It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: You want to build credit, but most lenders won’t approve you for an account to help you build your score without a solid credit history. The good news is there are financial products available for those who are building their credit from scratch — a secured credit card being one of them.
Wondering how long does it take to build credit with a secured credit card? It depends on your situation. But if you’re worried about how fast a secured credit can build credit, we have some tips for how to get the most out of a secured card.
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What Is a Secured Credit Card?
A secured credit card is one that requires the cardholder to put down a deposit (basically, collateral) in order to open an account. The deposit typically acts as the credit limit. For example, if you make a $500 deposit when opening a secured credit card, the issuer grants you a $500 credit limit.
These types of credit cards are usually meant for those with no or limited credit history who need to build their credit history. Since these types of borrowers appear more risky — there’s no or limited evidence of their behavior as borrowers — secured credit cards reduce the risk for the lender.
How Do Secured Credit Cards Work?
Secured credit cards require the cardholder to “secure” their debt by putting down a refundable deposit. The credit card issuer will use this amount as the credit limit. The card holder can then use the card as they would a more traditional credit card, which may be more in line with their idea of what a credit card is.
Cardholders can make purchases (and take out cash advances, depending on the terms of the card) up to the credit limit. Some secured credit cards even offer rewards, such as cash back or points toward travel.
At the end of each statement period, the issuer will send a credit card statement detailing all applicable transactions, the minimum amount due, and the payment due date. Your payment activity is typically reported to the credit bureaus — late payments could negatively impact your score.
Depending on your card issuer’s terms, you may be able to upgrade to an unsecured credit card (where you don’t need to put down a deposit) and get your deposit refunded if you can consistently make on-time payments for a predetermined amount of time.
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Building Credit From Scratch With a Secured Credit Card
When it comes to building credit from scratch with a secured credit card, you can typically do so in the following ways:
• Establishing payment history: Getting a secured credit card means the issuer will report your payment activity to the credit bureaus, in addition to letting them know you opened an account. Since your payment history is one of the most important factors that determine your credit score, making on-time payments helps to establish that you’re a responsible borrower.
• Maintaining a low credit utilization ratio: Your credit utilization is the percentage of the overall credit limit available to you on your revolving accounts (like a secured credit card) that you’re using. This is another major factor that’s used to calculate your credit score. A general rule of thumb is keeping your credit utilization at 30% or less. Meaning, if your credit limit is $400, don’t carry a balance of more than $120 on your card. A high credit utilization may signal to lenders that you’re not as responsible with debt, which could hurt your score.
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Pros and Cons of Building Credit Using a Secured Credit Card
Trying to decide if a secured credit card is the right route to build credit? Here are the pros and cons to consider:
• Typically easier approval than other types of credit cards
• Deposit is refundable
• May be able to upgrade to an unsecured card after evidence of responsible borrower behavior
• May offer rewards
• Can carry high interest rates
• Can’t use deposit amount for as long as you have the card open
• May have to pay an annual fee
• Credit limits are usually lower
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Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Secured Credit Card
Using a secured credit card can be a great solution to establishing credit. While it’s hard to tell how fast a secured card will build credit, you can get the most out of using one by taking these suggestions into consideration.
Make On-Time Payments
Consistently paying your credit card bill on time will help you to establish a positive credit history. Late payments tend to come with late fees and penalties like additional interest, on top of negative remarks on your credit report.
Pay Your Balance in Full
While you’re only required to make the minimum payment, paying off your balance in full could lower your credit utilization ratio. Further, doing so will help you avoid paying interest on purchases.
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Watch Your Credit Utilization
You can technically spend up to your credit limit, but doing so could negatively impact your score. Instead, keep track of your balance and aim to keep it as low as you can — ideally at 30% off your overall credit limit or less.
Keep in mind that the credit limit for secured credit cards is usually low. To avoid a high credit utilization ratio, you might consider using the card for smaller purchases like subscription services or your daily latte. That way, you’re less at risk of nearing your credit limit.
Monitor Your Credit
Checking your credit report can help you to determine whether your payment activity is being correctly reported to the credit bureaus. This is essential as you’re building your credit from scratch. If there are any errors, it’s best to get those fixed as soon as possible.
Request an Upgrade
A secured credit card can be one of the first steps to accessing other types of credit. It’s helpful to think of the next steps — like upgrading to an unsecured credit card — as you continue to use your current card. Doing so will usually require making on-time payments consistently, and asking your card issuer how getting an upgrade works. While some automatically do it, others may require you to formally submit a request.
Alternative Ways to Build Credit
If you feel like a secured credit card isn’t for you, here are some alternatives to consider to help you build credit:
• Get your rent, cell phone, and/or utilities payments reported to the credit bureaus. There are many services available if your landlord doesn’t offer this as an option.
• Become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.
• Take out a credit builder loan, where you can borrow a small amount for the purposes of establishing credit.
• Get a cosigner on a personal loan so you can more easily qualify, and then handle repayment responsibly.
• Consider retailer, gas, or student credit cards, which are generally easier to qualify for.
• Take out a secured loan, like an auto loan.
Using a secured credit card to build credit can take time. Exactly how long it takes to build credit with a secured credit card will depend on your financial behavior. Your best course of action is to continue to show your issuer that you’re a responsible user and monitor your credit regularly to see where you stand.
If you’re responsible with your secured credit card, you can someday upgrade to an unsecured credit card, like the SoFi Credit Card. These cards tend to offer higher credit limits and more generous perks. With the SoFi credit card, for instance, cardholders can earn generous cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
How do the credit bureaus see unsecured vs secured credit cards?
The credit bureaus see both types of credit cards as a type of credit account. As such, there is virtually no difference in how your activity gets reported.
How often should I use my secured credit card to build credit?
It’s generally a good idea to use your secured card regularly so that more activity gets reported to the credit bureaus. To keep your credit card utilization low, however, consider using the card for smaller purchases.
What are the best ways to use a secured credit card to build my credit?
In most cases, the best ways to use a secured credit card are to make consistent on-time payments, attempt to pay off the balance in full each month (or at the very least, make the minimum payment required), and keep an eye on your credit usage.
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When you elect to redeem rewards points as cash deposited into your SoFi Checking and Savings account, as a statement credit to a SoFi Credit Card account, as fractional shares into your SoFi Invest account, or as a payment toward your SoFi Personal Loan or Student Loan Refinance, your rewards points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per point. For more details please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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 .
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.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A. pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.