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In 2008, I moved to the U.S. with my wife, Margarita, after living in Moscow. Although Margarita had an impressive career in Russia, she was not a U.S. citizen and had no credit history or credit score. If you don’t have a credit score in the U.S. this basically means you don’t exist, at least in the eyes of lenders. In fact, one in 10 Americans is considered “credit invisible,” meaning they don’t have enough credit history to produce a credit score.

This was a problem we knew we had to fix fast, especially if Margarita wanted be able to take out credit cards or an auto loan, or even apply for an apartment lease in the future.

By following a few basic steps, within 12 months, she had a very good credit score. Within 18 months, she had an excellent credit score and qualified for a rewards credit card with a $25,000 credit limit.

How to open a secured credit card

Opening a secured credit card is relatively easy. You have to provide the bank with a deposit, which is typically $200 or more. The bank will keep the deposit as collateral and will provide you with a credit limit equal to your deposit — some cards may even give you a higher limit without requiring a larger deposit. In Margarita’s example, she gave the bank a $500 deposit and received a $500 credit limit.

Once open, the credit card works like any other. Your credit limit, balance and payment information are reported to the three major credit bureaus. The only difference: If you fail to pay your credit card on time, the bank can take your deposit and apply it toward the debt.

So the bank has a guarantee that they won’t lose money. And you have the opportunity to prove that you will use your credit wisely.

How to use a secured credit card

Given that I was a bank credit risk manager at the time, I knew a bit about credit scoring. So I made sure Margarita followed this strategy:

  • She used the card every month, but for a very small amount. Her typical monthly bill would be around $10.
  • She made sure that she paid the balance in full and on time every month by signing up for automatic payments.
  • She subscribed to a credit scoring service to watch her score improve over time.

It took about six months for Margarita’s score to cross the 600 threshold. About 18 months after starting, she had a score well above 700. At that point, she applied for a rewards credit card. It had a great sign-on bonus and a  $25,000 credit limit.

So it only took a year and a half for someone to go from being a credit nobody to one of the most sought-after customers in the country. What was the trick? It is actually very simple.

3 key rules to follow

Use your card every month

In order to have a FICO® Score, you must have activity on your credit report over the past six months. If there is no activity on your report during this time, you cannot get a score.

Activity does not mean you need to go into debt. You can make a single purchase every month (even for just $1) and that is considered activity.

Keep your utilization low

One of the most important components of your credit score is utilization, making up 30% of your FICO® Score. Your utilization is calculated by dividing your statement balance by your total available credit. People with the best credit scores have utilization levels of 10% or less, but at most, you want to stay below 30%. That means if you have a credit limit of $1,000, you should not spend more than $300 a month.

The best strategy with a secured credit card is to select one small, recurring transaction and automate it. For example, use your secured credit card for your monthly Netflix or Spotify bill.

Pay your bill in full and on time every month

The most important part of your credit score is a history of on-time payments. This factor alone comprises 35% of your FICO® Score. Even a single missed payment can have a very negative impact on your score. The best way to ensure  you don’t miss a payment is to set up autopay.

Additionally, make sure you pay your balance in full, so you will not have to pay interest. There is nothing more ridiculous than paying interest on a secured credit card. Remember: Your credit limit is equal to your deposit. You are literally borrowing your own money. But if you pay interest (at a high rate), you will be paying a bank to borrow from yourself.

This is just a long way of saying that Margarita’s approach worked. If you want to use a secured credit card to build your credit score, just use it every month for a $10 charge. And pay that balance in full and on time. As a result, your score should improve.

How to select the best secured credit card

When selecting a secured credit card, we recommend you focus on the annual fee — you shouldn’t have to pay one. You can find our roundup of the best secured cards here.

Our top choice is the Discover it® Secured.

Discover it® Secured

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured

Regular APR
24.49% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Credit required
bad-credit
New/Rebuilding

How the Discover it® Secured works

There is a typical $200 security deposit, but you can receive it back if: 1. You pay your balance in full and close your credit card account, 2. You qualify to be refunded your deposit during one of Discover’s monthly automatic account reviews (starting at eight months from account opening) and 3. You upgrade to an unsecured card.

Cashback rewards: In this cashback program, you earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The cashback match. The Discover it® Secured has a new cardmember bonus where Discover automatically matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. The cashback rate is great in general, as few secured cards have rewards, and it’s primarily beneficial for people who typically spend on gas and dining. The cashback match you receive is unique because there is no minimum spending requirement for you to earn the additional cash back. Most cards set a three-month time period and minimum spend for you to earn a new cardmember bonus, but not Discover.

An alternative

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

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on Capital One's website

Read Full Review

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)
Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Credit required
bad-credit
Limited/Bad

Upgrading from a secured card to a traditional, unsecured card

Typically, for secured cards from the major issuers such as Discover, Capital One® and Citi®, the upgrade from a secured card to unsecured card involves:

  1. An automatic review process. This checks your eligibility for an unsecured card. The review process varies by issuer, with some cards starting it eight months from account opening and others waiting until 18 months.
  2. Receive your security deposit back. If you qualify for an upgrade and your balance is paid in full, you will receive your security deposit back.
  3. Receive an unsecured card. In addition to receiving your security deposit back, you will be transitioned to a traditional, unsecured card.

If your card doesn’t have an automatic upgrade process, we recommend the following:

  1. Check your credit score often to track your progress toward building credit.
  2. Search for a new card that fits your credit score. There are plenty of options for fair, good or excellent credit — and the better your score, the more options available to you.
  3. Check for pre-qualification. Before you apply for a new card, check to see if there’s a pre-qualification feature. This allows you to check your approval odds and shop around for the best offer without hurting your credit score. But keep in mind that pre-qualification isn’t a guarantee of approval.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners. This site may be compensated through a credit card partnership.

View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

There are lots of free credit scores floating around, but most of them are not the true FICO® score that lenders subscribe to and use as part of their decision.

However FICO® is working to change that by allowing banks and credit unions to give you free ongoing access to the real score they use to make lending decisions as long as you are an account holder.

The easiest place for anyone to get their free FICO® score is via the Discover Credit Scorecard. You do not need to be a customer of Discover – anyone can register and get their official FICO® score for free. The data is from the Experian credit bureau.

You can also get a free Experian FICO® 8 score at freecreditscore.com. While that site used to require you to enter your credit card to get information, your FICO® score and Experian report are completely free with no credit card information needed.

To find out where to get your FICO® score from the other credit bureaus, read on.


Every bank chooses at least one of three credit bureaus to calculate a FICO® score: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The FICO® score one bank uses can be different than another depending on which credit bureau they pulled a report from.

The good news is, you can now see your real, free FICO® score from all three credit bureaus depending on which banks hold your accounts. FICO® itself charges $19.95 a month for you to see those scores, though they also throw in full copies of your credit reports, which the free bank scores do not.

Here’s where to find your real, free FICO® scores from banks or credit unions anyone can join:

Equifax Scores

Citibank

  • Available with: Any Citibank branded credit card. This does not include Citibank cards with other brands like the American AAdvantage or Hilton HHonors cards.
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account or the Citi app
  • Learn more

DCU Credit Union

  • Available with: Any credit card, or a checking account with direct deposit
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: Look for an invitation in your online account
  • Learn more

Huntington Bank

  • Available with: The Huntington Voice credit card – you will get a FICO® Bankcard Score 2 from Equifax
  • Where to find it: Log into your account and you’ll see a link

PenFed

  • Available with: PenFed members with active checking accounts, installment loans, and revolving lines of credit
  • Score updated: When PenFed refreshes – no set schedule
  • Where to find it: Login to your account and click ‘Your FICO® Score is Ready’
  • Notes: PenFed uses a more advanced ‘Next Gen’ FICO® score that has a different scale than traditional FICO® scores, with 150 as the lowest score and 950 as the highest score. Most banks use a score with a scale of 300 to 850. Because of this the score you see on PenFed’s site may be higher or lower than what you see from others.
  • Learn more

State Employees Credit Union of North Carolina

  • Available to all credit card holders

Experian Scores

Capital One and American Express regularly use Experian’s FICO® among others for credit decisions.

American Express

  • Available with: Any American Express credit card
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account

Discover

  • Available with: All Discover cards and if you are not a Discover cardholder, you can sign up to get your FICO® score for free by visiting creditscorecard.com.
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your statement and online

First National Bank of Omaha

  • Available with: Any credit card account
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account
  • Learn more

Wells Fargo

  • Available with: Any Wells Fargo credit card
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account
  • Learn more

Please note: a previous version of this blog post noted that USAA provides a free FICO® credit score. USAA actually provides a free VantageScore.

TransUnion Scores

Bank of America

  • Available with: Select credit card accounts
  • Score updated: Monthly, with history
  • Where to find it: Link available on your account summary page under the ‘Tools and Investing’ section

Barclays

  • Available with: Any credit card account
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: Link available on your account summary page

Unknown Bureau

Other, less open to the public free FICO® providers include:

  • Ally, for auto loan holders
  • Hyundai and Kia Motor Finance allow customers to view their FICO scores through their online accounts.
  • Sallie Mae offers a free, quarterly TransUnion score if you receive a new Smart Option Student.
  • Merrick Bank doesn’t have open applications for its Platinum Visa, but does offer free scores to its cardholders.
  • Some credit unions with limited membership also offer scores, so check yours to see if it provides them.

Find the Best Credit Score for Your Needs:

The credit score that you are looking for varies, depending on what type of credit you are looking to apply for. Each credit score version has different benefits, and lenders pull certain scores in accordance with your application.

Credit Score Monitoring

The best options: All VantageScores and FICO® scores

If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and stay on top of your credit, either VantageScore or FICO® score will suffice.

New Credit Card

The best options: FICO® Bankcard Scores or FICO® Score 8 primarily; FICO® Score 3

Where to get them: Get your FICO® Score 8 from Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

When applying for a new credit card, these scores are most likely to be pulled by credit card issuers. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus.

Mortgage Loans and Mortgage ReFis

The best options: FICO® Scores 2, 4, 5

Where to get them: Myfico.com for $19.95 a month

These scores are used in the majority of mortgage-related credit evaluations, with lenders pulling your score from all three bureaus. However, these scores are not free and can only be purchased at myfico.com.

Auto Loans

The best options: FICO® Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, 8, 9

Where to get them: Myfico.com for $19.95 a month

Auto scores are industry-specific and used in the majority of auto-financing credit evaluations. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus. Unfortunately, these scores are not free and need to be purchased at Myfico.com.

Personal Loans, Student Loans, and Retail Credit

The best option: FICO® Score 8

Where to get it: Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com.

For other financial products such as personal loans, student loans, and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is best. This is the credit score most widely used by lenders, and they may pull your score from one or all three bureaus when making a decision.

LendingTree
APR

As low as 3.99%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO®

Terms

24 to 60

months

Origination Fee

Varies

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on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

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LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. LendingTree is not a lender.


A Personal Loan can offer funds relatively quickly once you qualify you could have your funds within a few days to a week. A loan can be fixed for a term and rate or variable with fluctuating amount due and rate assessed, be sure to speak with your loan officer about the actual term and rate you may qualify for based on your credit history and ability to repay the loan. A personal loan can assist in paying off high-interest rate balances with one fixed term payment, so it is important that you try to obtain a fixed term and rate if your goal is to reduce your debt. Some lenders may require that you have an account with them already and for a prescribed period of time in order to qualify for better rates on their personal loan products. Lenders may charge an origination fee generally around 1% of the amount sought. Be sure to ask about all fees, costs and terms associated with each loan product. Loan amounts of $1,000 up to $50,000 are available through participating lenders; however, your state, credit history, credit score, personal financial situation, and lender underwriting criteria can impact the amount, fees, terms and rates offered. Ask your loan officer for details.

As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.99% (3.99% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected).

Other Scores and Their Value

FICO® Score 9 is the newest model and not widely used yet. It is also not available for free at this time. The benefits of this score are that it doesn’t penalize you for paid collections and reduces the ding you get from unpaid medical collections. See our review for more information.

The FICO® NextGen score is used to assess credit risk, but only a small number of lenders use it due to its 150-950 scoring range and older model.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Build Your Credit Score: 6 Secured Cards With No Annual Fees – November 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.

You can avoid that expense with one of these six no annual fee secured cards, which have a variety of uses:

Cards to consider

Rewards

Discover it® Secured

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Discover it® Secured

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
24.49% Variable

The Discover it® Secured is a standout secured card that provides cardholders the opportunity to earn cash back while building credit. A cashback program is hard to find with secured cards, and the Discover it® Secured offers 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases. In addition, there is a new cardmember offer where Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically. This is a great way to get a lot of rewards without needing to do any extra work. In addition to a cashback program, this card provides valuable credit resources such as free access to your FICO® Score and a Credit Resource Center — just note these services are available whether you’re a cardholder or not. Discover also takes the guesswork out of wondering when you’re ready for an unsecured card (aka a regular credit card) by performing automatic monthly account reviews, starting at eight months of card membership.

What to look out for: There is a high 24.49% Variable APR for this card, so you could end up paying a lot more than purchase prices if you carry a balance. Try not to overspend and make it a goal to pay each statement in full so you avoid interest charges.

Low deposit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

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on Capital One's website

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits. You can also receive a credit limit increase without making an additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is beneficial for people who need a higher credit limit and don’t want to (or can’t) tie up their money in a deposit. Also, you’ll have access to CreditWise® from Capital One® and Platinum Mastercard® benefits that include travel accident insurance and price protection.

What to look out for: The $49 and $99 security deposits are not guaranteed and depend on your creditworthiness — that means you may still have to deposit $200. Also, it’s not a good idea to carry a balance on this card because it has one of the highest APRs at 26.99% (variable).

Average deposit

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

The information related to Citi® Secured MasterCard® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms Apply.

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
23.99% (Variable)

The Citi® Secured Mastercard® requires a $200 security deposit, which is typical of secured cards and a good amount to establish your credit line. You can deposit more money if you want to receive a higher credit line, but if you don’t have a lot of money available to deposit, coming up with $200 is manageable. This card doesn’t have any additional card benefits like rewards or insurances, but you can access Citi’s Credit Knowledge Center for financial management tips.

Low APR

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on MidSouth Community FCU’s secure website

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
11.15% Variable

Because MidSouth Community is a federal credit union, you need to be a member to qualify for this card. Membership is limited to people who work, live, worship, or attend school in the following Middle Georgia counties: Bibb, Baldwin, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Pulaski, Putnam, Twiggs, Washington, and Wilkinson. If you qualify, you may be able to get a secured card with an APR as low as 11.15% variable.

What to look out for: This card is very restricted, therefore few people will be able to qualify for this low APR secured card.

Unrestricted low APR

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Affinity Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
12.85% Variable

The Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card requires cardholders to join the Affinity FCU. You may qualify through participating organizations, but if you don’t, anyone can join the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education by making a $5 donation when you fill out your online application. This card has a 12.85% variable APR, which is one of the lowest rates available for a no annual fee secured card and is nearly half the amount major issuers charge. This is a good rate if you may carry a balance — but try to pay each statement in full.

What to look out for: There may be a membership fee associated with this card if you don’t qualify through participating organizations. The fee you may have to pay is low at $5, but it may be an issue for people who don’t want to pay anything to open a secured card.

Unrestricted federal credit union

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

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on State Department Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
14.24% Variable

The Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal is open to anyone, regardless of residence. If you aren’t eligible through select methods including employees of the U.S. Department of State or members of select organizations, you can join the American Consumer Council during the application process. There is no fee associated with joining since State Department FCU pays the $8 on your behalf. There is a rewards program with this card where you earn Flexpoints, which can be redeemed for a variety of options like gift cards and travel. The APR can be as low as 14.24% variable, which is reasonable considering many secured cards from major issuers are above 23%.

What to look out for: If you decide to take out this card and become a member of the SDFCU by joining the American Consumer Council, make sure you do not go to the ACC’s website and submit a donation. That fee is waived by the SDFCU when you fill out your credit application. Simply select “I do not qualify to join through any of these other methods” and select the ACC from the menu to avoid the fee.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

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