Guide to Building Credit With Prepaid Credit Cards

By Dan Miller · February 07, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Building Credit With Prepaid Credit Cards

We increasingly live in an electronic financial society, and if you are unbanked or underbanked, you may be missing out on some opportunities. While cash is still accepted at many retailers, there are some places where you’ll need a card to make a purchase. And sometimes, using a card is simply more convenient.

If you don’t have, don’t want, or can’t qualify for a credit card, you may consider a prepaid credit card as an alternative. Unlike traditional credit cards, prepaid credit cards do not report transaction or payment information to the major credit bureaus. That means that prepaid credit cards will not help build credit directly.

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Do Prepaid Cards Build Credit?

Having or using a prepaid credit card will not have any impact on your credit score. That’s because one of the major differences between a prepaid credit card and a traditional credit card is that prepaid credit cards do not report transactional or payment information to the major credit bureaus. As such, that activity cannot have an affect on your credit score.

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Understanding Prepaid Credit Cards and How They Work

When you use a traditional credit card, you are borrowing money from the credit card issuer. Then, each month when the statement comes due, you make a payment toward the loan the credit card company has issued you. This payment history is reported to the major credit bureaus. Other potential lenders will review how much credit you have open and how reliably you make payments on your debt obligations to help them decide if they want to issue you additional credit.

On the other hand, a prepaid credit card does not offer access to revolving credit. With a prepaid credit card, you will first purchase the card, and the purchase amount will be loaded onto the card. Then, you can use the card at participating retailers. Each purchase that you make will get subtracted from the total value that is stored on the card. Once the total value reaches $0, the card will no longer be accepted.

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Who Might a Prepaid Credit Card Be Suitable For?

There are certain groups of people for whom a prepaid credit card might be an ideal solution. This includes those with poor credit and those who desire the flexibility that a credit card can offer.

People With a Poor Credit Score

One group of people who might get value from a prepaid credit card are those that have a poor credit score or limited credit history. If you’re not able to qualify for a traditional credit card, or are concerned with how much a credit card costs, you might want to use a prepaid credit card for transactions where using a card is required or preferable.

People Who Want the Flexibility of a Credit Card

If you don’t have a credit card or prefer to use cash for most of your transactions, there still may be some circumstances where you might appreciate the flexibility of using a credit card. If that description fits you, you should explore the benefits and risks of prepaid credit cards, and decide if one might be right for you.

If, on the other hand, you are already in a solid financial state and want to apply for a card that offers excellent rewards, consider the SoFi credit card. When you apply for a credit card with SoFi, you can earn unlimited cash-back rewards with every eligible purchase.

How Can a Prepaid Card Improve Your Credit Rating?

Since prepaid credit cards do not report payment or transactional usage to the major credit bureaus, they won’t improve your credit score directly. However, getting in the habit of using a credit card responsibly can help prepare you for when you do have a traditional credit card. Starting those habits can keep you from making some of the common credit mistakes that can harm your credit score.

When Should You Use a Prepaid Credit Card?

A prepaid credit card can be a good option for people that need or want to use a credit card but don’t have a traditional credit card. This could include when making purchases online or when making a purchase where you want to make sure there is an electronic record of the transaction.

If you are trying to get a credit card cash advance, however, you may want to consider another option. Most prepaid credit cards will not allow you to get cashback.

Secured Cards vs Prepaid Cards

There are several different types of credit cards, one of which is a secured credit card. A secured credit card is similar to a prepaid credit card in that you have to make a deposit or purchase upfront to load value onto your card.

However, a secured credit card allows you to regularly reload value onto your card. A secured credit card also reports usage information to the major credit bureaus, which can make it one way to help with establishing credit.

Alternative Ways to Help You Build Credit

Besides secured credit cards, there are a few other ways to help you build your credit. Some options include:

•   Becoming an authorized user: One is being an authorized user on the credit card account of a trusted friend or family member.

•   Making on-time payments on other debt obligations: Another possible way to help build your credit is reliably making payments on other types of debts, like student loans, car loans, or personal loans.

•   Getting a cosigner: If you’re hoping to get a loan or unsecured credit card to begin building your credit, one way to increase your odds of approval is by getting a cosigner. Just know that this means that person will also be on the hook for your debt if you fail to repay it, so make sure to abide by credit card rules to avoid that situation.

The Takeaway

Prepaid credit cards can be a great way to make a purchase when using cash is not an option or is less advantageous. However, it’s important to understand that prepaid credit cards do not send information about your transaction or payment history to the major credit bureaus. That means that having or using a prepaid credit card will not have any impact on your credit score.

If you want a credit card that reports transactions to the major credit bureau, you’ll need to have a more traditional type of credit card. One option to consider is the SoFi credit card. With the SoFi credit card, you can earn cash-back rewards, which you can then use to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


What challenges are involved in having prepaid credit cards?

One challenge is that any transactions or payment history associated with a prepaid credit card are not reported to the major credit bureaus. That means that using a prepaid credit card will not help you build your credit. There also may be some types of credit transactions where the merchant will not accept a prepaid credit card.

Can prepaid cards be run as credit?

In some ways, prepaid cards work just like traditional credit cards. This means that typically, a prepaid card can be run as credit when making a purchase. Additionally, depending on the merchant and the type of prepaid card you have, you may be able to set up a PIN and use your prepaid credit card as a debit card.

Do prepaid cards damage credit?

Prepaid credit cards do not report any type of purchase or payment history to the major credit bureaus. So while this means prepaid credit cards can’t help build credit, the good news is they also will not damage it.

Do prepaid cards report to credit bureaus?

No, prepaid cards do not report to the major credit bureaus. Any purchases that you make on a prepaid credit card will not have any impact on your credit score, either positive or negative. So if you are working on establishing credit, you will need to use a traditional credit card or another type of financial instrument that reports usage to the major credit bureaus.

Photo credit: iStock/Visiondreams

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .


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