Comparing Secured Credit Cards from Major Issuers

We typically talk about high tier and travel cards, but for a lot of people who are still building credit or don't have credit, they need to start with a secured credit card.

Secured cards are useful if you don't have a credit history and need to build your score from scratch. Another scenario is for people who have ruined their credit history in the past and looking to repair it. 

There are a lot of options available, but we're going to focus on the big banks. We're looking at:

  • Bank of America
  • Capital One
  • Citi
  • Discover It 
  • U.S. Bank
  • Wells Fargo

You can view secured card offers at the end of the post.

Access the spreadsheet here: http://bit.ly/2hx9160

One thing I want to emphasize is that the interest rate and late fees shouldn't matter because the idea of a credit card is to pay off your cards in full every month. The biggest complaint I hear from viewers is that their credit limit is only $100 with the secured card, but the goal should be to build credit and not spend a ton on the card.

Minimum Security Deposit

minimum security deposit

minimum security deposit

Looking at the minimum secured deposit, Capital One is the lowest at $49. The highest minimum is a tie between US Bank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. For secured cards, your credit limit is based on your deposit (i.e., if you deposit $300, your credit limit is $300).

Maximum Security Deposit

The maximum credit limit and deposit ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. Citi and Discover have the lowest maximum limit at $2,500, and Wells Fargo has the most at $10,000.

maximum security deposit

maximum security deposit

Annual Fees

Capital One, Citi, and Discover do not have annual fees. Bank of America, U.S. Bank, and Well Fargo have annual fees of $39, $25, and $25, respectively. 

annual fees

annual fees

Annual fees get interesting when the credit issuer graduates your card to an unsecured credit card. Certain cards will still try to charge you an annual fee when they graduate you. An example of this is the Bank of America 1,2,3 card. This is not ideal because they will want to charge you an annual fee forever. In this case, it's worth calling Bank of America to see if they can waive the annual fee forever. 

One of my friends went in-branch and told Bank of America he would close all his accounts if they didn't waive the fee. They magically agreed to waive the fees permanently.

Return on spend

Return on spending is not a primary focus because you're trying to build credit and not optimize for points. Secured cards do not give you cash back, except Discover.

The Discover secured credit card gives you:

  • 2% gas and dining (cap of $1,000 per quarter)
  • 1% on everything else
  • First year Cashback Match makes it: 4% and 2%

The caveat is that Discover is not accepted everywhere. Most major retailers and establishments will accept Discover. In any situation that Discover it not accepted, use a debit card to pay instead.

Long-term Strategy

We're going to look at the product change options for each card once you graduate.

Bank of America

For Bank of America, most of the product change options require you to have a lot of money with BoA to get good value. The options aren't necessarily bad, but it's not a pro. 

Capital One

With Capital One, you can also product change to any card.  There's not a particular product that's worthwhile. The best option might be the Quicksilver card that earns 1.5% on everything.

Citi

Citi has a lot of options. My recommendation is to product change to the Costco card, the Citi Double Cash Card, or the Citi Dividend card. All of these cards earn more than 2% cash back either as a baseline or different categories. 

Discover

With Discover, your options are limited because they don't have that many cards. I recommend doing a product change to the Discover It card. The Discover It is one of my favorite no annual fee cards (I have two).

U.S. Bank

For U.S. Bank, I recommend product changing to the U.S. Bank Cash+ card to optimize for cash back. 

Wells Fargo

I would avoid getting a Wells Fargo card because each product change is a hard inquiry. They close your account to open a new one. 

Conclusion

Looking at the short-term, U.S. Bank, Citi, and Discover are the unsecured cards I recommend. They all have product change options to card that earn 5% cash back. 

The big selling point for Citi is that they have a lot of benefits that come with the unsecured cards like price protection.