Discover Offers Secured Card to Build Credit

With good rewards and perks, this card may be a winner for people looking to improve their credit scores. 
Virginia C. McGuire
By Virginia C. McGuire 

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The terms of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card have changed, and this article is out of date. See our review of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card for up-to-date details.

A new Discover card is joining the ranks of the best secured credit cards in the business, with cash-back rewards, free credit score monitoring, and a streamlined process to transition to an unsecured card in the future. On top of all that, the card has an annual fee of $0.

Cash back rewards

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers an unlimited 1% back on all purchases, plus 2% back on up to $1,000 in spending per quarter at gas stations and restaurants. Plus, new cardholders get a bonus: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

“Even among standard credit cards, that’s a pretty good reward structure,” says Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s resident credit card expert. “Compared to other secured cards, that’s really outstanding.”

Who should apply

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is designed to help consumers who are building or rebuilding credit. Applicants should expect to undergo a credit check and should have a steady income.

“Really, we’re targeting both people that are new to credit, and also people who have struggled with some issues in the past,” says Jerry Young, a Discover spokesperson.

Discover’s secured card has been quietly available for about two years, but only to online applicants who were turned down for regular Discover cards, Young says. The card wasn’t advertised, and people looking for secured cards couldn’t apply directly.

“We wanted to take the time to make sure that we optimized the customer experience,” Young says.

Building credit

Cardholders can easily track their progress in building or rebuilding credit, because Discover will give them free access to their FICO scores once a month. In addition, the company will report spending and payment activity to all three credit reporting bureaus — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This is a big plus, McQuay says.

“The whole purpose of a secured credit card is that it helps you build up your credit, but unfortunately many issuers are not transparent about which credit agencies they report to,” he says.

Transitioning to an unsecured card

After a cardholder has used the card for eight months, Discover will begin performing monthly reviews on the account. Customers who have been using the card carefully and have raised their credit score may qualify to move to a regular, unsecured Discover card. Young says the review process will look at both the activity on the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the customer's handling of other loans or credit accounts.

Discover is aiming to make the transition from secured to unsecured card as seamless as possible. Consumers will keep the same rewards, benefits and account numbers, Young says.

Because keeping accounts open longer helps boost credit scores, it’s a major benefit to allow cardholders to keep the same account open and convert it to an unsecured card when the time is right.

“I find it very refreshing that Discover recognizes the purpose of this card, which is building up credit,” McQuay says.

The drawbacks

Like all secured credit cards, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires users to put down a security deposit. In this case, customers' credit line is equal to their deposit, so if you put down $500, you can spend up to $500 on your card.

The card comes with a $200 minimum, which is on the low side compared with many other secured cards, but it may be hard for some people to come up with a deposit that size. The maximum deposit is $2,500.

“While consumers will have ready access to that money in their credit line, they will need to have that cash on hand first, and that may be difficult,” McQuay says.

In addition, Young says customers will need to transfer money from a checking, savings or money market account, which means this card isn’t a good choice for people without bank accounts.

The bottom line

Although Discover’s new secured card isn’t a perfect solution, it’s got several advantages over most comparable products. Earning rewards at all is rare for secured cardholders, and the Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers a higher rate than even many unsecured cards. And a secured card with a $0 annual fee, while not unheard of, is certainly not the norm.

But most of all, the Nerds are excited about the built-in program to help users transition to an unsecured card. For that reason alone, we’re looking forward to the benefits this card will bring to its members.

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