What Is a Secured Credit Card? And How Does It Work?

Credit cards with locks on them

Drawing from my experience as both a financial services professional and a mother of three, I truly understand the importance of guiding our young adults to the right financial path.

The college years are about more than just education; they’re the starting point for financial independence. I’ve seen firsthand, with my own kids, that whether they’re looking to rent their first apartment, navigate student loans, or prepare for life after graduation, establishing a solid credit foundation is absolutely essential. I also recognize that for many college students, this journey can feel uncertain and even overwhelming.

This is where secured credit cards come into play. They’re a fantastic resource for college students, who, just like my children, are aiming to initiate or boost their credit scores. Not only do secured cards offer a safer gateway into the world of credit, but they also provide a golden opportunity for students to showcase their financial responsibility and hone invaluable money management skills.

Remember, it’s not just about building credit, but building it right, and I wholeheartedly believe in giving our young adults the tools they need to succeed.

A secured credit card is one of those tools. It lays the foundation for a successful financial future.

What Is a Secured Credit Card?

A secured credit card is a type of credit card that requires a security deposit in order for the cardholder to open an account.

One of the advantages of a secured credit card is accessibility. It’s relatively easy to qualify for, making it an ideal choice for individuals who may have been denied traditional credit cards due to a lack of credit history or a low credit score.

It’s also a great option for college students because it offers a way to build credit history. Think of these cards as bikes with training wheels. You can learn to build credit slowly, while minimizing the risk of falling and taking on too much debt.

How Does a Secured Credit Card Work?

Unlike traditional unsecured credit cards, which rely solely on your creditworthiness, secured credit cards require a cash deposit as collateral. This deposit acts as a safety net for the credit card issuer, ensuring that they’ll recover any outstanding balances in case you stop making payments.

The deposit you make usually determines your credit limit. For example, if you deposit $500, your credit limit would be $500. Some secure credit card issuers may offer a slightly higher credit limit than the deposit that you make. This system makes secured credit cards accessible to a wide range of individuals, regardless of their credit score or income level.

Once the deposit is made, a secured credit card works basically the same as an unsecured credit card:

  • You can use it to make purchases anywhere the credit card brand is accepted.
  • You will receive a monthly statement with minimum payments due.
  • Some companies may charge you interest on any late payments.
  • You can build credit history by using it responsibly and making on-time payments.

Can Your Security Deposit Be Applied to Pay Your Monthly Bill?

The short answer is no.

If you use your deposit to pay your bill, you’re not actually using credit (you would be using it like a debit card or any other prepaid card), and there would be no on-time payments to report or credit history to build or improve.

The deposit serves as collateral, ensuring that the credit card issuer has a source of funds to draw from if you fail to make payments. Failing to pay your balance repeatedly will typically result in your card account being closed.

Can You Get Your Security Deposit Back? Can You Lose It?

There are some circumstances where you can get your security deposit back, including:

  • Conversion to an Unsecured Card: Some secured credit card issuers review your account regularly, and if you demonstrate responsible card usage and establish a positive credit history, they might offer to convert your secured card to an unsecured one. When this transition occurs, your security deposit may be refunded to you.
  • Account Closure with a Zero Balance: If you decide to close your secured credit card account and have paid off your outstanding balance, the issuer will typically refund your security deposit.

You can lose your deposit if you default or miss a certain number of payments. And you should always check the terms of the secured credit card to make sure that you fully understand their security deposit policy as it may differ depending on the issuer.

Keep in mind that maintaining responsible card usage and making on-time payments is crucial to improving your credit score and increasing the likelihood of getting your security deposit back in the future.

Benefits of a Secured Credit Card

There are many benefits to getting a secured credit card. It can help you:

  • Start Building Credit History: A secured credit card allows individuals with limited or no credit history to start building a credit score, which is essential for future financial opportunities.
  • Receive Access to Credit: More accessible than unsecured cards, secured cards are an ideal option for college students, newcomers to credit, or those recovering from financial setbacks.
  • Improve Your Credit Score: Consistent, on-time payments and responsible card use can lead to an improved credit score over time, opening doors to better credit options.
  • Achieve Financial Responsibility: A secured card encourages responsible spending and payment habits, helping cardholders develop money management skills.
  • Learn to Limit Spending: Your credit limit is determined by the deposit you make, allowing you to control your spending and avoid accumulating excessive debt.
  • Have an Emergency Financial Tool: The card can serve as a financial safety net in emergencies when cash may be insufficient, helping you cover unexpected expenses.
  • Qualify for Unsecured Cards: Many secured card issuers offer the potential to transition to unsecured cards once you’ve established a positive credit history, potentially returning your deposit.
  • Travel Worldwide: Secured credit cards are widely accepted, just like unsecured cards, making them suitable for everyday purchases and travel.

Secured credit cards can be a great option, particularly for college students starting their journey towards financial independence. They provide an opportunity to boost credit history without the risk of taking on excessive debt. They also offer benefits like learning money management skills, credit limit control, and the potential to qualify for unsecured cards.

So, if you’re a college student, consider applying for a secured credit card, like the Ambition Card by College Ave. It’s a smart financial step to take. Just remember, you need to treat a secured credit card like any other line of credit: use it responsibly and make your payments on time.


Which product best suits you?

Interested in building your credit?

Set sights on a brighter financial future by establishing a positive credit history easily and safely with Ambition Card.

Ambition Card by College Ave
Find My Application