Prepaid vs Secured Credit Cards: Similarities and Differences

By Dan Miller · June 14, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Prepaid vs Secured Credit Cards: Similarities and Differences

If your credit isn’t stellar, you may find it challenging to get approved for a traditional unsecured credit card. One option can be a prepaid or secured credit card, which can be more easily available than an unsecured credit card. However, these cards come with a few key differences. Understanding how a prepaid card and a secured card vary can help you choose the right one for your specific situation.

When you apply for a secured credit card, you will put down a refundable security deposit. This serves as your initial credit limit, and you can borrow against that initial deposit. Your borrowing history on a secured credit card is typically reported to the major credit bureaus and will impact your credit score.

On the other hand, a prepaid card serves more like a debit card without being attached to your bank account. You load it with a given amount of money and can use it to pay for purchases without affecting your credit.

Learn more about the similarities and differences, including:

•   What is a prepaid credit card and how does it work?

•   What is a secured credit card and how does it work?

•   How are secured vs. prepaid credit cards the same?

•   How are prepaid vs. secured credit cards different?

•   How do prepaid credit cards vs. secured credit cards impact your credit?

What Is a Prepaid Credit Card?

A simple way to think about what prepaid credit cards are is that they are just debit cards that aren’t tied to your bank account. Worth noting: These aren’t truly credit cards because you aren’t being extended credit; no one is lending you funds. For this reason, you may hear them referred to as just “prepaid cards” (which is what you’ll see as you keep reading).

You purchase a prepaid card (often with an activation fee) and can then use the card to make purchases. Because prepaid cards are not considered a loan, their use is not reported to the major credit bureaus. This means that they do not have a positive or negative impact on your credit score or credit history.

How Prepaid Cards Work

When you buy a prepaid card, it comes loaded with a specific amount of money on it. Generally prepaid cards are issued by some of the major credit card processing networks (e.g. Visa or Mastercard). Once you have purchased the prepaid card, you can then use it anywhere that network is accepted. Some prepaid cards only have a certain amount loaded onto them that is fixed at purchase, and others allow you to reload the card at your convenience.

Pros and Cons of Prepaid Cards

One positive thing about using a prepaid card is that it can make purchases much more convenient. It can also be more secure than carrying cash for all of your purchases.

However, a potential downside to using them is that, if you are wondering, “Do prepaid cards help build credit,” the answer is a hard no. So if you are looking for an option that can help improve your credit score, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

What Is a Secured Credit Card

If you’re looking for an alternative to a traditional unsecured credit card, you will also probably want to understand what secured credit cards are. A secured credit card is a type of credit card that requires you to apply (which likely involves a credit check). If approved, you put down an upfront security deposit to the lender. This upfront deposit will serve as your initial credit limit, and it determines the amount of money you can spend on your card.

How Secured Credit Cards Work

With an unsecured credit card, you will put down an initial deposit. Some secured credit cards have a specific amount that you must put down, and other secured cards may allow you to put down more of a deposit. As you spend money on your secured credit card, your available credit decreases. However, you can likely increase your credit line by making payments or additional deposits.

Pros and Cons of Secured Credit Cards

One of the biggest pros of a secured credit card can be that your usage is reported to the major credit bureaus. In other words, if you use it responsibly, the card can help build your credit.

Many banks that issue secured credit cards also provide a pathway to automatically increase your credit line and help you transition from a secured to a unsecured credit card. One thing to watch out for is that some secured credit cards come with high interest rates and/or fees, so it can be worthwhile to pay your balance in full each month, whenever possible.

Recommended: Secured vs. Unsecured Credit Card: What’s the Difference?

Secured vs Prepaid Cards

Here is a quick look at how prepaid cards compare to secured credit cards in a few key areas:

Secured Credit Cards Prepaid Cards
Secure and convenient payment method Yes Yes
Reports to major credit bureaus Yes No
Affects your credit score Yes No
May be easier to be approved as compared to a traditional credit card Yes No approval necessary

Is One Better for Establishing Credit?

If you’re looking to establish your credit, a secured credit card is definitely your better option. Prepaid cards are not considered loans so they are not reported to the major credit bureaus. This means that using a prepaid card will not have any impact on building your credit. Using a secured credit card responsibly can help you build credit, but it can take a while to build credit with a secured credit card.

Is a Secured or PrepaidCard Right for You?

Deciding whether a secured or prepaid card is right for you depends on what your overall goals are. If you’re just looking for a convenient and secure way to make purchases without impacting your credit, a prepaid card can be a great choice.

But if you’re looking to build or establish your credit, you might consider a secured credit card. Of the two, a secured card is the only one where your usage and payment history is reported to the major credit bureaus.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

The Takeaway

Prepaid cards and secured credit cards are both options that allow people with limited or poor credit histories to make secure and convenient payments. Both options allow you to easily pay for purchases wherever their issuer (e.g. Mastercard or Visa) is accepted. But usage of prepaid cards is not reported to the major credit bureaus, so it won’t have an impact on your credit score. If you’re looking to build your credit, you will be better off with a secured card.

Once you have established a solid credit history, you might consider a credit card that lets you earn cashback rewards with every eligible purchase. If you’re in the market for a new credit card, you might apply for a credit card like the SoFi Credit Card. With the SoFi Credit Card, you can earn cash-back rewards, which you can then use for travel or to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.

The SoFi Credit Card: So simple, so rich in perks.


Are prepaid cards more secure?

Prepaid cards are typically issued by one of the major card issuers, like Mastercard or Visa. Each of these issuers is known for payment security. One thing to watch out for with a prepaid card is that it works just like cash — if you lose your card, you’re likely to lose all of the money that is stored on your card.

What is one disadvantage of a prepaid card?

One disadvantage of a prepaid card is that your usage is not reported to the major credit bureaus. This means that using a prepaid card will not appear on your credit report and will not have any impact on your credit score. If you’re looking to build your credit, however, you’re better off getting either a traditional credit card or a secured credit card.

What are the downsides of getting a secured credit card?

A secured credit card can be a good option if you’re looking to build your credit and are having trouble getting approved for a traditional unsecured credit card. One downside of a secured credit card to keep in mind is that you will have to put down a security deposit upon being approved. Many secured credit cards also come with higher-than-average interest rates and fees, so make sure you watch out for that as well.

Photo credit: iStock/Elena Uve

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