Secured and Prepaid Credit Cards

by Mack Bartlett

Over the last month or so I’ve done a whole series of posts about secured credit cards. We’ve looked at their requirements for approval, their fees, their interest rates, and the benefits they have for people trying to rebuild their credit. You can sum up our conversations about secured credit cards this way: they will help you rebuild your credit score or establish credit history, but it’s going to cost you in the form of security deposits, relatively high interest rates, and fees.

To wrap up the series I wanted to use at least one post to discuss prepaid credit cards. Secured and prepaid credit cards have some things in common, but they also have some big differences.

What is a Prepaid Credit Card?

A prepaid credit card is basically a charge card. What does that mean? It means you open an account with a card provider and you deposit a certain amount of money into that account. The card provider gives a card with a credit card logo on it that acts just like a credit card. You can use it to buy things online, in stores – pretty much wherever credit cards are accepted.

But here’s the big difference between a normal or secured credit card and a prepaid credit card. When you use a prepaid credit card you’re actually using your own money. That’s different than a secured credit card because secured credit cards are actual credit cards with interest rates; they’re just secured by a cash deposit you made when you opened the account.

There are a few misconceptions about prepaid credit cards. One is that they help establish or rebuild credit. It’s not true. Prepaid credit cards don’t help your status with the credit bureaus because the card providers don’t have anything meaningful to tell them. Think about it – what would they say? “He successfully spend his own money until it ran out.”

I guess if you look hard enough you may find a prepaid card that reports to the credit bureaus, but it will be tough to find one.

The other downside I see in prepaid credit cards is they have fees. They’ll ususally charge between $5 and $10 to open the account and then there may be ongoing fees just to keep the account open.

What’s the Upside?

I’m actually not sure there is much of an upside. The only time I can think of that you’d be wise to open a prepaid credit card would be if you can’t get a checking account with a debit card. In that case it may be worth it to open one.

Wait – there may be one more circumstance where you might want to have a prepaid credit card. If you’re a person that has some fear about online shopping with one of your own credit cards or your debit card, a prepaid card gives you a credit card number to use on ecommerce and other shopping sites without having to worry about someone stealing your card and charging big purchases to it.

Secured Credit Cards are the Way to Go

I’d recommend that instead of opening a prepaid credit card, get a secured one instead. Your cash out of pocket will be basically equal, but the secured credit card will help you on your way to improving your credit score.

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