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How to Use a Secured Credit Card

Last Updated: February 23, 2023
5 min read

Key points about: using secured credit cards

  1. Typically, a secured credit card requires a refundable security deposit that’s used as collateral and generally represents the card’s credit limit.

  2. A secured credit card is one way to build a credit history.

  3. Your credit card issuer will likely report your activity with your secured credit card to credit bureaus, which may influence your credit score.

Both traditional credit cards and secured credit cards extend a line of credit based on your income, creditworthiness, and other factors. But unlike traditional credit cards, a secured credit card typically requires a security deposit used as collateral against the charges you make.
Secured credit cards can be one option for people looking to build a credit history. The security deposit covers the debt incurred in the event of non-payment to the credit card company, so they’re often willing to issue a card to applicants who might otherwise be denied for an unsecured credit card. Then, just as they would for a traditional credit card, the issuer typically reports your activity to the credit bureaus, giving you the chance to build a credit history.
Read on to learn how to use a secured credit card, including tips for building credit with a secured credit card, establishing healthy credit while avoiding common mistakes, and how with responsible use, you may be able to graduate from a secured card to an unsecured credit card.

Understand how credit works

Let’s be clear: credit history and credit scores in top shape could help save you thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime. The better your credit, the less of a risk you carry for lenders and card issuers. You may get more favorable interest rates and higher credit or loan limits. A secured credit card may help you on this path.

Credit reports typically come from three major bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each of these bureaus; a special provision has made them available weekly through December 2023. You can also get free copies if you are denied credit or insurance as a result of what’s reported. As an added benefit, Discover® offers cardmembers the ability to get their FICO® Score for free3.

Credit reports list credit accounts you’ve opened and closed, their balances, and whether they’re in good standing. Reports may include negative information such as accounts that haven’t been paid, and accounts that have been sold to collection agencies. Credit reports also include “hard inquiries,” which occur when you apply for credit. Many hard inquiries could impact your credit score.

Your credit score is a three-digit number that is based on your credit history, and it helps creditors analyze the risks of lending you money. So, how do you achieve a good score? You don’t want to carry too much debt, but at the same time, you need to have a track record of responsibly handling debt and bills in order to prove you’re a safe bet for lenders. A secured credit card can help you purchase necessities now while building that credit history.

You can use a secured credit card to build a credit history

Unlike a typical credit card, a secured credit card requires you to provide a security deposit as collateral up front before you can borrow any money. Your credit limit will usually equal the amount of your security deposit, up to the amount that can be approved.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit where your credit line will equal your deposit amount, starting at $200 up to $2500.** So, once approved and you’ve put down a security deposit of $1,000, you can spend up to $1,000 with your new secured credit card. You can then build your credit with responsible use of your Discover it® Secured Credit Card.* Using your Discover secured credit card will also build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus.  Generally, prepaid and debit cards do not report to the three major credit bureaus.

Additionally, some secured credit cards offer cash back rewards. For example, with a secured credit card from Discover, you’ll get 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases–automatically.4 You also get Cashback Match:  We’ll automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. There is no limit to how much we’ll match. 5

Steps to building credit with a secured credit card

A secured credit card can put you on the path toward building a credit history, but getting there requires using the card wisely. Here are steps for using a secured credit card in responsible ways.

Make small purchases you can pay off each month

The point of using a secured credit card is to show your ability to responsibly charge and then pay off your balance. To do this, make a few purchases each month and pay your bill in full and on time. By not carrying a balance, you not only avoid paying interest on purchases, but are using a time-tested strategy for building credit.

Pay on time, and more than the minimum

While making your minimum payment on time is one essential element to a healthy credit score, upping that payment each month has added benefits. Among them: helping to pay off more of your balance, which can show that you are able to properly manage your money, and reducing your credit utilization ratio, or the amount you owe compared to your credit limit. Both are factors that affect your credit score.

Set payment alerts for your secured credit card

Even the most organized person misses a payment now and then. But when you are trying to build credit, that’s one time too many. Avoid this scenario with payment alerts that remind you of your bill’s upcoming due date. You may choose to set up a “Payment Due” text alert with your issuer, or manually set a monthly “alarm” that notifies you a week before your bill is due.

Enroll your secured credit card in auto-pay

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid late payments is to enroll in auto-pay, which allows your issuer to automatically deduct the monthly balance from your bank account so you don’t have to keep track of bills.

Using your secured credit card responsibly can help you graduate to an unsecured card

Did you know?

With the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, you can get your deposit back after 6 consecutive on-time payments and maintaining good status on all your credit accounts.6 Once you do, consider keeping up your financial health by continuing to use your credit card responsibly. You’ve worked hard to build a positive credit history and should celebrate what you’ve achieved while continuing to plan for your financial future.

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