents like your pay stubs to verify the information on your application.

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on Alliant CU’s secure website

4. Edward Jones World MasterCard – 0% Intro APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers, NO FEE

Edward Jones World MasterCard<sup>®</sup>

You’ll need to go to an Edward Jones branch to open up an account first if you want this deal. Edward Jones is an investment advisory company, so they’ll want to have a conversation about your retirement needs.But you don’t need to have money in stocks to be a customer of Edward Jones and try to get this card. Just beware that you only have 60 days to complete your transfer to lock in the 0% introductory rate. This deal expires 11/30/2017.

5. First Tech Choice Rewards – 0% Balance Transfer Intro APR for 12 months, NO FEE

Choice Rewards World MasterCard® from First Tech FCU

Anyone can join First Tech Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $8, or the Computer History Museum for $15. You can apply for the card without joining first. This introductory 0% for 12 months on balance transfers with no fee deal is for the First Tech Choice Rewards World MasterCard, and you also get 10,000 points after you spend $2,000 on the card in your first 3 months. The points don’t expire as long as you have the card, and 6,000 points is enough for $50 cash back, while 11,000 points is enough for $100 cash back, which can help you pay down your card.

6. La Capitol Federal Credit Union – 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 12 months, NO FEE

Visa Rewards Card from La Capitol FCU
Anyone can join La Capitol Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Louisiana Association for Personal Financial Achievement, which costs $20. Just indicate that’s how you want to be eligible when you apply for the card – no need to join before you apply. And La Capitol accepts members from all across the country, so you don’t have to live in Louisiana to take advantage of this deal on the Prime Plus card.

7. Navy Federal Platinum – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE – Offer Expired

Navy Federal is the largest credit union in the country, and from time to time it offers a deal like this. It probably won’t last long, so if you’re interested get on it quickly.

Platinum Card from Navy Federal Credit Union
Unfortunately if you don’t have a military affiliation in your family you won’t be able to join Navy Federal to take advantage of this. There used to be a way to  join via the Navy League of San Diego, but that’s no longer an option. You’ll need to have a family member (grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, grandchildren, children and household members) who is with or has served with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard to be eligible to join.

8. Purdue Federal Credit Union – 0% Intro APR for 12 months, NO FEE

Visa Signature Credit Card from Purdue FCU

This deal is only for their Visa Signature card – other cards have a higher intro rate. The Purdue Federal Credit Union doesn’t have open membership, but one way to be eligible for credit union membership is to join the Purdue University Alumni Association as a Friend of the University.

Anyone can join the association, but it costs $50. The good news is you can apply and get a decision before you become a member of the Alumni Association.

9. Logix Credit Union Credit Card – 0% APR for 12 months , NO FEE

If you live in AZ, CA, DC, MA, MD, ME, NH, NV, or VA you can join Logix Credit Union and apply for this deal. Some applicants have reported credit lines of $15,000 or more for balance transfers, so if you have excellent credit, good income, but a large amount to pay off (like a home equity line), this could be a good option.

10. First Tennessee Bank Credit Card – 0% Intro APR for 12 months, NO FEE

First Tennessee Platinum Premier Visa
If you want to apply online for this deal, you’ll need to live in a state where First Tennessee has a branch though. Those states are: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

You need to have an existing First Tennessee account to apply online, but if you don’t have one, you can print out an application and mail it into their office to get a decision. You’ll find a link to the paper application when the online form asks you whether you have an account or not.

11. Kinecta MyPower MasterCard – 0% Intro APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Kinecta MyPower MasterCard® from Kinecta FCU
Anyone can join Kinecta credit union by becoming a member of the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica for $10. This card is special because it has no fees of any kind. No late, cash advance, or foreign transaction fees. There’s also no penalty APR either, but if you make a late payment you lose the introductory rate.

12. Premier America Credit Union – 0% Intro APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Premier Privileges Rewards MasterCard® from Premier America CU

Premier America is unique because it has a student card that’s eligible for the balance transfer deal, though limits on that card are $500 – $2,000. There’s also a card for those with no credit history – the First Rewards Privileges, with limits of $1,000 – $2,000. If you’re looking for a bigger line, the Premier Privileges Mastercard is available with limits up to $50,000.

Anyone can join Premier America by becoming a member of the Alliance for the Arts. You can select that option when you apply.

13. Money One Credit Union – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from Money One FCU

Anyone can join Money One Federal by making a $20 donation to Gifts of Easter Seals. And you can apply without being a member. You’ll see a drop down option during the application process that lets you select Gifts of Easter Seals as the way you plan to become a member of the credit union. Credit lines for the Platinum card are as high as $25,000.

14. Andigo Credit Union – 0% APR Intro for 6 months, NO FEE

Visa Platinum Card from andigo

You’ll have a choice to apply for the Andigo Visa Platinum or Platinum Rewards. The Platinum Cash Back card doesn’t have this deal. The Platinum without rewards has a lower ongoing APR, starting as low as 10.15%, compared to 12.15% for the Platinum Rewards card, so if you’re not sure you’ll pay it all off in 6 months the Platinum without rewards is a better bet.

Anyone can join Andigo by making a donation to Connect Vets for $15, and you can submit an application for the card without being a member yet.

15. Aspire Credit Union Credit Card – 0% Intro APR for 6 months, NO FEE

MasterCard Platinum from Aspire FCU

You don’t have to be a member to apply and get a decision from Aspire. Once you do, Aspire is easy to join – just check that you want to join the American Consumer Council (free) while filling out your membership application online.

Make sure you apply for the regular ‘Platinum’ card, and not the ‘Platinum Rewards’ card, which doesn’t offer the introductory deal. Aspire says people with fair credit can apply for its card.

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on Aspire Credit Union’s secure website

16. Evansville Teachers Credit Union – 0% APR on Balance Transfers for first 6 months, NO FEE

ETFCU's Platinum Rewards Credit Card
You don’t need to be a teacher to join this credit union. Just make a $5 donation to Mater Dei Friends & Alumni Association. The Prime Plus has an ongoing rate as low as 7.25% variable, so you can enjoy a low rate even after the intro deal ends.

17. Elements Financial Credit Card – 0% Intro APR for 6 months on Purchases and Balance Transfers, NO FEE

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card
To become a member and apply, you’ll just need to join TruDirection, a financial literacy organization. It costs just $5 and you can join as part of the application process.

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on ELFCU’s secure website

18. Justice Federal Credit Union – 0% Intro APR for 6 months on Purchases, Balance Transfers, and Cash Advances, NO FEE

Student VISA Rewards Card from Justice FCU
If you’re not a Department of Justice, Homeland Security, or U.S. court employee (or a few others), you need to join a law enforcement organization to be a member of Justice Federal. One of the eligible associations for membership is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It costs $15 to join.

You can apply as a non-member online to get a decision before joining. And Justice is unique in that its Student credit card is also eligible for the 0% introductory rate on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances, so if your credit history is limited and you’re trying to deal with a balance on your very first card, this could be an option.

18. Xcel Platinum Visa – 0% Introductory APR for 6 months on Purchases, NO FEE

XCEL’s Platinum VISA® Credit Card
Anyone can join Xcel by becoming a member of the American Consumer Council, and you can apply for the card as a non-member of the credit union, but not everyone who is approved for the card will get the low intro rate. Xcel advises you contact them to get as sense of whether your income, credit history, and employment history will qualify for the intro rate.

Are these the best deals for you?

If you can pay off your debt within the 0% period, then yes, a no fee 0% balance transfer credit card is your absolute best bet. And if you can’t, you can hope that other 0% deals will be around to switch again.

But if you’re unsure, you might want to consider…

  • A deal that has a longer period before the rate goes up. In that case, a balance transfer fee could be worth it to lock in a 0% rate for longer.
  • Or, a card with a rate a little above 0% that could lock you into a low rate even longer.

The good news is we can figure it out for you.

Our handy, free balance transfer tool lets you input how much debt you have, and how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It will run the numbers to show you which offers will save you the most for the longest period of time.

promo balancetransfer wide

The savings from just one balance transfer can be substantial.

Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt, you’re paying 18% in interest, and can afford to pay $200 a month on it. Here’s what you can save with a 0% deal:

  • 18%: It will take 32 months to pay off, with $1,312 in interest paid.
  • 0% for 12 months: You’ll pay it off in 28 months, with just $502 in interest, saving you $810 in cash. That even assumes your rate goes back up to 18% after 12 months!

But your rate doesn’t have to go up after 12 months. If you pay everything on time and maintain good credit, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to shop around and find another bank willing to offer you 0% interest again, letting you pay it off even faster.

Before you do any balance transfer though, make sure you follow these 6 golden rules of balance transfer success:

  • Never use the card for spending. You are only ready to do a balance transfer once you’ve gotten your budget in order and are no longer spending more than you earn. This card should never be used for new purchases, as it’s possible you’ll get charged a higher rate on those purchases.
  • Have a plan for the end of the promotional period. Make sure you set a reminder on your phone calendar about a month or so before your promotional period ends so you can shop around for a low rate from another bank.
  • Don’t try to transfer debt between two cards of the same bank. It won’t work. Balance transfer deals are meant to ‘steal’ your balance from a competing bank, not lower your rate from the same bank. So if you have a Chase Freedom with a high rate, don’t apply for another Chase card like a Chase Slate and expect you can transfer the balance. Apply for one from another bank.
  • Get that transfer done within 60 days. Otherwise your promotional deal may expire unused.
  • Never use a card at an ATM. You should never use the card for spending, and getting cash is incredibly expensive. Just don’t do it with this or any credit card.
  • Always pay on time. If you pay more than 30 days late your credit will be hurt, your rate may go up, and you may find it harder to find good deals in the future. Only do balance transfers if you’re ready to pay at least the minimum due on time, every time.
Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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Best of, Credit Cards

Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Having fair credit doesn’t mean you’re ineligible for great credit cards. We’ve rounded up the top credit cards with the best offers in a range of different categories that you’re still likely to be approved for, even with fair credit. These credit cards can help you build credit as long as you use them wisely. In this guide, we’ll show you the best credit cards for fair credit scores as well as how to use them to boost your credit score even higher.

Here are some of the products we will be discussing today:

Check If You’re Pre-qualified

Before applying for any credit card it’s helpful to check if you’re pre-qualified from a variety of institutions. The soft credit check the institutions perform does not harm your credit score and allows you to compare credit options. Sites such as CreditCards.com provide good tools that can match you to offers from multiple credit card companies without impacting your credit score. You can read our complete guide to getting pre-qualified for a credit card here.

Build Credit with Secured Cards

A great approach to rebuilding credit is to get a secured credit card. In order to get the card, you will have to deposit money that will be your line of credit. To effectively rebuild your credit, you must use the card, and we recommend not charging more than 20% of your credit line. For example, if you have a $500 credit line, you should not charge more than $100. Then, pay off your balance in full every single month. You can even build credit with $10 a month on a secured card and see your credit score rise.

After you’ve consistently managed your secured card well over a period of time, you may be able to increase your credit line beyond your initial deposit or migrate to an unsecured credit card.

We’ve reviewed the best secured cards in the market and found our top pick — the Discover it® Secured Card. This card has no annual fee, a reasonable security deposit and offers an easy transition to an unsecured card. In addition, Discover offers a rewards program and free access to your FICO score. These reasons are why we recommend the Discover it® Secured Card for people with fair credit.

Build Credit with Secured Cards

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover’s secure website

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Minimum Deposit
$200
APR
23.99% APR

Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Best for Cash Back

If you have fair credit and want a cash back card the QuicksilverOne® Rewards credit card from Capital One® is a good option. As a consumer with fair credit you may not qualify for all cash back cards, but you may qualify for the QuicksilverOne® Rewards card since it is made for those with fair credit. With this card you will earn unlimited cash back, with no changing categories, and the rewards never expire.

However, this card comes with a high APR and annual fee. To earn enough cash back rewards to pay for the card itself each year you’ll need to spend $2,600 annually ($217 per month). To net a cash back of $50 you need to spend $5,933 in a year ($494 per month). This card may be an option for you if you want to earn more than 1% cash back.

Best for Cash Back

QuicksilverOne® Rewards from Capital One

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on Capital One’s secure website

QuicksilverOne® Rewards from Capital One

Annual fee
$39 For First Year
$39 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 1.5%
APR
24.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Best Low Ongoing APR

No one wants to carry a balance on their credit cards, but if you must, it’s best to get a card with a low ongoing APR. Many lenders charge high APRs around 25%, but you can potentially qualify for an APR as low as 9.15%. This card will charge you less money on your debt than the typical credit card, which can save you big dollars in the long run.

Best Low Ongoing APR

MasterCard Platinum from Aspire FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on Aspire Credit Union’s secure website

Read Full Review

MasterCard Platinum from Aspire FCU

Intro Rate
0%

promotional rate

Intro Fee
2%
APR
8.90%-18.00%

Variable

Duration
6 months
Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Best for Small Business Owners

Running a business is hard. Small business credit cards can make it a bit easier for you by giving you rewards for everyday purchases. Nevertheless, be aware: Business credit cards forego certain protections that personal credit cards have under the Credit CARD Act. For example, card issuers can change the payment due date or interest rate without giving you prior notice.

Still, small business cards can be a great option for you to build your credit and save money, even if you don’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar business. You can apply for these cards with just a DBA or even your own name, if you’re a freelancer.

Best for Small Business Owners

Spark Classic for Business from Capital One

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

Read Full Review

Spark Classic for Business from Capital One

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
1% on all spend
APR
23.99%
Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Best for Students

You may have a fair credit score because you are a student. Student cards provide a great way for you to build your credit score and establish good credit history. The Discover it® for Students card is made with students in mind and offers ways to help you build credit and also earn rewards.

Best for Students

Discover it® for Students

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on Discover’s secure website

Read Full Review

Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair

FAQ

There’s a lot of math that goes into computing your credit scores, but at the end of the day, a fair credit score is defined as being between 649 and 699. Here’s how a fair credit score sits in relation to other credit scoring classes:

  • Excellent: Above 760
  • Good: 700-759
  • Fair/Average: 649-699
  • Poor: 600-648
  • Very Poor: Under 599

You can check your credit score for free on sites like Credit Karma, Chase Credit Journey, or AnnualCreditReport.com.

Having a good or excellent credit score unlocks a lot of advantages, such as lower interest rates and better approval odds for high-value credit cards and other financial products. These advantages will result in more dollars in your wallet at the end of the day. For example, having a high credit score can save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments over your lifetime, especially for big-ticket loans like a home mortgage.

But if you have a fair credit score, don’t fret! There is a reason that your score is less than optimal, and thus there are real, concrete steps you can take to boost your credit score into the good and excellent range.

If you play your cards right, you can even join the exclusive 800+ credit score club (unfortunately, it’s not an official club, and you don’t get a shower of balloons and confetti once you reach it — but you will get access to some of the most exclusive financial products).

There can be many reasons why your credit score is below 700. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • You have late payments on your credit report. Having even just one late payment on your credit report can seriously harm it because payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. Unfortunately, unless it’s an error, you’ll just need to wait for it to drop off of your credit report in seven years. To prevent this from happening, make sure all of your debt payments are set up on autopay. That way, you won’t have to worry about it.
  • You have a lot of credit card debt. Credit utilization ratio is one of the biggest factors in calculating your credit score — it affects 30% of the final score. It’s simply how much you owe relative to how much you are allowed to spend. For example, let’s say you have two credit cards with a $5,000 limit each, and you owe $2,000. Your credit utilization ratio is 20% because you owe $2,000 out of a possible $10,000. Luckily, this is one of the easiest factors to correct that will boost your credit score big time in the short run: Pay off your balance, and your score will bump up immediately.
  • You don’t have a long credit history. Although credit history doesn’t factor into the calculation of your credit score as much as the credit utilization ratio and payment history, it still makes up a sizable chunk at 15%. There’s not much you can do about this one: Simply wait for your accounts to age.
  • You have a lot of credit inquiries. Banks don’t like to see you applying for credit like an out-of-control spender in Las Vegas. Each time you apply for credit or a loan, it’s recorded on your credit report as a credit inquiry, and it stays there for two years. To minimize the number of credit inquiries you have, always shop around and make sure creditors use a soft pull credit check unless you’re absolutely ready to apply for the line of credit. This factor makes up just 10% of your credit score, but it’s an easy one you can affect as long as you’re careful about applying for credit.
  • You don’t have a wide variety of account types. You may be an ace at handling your student loans, but creditors also want to know you can handle other types of credit like mortgages and credit card debt, too. The more types of credit accounts you have on file, the better. However, we don’t recommend taking out a loan just for the sake of boosting your credit score — that costs money, and you’ll only receive a modest benefit from it because credit mix only makes up 10% of your credit score.

As you can see, you do have a lot of options when it comes to fine-tuning your credit score into the good or excellent category. We recommend the helpful credit score simulator at Chase Credit Journey to check your current score and see how these adjustments can potentially change your credit level. It’s available whether you’re a Chase customer or not. Give it a try!

Applying for a credit card is easy. You’ll need some basic information like name, address, and Social Security number. You’ll also need employment and income information. Simply enter it into the online form on the credit card company’s website, visit a branch of the bank (if they have one), or call the credit card company directly. You’ll usually receive instant notification if you’ve been approved or not.

There are many ways for you to increase your credit score. Ultimately practicing responsible credit behavior is the best way to see your score rise. Here are a few ways you can increase your credit score:

  • Have someone add you as an authorized user: If you have a willing (and very trusting) friend or family member with better credit, you can ask them to add you as an authorized user onto one or more of their credit cards. Their credit will not be harmed by this (as long as you don’t rack up charges or missed payments), and the credit card will show up on your credit report just as if you had applied for it — boosting your credit utilization ratio, number of accounts, and account age if you keep it for a long time.
  • Increase your credit history length: Unfortunately, you can’t go back in time, but you can still affect your credit history length. Your credit score is partially based off of average credit history length, and the more old accounts you have, the better. If you already have credit cards open, consider keeping them open so your average credit history won’t decrease and ding your credit. Each new credit card you get will drop your average account age, and it’ll take longer to boost this portion of your score.
  • Maintain a low credit utilization: Credit utilization (the percentage of available credit you’re using) is one of the biggest factors in calculating your credit score. The lower, the better. To decrease your utilization ratio, simply pay off your credit card. You can also request a credit limit increase from your credit card issuer to lower your credit utilization ratio — just make sure not to rack up a balance again with that extra credit or you’ll be back to square one.

Missing a payment can single-handedly cause your credit score to drop by 100 points or more. To avoid this, simply set up your credit card on autopay for the minimum amount due — that way you’ll never have to worry about missing a payment.

You can always apply for a personal loan if you need some cash right now for something. You can use this tool to shop around for the best interest rates without hurting your credit score. It’s smart to avoid hard inquiries until you’re ready to actually apply for a personal loan so that your credit isn’t dinged with multiple inquiries.

Each credit card is different, so you’ll need to check the fine print. Usually, though, you’ll need to both charge a purchase and pay off your bill before you’re eligible for those cash back rewards. Then, they’ll tally up this amount and periodically either send you a check, or offer a statement credit.

If you’re running a small business, it’s often easy to mix your personal and business accounts, especially if you’re self-employed. This creates an accounting nightmare to sort through, so it’s recommended (but not required) that you have a separate business banking account and credit card, if you need one.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Best of, Credit Cards

Best Credit Cards for Bad Credit September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

If you have bad credit, it can be difficult to get approved for loans and credit cards. But it is not impossible. Even people with bad credit have options – which we will now explain.

What exactly is a bad credit score? When we’re talking about obtaining credit via credit cards, the magic number is somewhere between 620 and 650. If your credit score falls below 650, you’re going to have a difficult time obtaining credit from some of the larger lending institutions, and if it’s below 620, you’re going to have a difficult time obtaining credit from anyone — including smaller financial institutions like credit unions and independent marketplace lenders.

There are, however, some products for which you’ll have an easier time qualifying. Before you apply, make sure you’re prepared to be responsible with your new line of credit so you can boost your score and credit history rather than damaging it further. The best way to do this is to spend within your means by creating a budget and sticking to it. Here are some helpful tools to help you do just that. Remember to always pay your bill off in full on or before the due date each month to establish good credit.

Here are the products and topics we’ll be discussing today:

Check if You’re Pre-qualified

Before you apply for a credit card check if you’re pre-qualified from a variety of institutions. This does not hurt your credit score. Sites such as CreditCards.com provide good tools that can match you to offers from multiple credit card companies without impacting your credit score. This is a good first step when looking to apply for credit. You can read our complete guide to getting pre-qualified for a credit card here.

Build Credit with Secured Credit Cards

If you are trying to rebuild your credit, one of the best approaches is to get a secured credit card. In order to get the card, you will have to write a check to deposit with the credit card company. This money will be your line of credit.

In order to effectively rebuild your credit, you must actually use the card, and we recommend not charging more than 20% of your credit line. For example, if you have a $500 credit line, you should not charge more than $100. Then, pay off your balance in full every single month. You can even build credit with $10 a month on a secured card and see your credit score rise.

After you’ve consistently managed your secured card well over a period of time, you may be able to increase your credit line beyond your initial deposit or migrate to an unsecured credit card. With most companies, this is a tedious process that you’ll have to initiate. You also aren’t guaranteed to get results even after you’ve made a request.

Discover operates differently than most companies in this realm, making it our number one pick for secured cards.

Discover it Secured Card

If you’re looking for a secured credit card, look no further than Discover it Secured card. On top of being great for people with a bad credit score, Discover will also accept applicants who have no credit history at all. Discover offers great ways for you to rebuild your credit and be on the way to an unsecured card.

Build Credit with Secured Cards

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover’s secure website

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Minimum Deposit
$200
APR
23.99% APR

Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Also Consider Also Consider

OpenSky Secured Visa

This card does not do a credit check, and no bank account is needed to apply. This is beneficial for those with low credit scores or no access to a bank account. If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, you’re in luck because they don’t care to know, unlike other institutions. However, OpenSky charges a $35 annual fee, which Discover does not. This can be a deal breaker if you don’t want to pay a fee, since there are many secured cards without fees.

Read MagnifyMoney’s full Secured Credit Card Guide.

Our Credit Union Favorite

If you’re looking to open a credit card with bad credit, it can be hard to find a card you qualify for. That’s where credit unions come in. They are sometimes more accepting of your credit history and have cards especially designed for people with low credit scores — helping your approval chances.

Georgia’s Own Visa Classic

Georgia’s Own Credit Union offers a variety of credit cards all with low interest. Their Visa Classic unsecured card is positioned toward those who need to rebuild credit and boasts a low APR. When you apply for a credit card on Georgia’s Own website you are directed toward an application that is for all credit cards they offer. This means that depending on your creditworthiness, you may not be directed to the Visa Classic as an option. Therefore, if you want to apply directly for the card, the best bet is to speak with a loan officer who will tell you if you’re pre-approved for the Visa Classic card.

Our Credit Union Favorite

Visa® Classic from Georgia's Own Credit Union

APPLY NOW Secured

on Georgia's Own Credit Union’s secure website

Read Full Review

Visa® Classic from Georgia's Own Credit Union

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
12.99%-17.99%

Fair Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Best for Cash: Personal Loans

If you’re looking to get some cash in your pocket, credit cards in general aren’t your best answer. Cash advances are not ideal, and putting a purchase you can’t currently afford onto a credit card with a high interest rate attributable to your not-so-great credit score is going to be an expensive venture.

Instead, you’ll want to consider personal loans. They’re admittedly a little more work up front with the application process, but the savings can be worth it. YOu can check to see if you are prequalified without impacting your credit score at most lenders. And LendingTree (the parent company of MagnifyMoney) has created a tool that lets you compare rates from dozens of lenders at once, without impacting your score.

LendingTree

LendingTree offers a one-stop tool that can help borrowers find numerous personal loan offers. After entering some basic information, you can receive offers from lenders in a matter of minutes. If you prefer to go directly to the lender’s site you can use one of the options listed below.

LEARN MORE Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree

Loan Amount
up to $35,000
Term
up to 60 Months
APR Range
5.99%-35.99%
Origination Fee
Varies
Credit Required
Bad or Could be Better/Average/Good/Excellent
Soft Pull
You can get your rate without hurting your score.

Pros Pros

  • Check Multiple Offers at OnceYou can check personal loan offers from a wide range of lenders including Avant, LendingClub and Best Egg. The entire process happens online for free and is fast and easy.
  • Soft Pull on Your CreditLendingTree performs a soft pull on your credit in order to give you accurate loan offers. This does not affect your credit score and can give you a good picture of what to expect if you're approved for a loan.

Cons Cons

  • Need to Create and Account to View OffersThe only way to view your personal loan offers is to create and account at LendingTree. This is a minor step, but it does allow you the ease of saving your offers so you can review them later.
Bottom line

Bottom line

LendingTree offers a great tool that lets you easily check your rates for a variety of lenders, all in a matter of minutes. This is a great way for you to see what rates you may get and allows you to shop around for the best offer, without the hassle of going to multiple websites.

Avant

Avant offers personal loans even to those with less-than-desirable credit. Because there is no prepayment penalty, you can pay off your loan before the end of your term without consequence.

APPLY NOW Secured

on Avant’s secure website

Avant

Loan Amount
up to $35,000
Term
up to 60 Months
APR Range
9.95%-35.99%
Origination Fee
0.95%-4.75%
Soft Pull
You can get your rate without hurting your score.

Pros Pros

  • Apply Online The entire Avant application process happens online. This saves you the hassle of filling out paperwork and visiting a local branch.
  • Find Your Interest Rate Before You Apply Avant allows you to preview the interest rate you would be offered with a soft pull on your credit. This will not impact your credit score. This is helpful if you’re shopping around for different rates and gives you a realistic picture of what to expect should you choose Avant.
  • Could Save Money over Subprime Credit Cards Depending on the interest rate and upfront fee percentage you are offered, a personal loan from Avant could save you money over putting purchases on a subprime credit card. The ability to preview your interest rate can also help you compare between personal loans and other possible options.

Cons Cons

  • High Interest Rates Because you’re a subprime borrower, you’re not likely to qualify for the lowest interest rate offered. You’re more likely to be offered something closer to the 35.99% rate. This is a very high rate, and it’s important that you make all of your payments on time to avoid paying interest and damaging your credit score.
Bottom line

Bottom line

While there’s only one con for Avant’s personal loans, it’s a pretty big one. The interest rate can be extremely high, so do your math before deciding if this is a good product for you. And be sure to take advantage of the fact that they’ll let you check your interest rate before officially submitting your application. Use this feature to shop around for best offers and check if you qualify for a better loan

OneMain Financial

Avant is easier to apply for as the application process will take place online, but if you’re willing to go somewhere in person, you can also apply with OneMain. Its application is also online, but in order to be approved, you’ll have to show up at a local branch with documentation backing the information you submitted at home.

APPLY NOW Secured

on OneMain Financial’s secure website

OneMain Financial

Loan Amount
up to $25,000
APR Range
25.10%-36.00%
Origination Fee
No origination fee
Credit Required
Average/Good/Excellent

Pros Pros

  • Talk to a Loan Officer At OneMain you have the benefit of talking to a loan officer and explaining your personal situation. This is a positive experience that can help you explain anything that can’t be seen on an application.
  • Receive Money Same Day If you apply online before noon, you usually will receive the loan the same day. This is helpful if you need money quickly. After the loan is approved, you have 14 days to change your mind and return the loan proceeds. If you do that, you will not be responsible for any of the accrued interest.

Cons Cons

  • High Interest Rates Accrued Daily Even though the interest rates may be more reflective of your situation, they are still high. Interest accrues daily, which could add years to your loan if you don’t pay on time. Be sure to make your payments on time each month to avoid paying high interest rates.
  • Must Meet in Person You have to physically bring your paperwork into a OneMain branch after applying online. You will also have to complete an interview with a loan officer. This can be a tedious process if there is no OneMain branch located near you.
  • Must Borrow a Minimum of $1,500 Depending on how much cash you need, the $1,500 minimum may be too high if you only need a couple of hundred dollars. There is no maximum loan amount offered.
Bottom line

Bottom line

OneMain locations can be a good choice if you want to have your loan the day you apply. If you’re okay meeting someone in person and have the transportation to get to your closest branch, this may be an option worth exploring. Make sure you decide if this offer is right for you and if you need a loan over $1,500. Check to see if you’re pre-qualified for a better offer from other institutions.

Last Resort: Subprime Credit Cards

Subprime credit cards are those that lending institutions issue to those with “bad” credit. They are not a good solution to your credit woes. They almost always come with high interest rates and a litany of fees — both of which make it difficult to use this product responsibly.

For example, First Premier makes a business out of lending to subprime borrowers with bad credit. Most of their applicants are only awarded a $300 line of credit. That’s after they pay a $95 fee just to apply (which is not a common practice in the credit card industry) and a $75 annual fee. If you are approved for a higher credit limit, your annual fee for the first year may be higher ($79-$125). In the second year, the annual fee drops ($45-$49), but at this point you are charged a $6.25-$10.40 account servicing fee every single month.

The cherry on top? The card’s APR is 36%. Heaven forbid you are ever late on a payment — your balance will skyrocket with the insanely high interest rate. Don’t forget about the late payment fee — up to $38.

Another example is Credit One Bank — not to be confused with Capitol One Bank, though their logos do look eerily similar. Not every Credit One Bank credit card comes with outrageous fees. In fact, there are 26 separate possible card agreements. But if you are a subprime borrower, you’re likely to qualify for higher rates.

Your credit may not be great, but that doesn’t make subprime credit cards a “fair” product. You may qualify for other, better options that aren’t as laden with fees. That’s why we recommend you first check if you’re pre-qualified for offers then look at store cards and personal loans before choosing a subprime credit card.

Bad Credit FAQs

Store cards can be used as payment anywhere the credit card company, such as MasterCard or Visa, is accepted. Private label cards can only be used at the branded company’s store. For example, if you get a private label card for New York & Company, you can only use it for purchases at New York & Company. You would not be able to use it at any other store.

Your best bet is to ask. If you are applying online, pick up the phone and call or use the company’s online chat if available.

If you have a physical card in front of you, you’ll notice that store cards always have the associated credit card company shown on the front, whether that be Visa, American Express, MasterCard, or another.

Private label cards tend not to display this information, though a major financial institution that a lot of companies work with for their private label cards is Comenity. If you have a card associated with Comenity Bank, it is likely a private label card.

No. Most businesses have an online application for their store cards.

Personal loans are typically issued by more reputable lenders who aspire to more transparency than those in the payday loan space. Payday loans are often advertised as having interest rates somewhere between 10% and 30%, but that interest is charged over a short period of time, making their effective APR (annual percentage rate) much higher. Some payday loans have an effective APR of 400% or more.

The lender isn’t likely to tell you that, though. Many businesses in this space are predatory. Payday loans also tend to come with outrageous fees.

While rates and fees on personal loans for those with bad credit aren’t ideal, they’re more than substantially lower than those of payday loans. Make no mistake about it: despite enticing advertising promises of deceptive payday lenders, personal loans are an infinitely better option.

Borrowing cash from your credit card company often comes with a fee of 1%-5%. That may not seem terrible when you look at the upfront fees of many personal loans, but you also have to account for interest.

Unlike purchases you charge to your card, interest on cash advances starts accruing immediately. You do not get to wait for your next statement to be issued. The interest rate for cash advances is also often higher than that of regular purchases.

A personal loan is an installment loan with a balance that will go down if you pay the minimum payment each month. This makes it far easier to manage than debt accrued via a cash advance. If you only pay the minimum payment on a cash advance each month, your balance will go up at a quick pace, potentially spiraling out of control.

First of all, the less you charge, the easier it will be to pay back. Since you have a bad credit score, you may have had issues with charging too much in the past and being unable to pay it off.

Secondly, around 30% of your credit score is made up of your credit utilization ratio. You find this ratio by dividing the amount of credit extended to you by the amount you have borrowed. By borrowing only 20% of your available credit, you reduce the risk of having your current balance negatively impacting your credit score.

It can sometimes take a year or more to see your score improve by 100 points if you are doing everything correctly and responsibly.

Yes, but only if you use them responsibly, paying the balance off in full every month. Keep in mind your credit utilization ratio here, too.

Potentially. Ten percent of your credit score is made up of something called “credit mix.” You don’t need to have every single type of credit in your credit report, but you should have more than one type. Here are the five that count:

  • Credit cards
  • Installment loans
  • Retail accounts
  • Finance company accounts
  • Mortgage loans

Conceivably, if you have a mortgage or business debt tied to your Social Security number or EIN, you might be able to get away with rebuilding your score through a personal loan (which is an installment loan). The key is to manage all of those debts well — and to do so consistently — especially since you already have bad credit.

No. Transactions on prepaid debit cards do not get reported to the credit bureaus. Also, it’s important to remember than many prepaid cards come with a ton of fees.

Brynne Conroy
Brynne Conroy |

Brynne Conroy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brynne at brynne@magnifymoney.com

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Advertiser Disclosure

Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards September 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Getting a credit card while you’re in college might seem dangerous or confusing. But if you are able to use a student credit card responsibly, you do not need to be afraid, and you can set yourself up for financial success after you leave school.

Fortunately, learning how to choose and use the right student credit card is relatively simple. Make sure you avoid annual fees and go with a bank or credit union you can trust. When you get the card, make sure you use it responsibly and pay the balance in full and on time every month. If you do these things consistently over time, you can leave school with an excellent credit score. And if you want to rent an apartment or buy a car, having a good credit score is very important.

Our Top Pick

Discover it® for Students

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on Discover’s secure website

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Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair

Best for Commuter Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

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on Discover’s secure website

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Discover it® chrome for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 2%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit, New to Credit

Best Flat-Rate Card

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

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on Capital One’s secure website

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Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 1.25%
APR
20.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average Credit

Best Intro Bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 3%
APR
11.90%-21.90%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

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on Altra’s secure website

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Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
14.90%

Fixed

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit

Also Consider Also Consider

Golden 1 Platinum Rewards for Students

Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students:

This credit card offers a snazzy rewards program: rather than accumulate points, you’ll get a cash rebate instead. All you have to do is make a purchase. At the end of the month, you’ll get a rebate of 3% of gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, and 1% of all other purchases deposited back into your Golden 1 savings account at the end of the month. You can join Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8 per year and keeping at least $5 in a savings account.

What should I look for in a student credit card?

The most important thing to consider when looking for a student credit card is that it charges no annual fee. You should never have to pay to build your credit score. Fortunately, most student cards don’t charge you an annual fee, but it’s still something to watch out for.

The second most important thing you should keep an eye out for are tools that help you learn about credit or even promote good credit-building habits. For example, some student credit cards will give you a free monthly FICO score update. You can use this freebie to see in real time how your credit score changes as you build credit history by keeping the card open, or paying down your credit card balance, for example.

The last thing you should be considering when picking out a student credit card is the rewards program. I know, I know, it seems counterintuitive. But stick with me — I’ll show you why in the next question.

Why shouldn’t I be concerned about maximizing my rewards while in college?

Rewards cards are nice to have. But if you’re a college student, here’s the truth: you probably won’t spend enough to earn meaningful rewards.

Why? With a good rewards program, you can earn points or cash back. A small percentage of your monthly spending can add up quickly. However, given the tight budget that most college students live on, it will probably take a while to earn meaningful rewards. For example, if you earn 1.25% cash back and spend $300 a month on your card, you would earn $45 of cash back during the year.

College students are very good at making good use of $45. And our favorite card offers a great cash back rewards program. Just don’t expect to earn a lot of cash back, given the tight budget of a college student.

Why should I get a credit card as a college student?

There are a lot of great reasons why you should get a credit card, as long as you can commit to using it responsibly.

The single biggest reason why you should get a credit card as a college student is because you can start establishing a credit history now. When you graduate from college, you will need a good credit score to get an apartment. And your future employer will likely check your credit report. Building a good credit history while still in college will help prepare you for life after graduation.

Getting a credit card while in college can also train you to develop good credit habits now. But you need to be honest with yourself. If you find that you can’t avoid the temptation of maxing out your credit card, you might want to switch to a debit card or cash.

Finally, getting a credit card now can be the motivation you need to start learning about credit. These skills aren’t hard to learn, and they could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars later in life (when you want a mortgage, for example).

What is the CARD Act and why should I care about it?

Many years ago, credit card companies would market on college campuses. You could get a free beer mug or t-shirt in exchange for a credit card application. And you would be able to qualify for a credit card without having any income. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act was signed into law in May 2009 to change a number of practices.

How did the CARD Act change student credit cards?

The CARD Act made a lot of changes in how credit card issuers do business with students. One of the biggest changes was requiring students to be able to demonstrate an ability to pay. If you are under 21 and do not have sufficient income (a campus job, for example), you would need to get a co-signer.

In addition, colleges must now limit the amount of credit card marketing on campus. The days of free t-shirts and pizzas in exchange for credit card applications are gone. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible for a college student to get a credit card. Some highly reputable banks and credit unions still offer student cards. And building a good credit score while still in college is still highly recommended.

How can I protect myself from racking up debt?

When used properly, credit cards are a very convenient method of repayment. However, when not used properly, you can end up deep in credit card debt. It is important to establish a healthy relationship to credit now, with your first credit card.

You should try to ensure that you pay off your credit card bill in full and on time every month. Ideally, you should set up an automatic monthly payment. And to keep yourself on track, take advantage of alerts offered by most credit card companies. You can even get daily text messages reminding you of your balance.

How can I automate my credit card usage?

If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. There’s actually a way you can automate your payments so you never even have to bother with the hassle of using a credit card. All it takes is a few minutes of upfront work.

First, you’ll need at least one recurring monthly bill of the same amount, such as Netflix or Spotify. Log in to your account and set up an automatic payment each month using your credit card. Make a note of how much your monthly bill costs.

Next, log in to your bank account. Set up a second automatic payment to go to your credit card each month for the same amount as the bill. If your bank doesn’t offer the option to set up automatic payments, you may also be able to set up your credit card to automatically withdraw the amount of the bill from your bank.

Because you know this bill will be for the same amount each month (barring any price increases), you can literally just leave this running in the background each month on autopilot. You don’t even have to carry your credit card in your wallet if you don’t want to. Then, when you graduate, you’ll automatically have an improved credit score!

What happens to my student credit card when I graduate?

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line. But what about your student credit card? You will have a few options once you graduate.

First, you can simply keep it. You will want to keep the credit card open, because it helps you build a long credit history. However, you might want to call your credit card company and ask if you can migrate to a standard (non-student) credit card.

But if you have been using your credit card properly, you will have an excellent credit score when you graduate – and you will be able to get any credit card that you want.

Here is a summary of our favorite cards:

Credit cards
Best for
Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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