A secured credit card can help you establish credit for the first time, or rebuild your credit if you’ve damaged yours with missed payments, defaults, or bankruptcy. While secured credit cards offer many of the same advantages as traditional credit cards, they do have some limitations.
Eventually, those who start out with a secured card may want to switch to a traditional credit card. Here’s a closer look at how to transition from a secured credit card to an unsecured card.
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What Is A Secured Credit Card?
A secured credit card requires that you put down a cash deposit, which serves as collateral for the charges you make with the card. Usually, the amount of the deposit is the same as your credit limit. So if you deposit $1,000, you’ll be able to borrow up to that amount.
If you miss payments, the bank can cover their losses by drawing on money from the deposit. That said, making on-time payments is just as important with secured credit cards as it is with traditional cards, especially if you are using the secured card to build credit.
As with traditional credit cards, secured cards require that you make a minimum monthly payment. Beyond that, you can carry a balance from month to month, but you will be charged interest on that balance. Pay your balance off in full each month to avoid interest payments.
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Benefits of Secured Credit Cards
Secured credit cards offer users and banks a number of advantages.
Easier to Qualify
Because secured cards require users to put down a deposit, banks are taking on relatively little risk. As a result, it can be much easier to qualify for a secured card than it would be a traditional credit card.
Can Help Build Credit
If you have no credit or poor credit, it can be difficult to get approved for credit cards or loans. Making small purchases regularly with a secured card and paying off your bill in full and on time can help you establish credit or rebuild your credit.
If you’re looking to build credit, you may also consider becoming an authorized user on a credit card.
You can use secured credit cards anywhere traditional cards are accepted. Secured credit cards allow you to shop in person or online without carrying cash around with you. It’s also difficult to accrue too much debt because you’re limited by the amount of your deposit.
Drawbacks of Secured Credit Cards
Alongside the benefits offered by secured cards, there are limitations to be aware of.
Coming Up With the Deposit
In order to get a secured card, you will have to come up with the cash that will serve as your deposit. That may require you to save for a period of time before you apply.
Once you deposit that cash, you can’t access it while your secured card is in use. That said, your deposit is refundable when you close the account or convert your secured credit card to an unsecured card.
The annual percentage rate (APR) is the interest rate you’re charged when you carry a balance on your card. Secured credit cards may offer higher interest rates than traditional cards, which can end up costing you more money if you carry a balance.
Spending Is Limited
Most credit cards, whether they’re secured or unsecured, have spending limits. For a secured credit card, your limit will depend on the size of the deposit you make, which will typically range from $200 to $2,000. If you’ve only deposited $1,000 and need to replace your transmission for $1,800, you won’t be able to put the repair on your card.
In comparison, the average credit limit across all cards is upwards of $30,000, according to a recent report from the credit reporting bureau Experian.
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What Is an Unsecured Credit Card?
An unsecured credit card is a traditional credit card that does not require a deposit as collateral. Instead, your credit limit is determined based on your creditworthiness. If you fail to pay off your credit card, your card company can send your bill to a collections agency, and your credit score will take a hit.
There are a variety of types of credit cards to choose from when it comes to unsecured cards, including rewards cards and balance transfer cards.
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When You Might Keep Your Secured Credit Card Open
The biggest reasons to keep your secured credit card open have to do with the potential implications closing the account can have for your credit score.
For one, closing an account may result in a dip in your credit score. Additionally, closing the account may decrease the age of your credit history, another factor that goes into determining your credit score.
When You Might Upgrade to an Unsecured Credit Card
You may consider upgrading to a traditional, unsecured card if you’re able to manage a secured card responsibly and are looking for a lower APR or a higher credit limit. Ultimately, making the move requires that your credit is in decent shape.
To do so, it’s important that you stick to credit card rules. That includes being sure that you’re not in the habit of overspending, you’re able to pay your bills on time and in full, and you can keep your total purchases lower than your available credit. Experts suggest keeping your total balance at 30% or less of your available credit.
However, whether you can change a secured credit card to unsecured will also depend on your credit card issuer. Not all card companies offer unsecured options that you can upgrade to. In those cases, you’ll need to apply for a new card.
Guide to Upgrading from a Secured Card to Unsecured Credit Card
If you’re looking to upgrade to an unsecured card, make sure you’re following these steps.
Watching Your Credit Score
Many credit cards require that you have at least a good credit score to qualify. That means, you’ll need a FICO score of 670 or higher. Not only are you more likely to qualify for a card with a higher score, you’ll also be more likely to secure more favorable terms and lower interest rates.
If you’re considering trying to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured card, monitor your credit score regularly. You might check with your card issuer to see if they offer you free access to your credit score.
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Making the Minimum Monthly Payment
Getting approved for a change from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card requires displaying responsible credit card behavior. Ideally, you’d avoid interest payments by paying off your credit card in full every month. But if that’s not possible, be sure you are making at least your minimum monthly payment, as payment history is one of the biggest determinants of your credit score.
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Managing All Your Accounts Responsibly
Before opening an unsecured credit card, make sure you’re able to make other debt payments on time as well. This includes student loans, car payments, or a mortgage. If you’re not displaying good credit behavior elsewhere, that will show up on your credit report and potentially hurt your chances of qualifying for an unsecured credit card.
Limiting the Number of Credit Accounts You Open
Opening new accounts requires a hard inquiry, which will result in a temporary dip in your credit score. Additionally, if you open too many new accounts in a short period of time, it can lower the average age of your credit accounts, which is another factor that influences your credit score.
Ideally, you’ll avoid activities that will cause your credit score to drop as you’re trying to work toward being able to qualify for a secured credit card. A better score will improve your chances of getting approved.
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A secured card is an important tool for building or rebuilding credit. However, once you’ve established healthy credit card habits and good credit score, it may serve you to switch from a secured to unsecured credit card.
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Can I upgrade my secured credit card to unsecured?
Some lenders will allow you to change a secured credit card to an unsecured card. However, others will require that you apply for a new card.
How long does it take to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured one?
To move from a secured credit card to an unsecured one can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years. How long it takes will depend on the credit card issuer’s policies as well as what your credit score was when you opened the account.
Does converting a secured credit card to an unsecured card hurt your credit score?
Closing your secured card to open a traditional credit card may cause your credit score to take a temporary dip. However, you shouldn’t notice a huge impact.
Do all credit card issuers allow the conversion from a secured to unsecured card?
Not all credit card issuers will convert a secured card to an unsecured card. More often than not, you’ll have to close your secured account and open a brand new card.
Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz
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