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Credit Cards for People With Bad Credit – How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off
If you’ve had credit problems, you’ve probably received credit card offers aimed at people with bad credit. These offers range from legitimate scams, to questionable ones and scams. How can you tell the difference? The answer is to read the fine print, which is usually found in a document called “Terms and Conditions.” To show you the difference between “the good, the bad and the ugly” in the low-end credit card market, let’s take a look at the fine print associated with these offers.
We’ll start with one of the most popular low-limit “starter” cards available today. These are actual terms published by a major company at the time this article was written. The card features a Visa logo and looks like a regular credit card, so you can use it as additional identification when booking a hotel room, renting a car, etc. In the “Terms and Conditions” document, the first thing we see is the annual percentage rate (APR), which is listed at 19.5%. It’s not a particularly attractive fee, but it’s not as high as many other cards. A little further down, we see that the APR on cash advances is higher at 25.5%, which is normal since there is more risk to the business.
Where it really gets interesting is the section that lists the fees associated with the card. In this example, there is an annual fee of $150! There’s also a $29 account opening fee, as well as a $6.50 monthly “maintenance” fee. Phew! That’s a lot of fees. But wait! improve Towards the bottom of the document, buried in the fine print, we see something called “Available Credit Limits.” In 8-point font (very difficult to read on a computer screen or printed page), you are informed that your generous initial credit limit will be $300. On the first statement, you will be billed the annual fee of $150, plus the $29 setup fee. Monthly fees of $6.50 will begin to appear after the first purchase is made on the card.
Let’s take a closer look at the math here. It’ll cost you $179 up front, plus $78 annually, to get a $300 credit. Your total cost in the first year is $257, assuming you pay off the balance each month and incur no regular interest charges. Sound like a good deal? Does it make sense to pay $257 to get a $300 credit? That’s 85.6% effective interest! If you maintain a current balance of $300 on the card and make only the minimum payments each month, your effective interest rate will be 105.2% in the first year and 95.5% in subsequent years. That’s a pretty expensive credit! This credit card offer, while legal, still counts as a total scam.
As bad as the above sounds, it still only qualifies as “questionable” rather than a complete scam. There are far worse deals out there. I’ve even seen some “deals” where the rates are so stiff that you start over your credit limit before you even get your card in the mail! In the fake category I would also include cards where you are forced to pay an upfront fee before receiving the “guaranteed” credit card, which of course never comes. There are also “catalog cards,” where you supposedly earn credit by purchasing items through a card linked to a specific company and its catalog of goods. The problem is that catalogs tend to consist of very expensive junk.
So what makes a good credit card deal for someone who has experienced serious credit problems and wants to take steps to rebuild their credit? At the risk of upsetting the big credit card marketing companies that target the “subprime” market (consumers with bad credit), my advice is to completely avoid any unsolicited offers that come your way. Instead, do the research on your own. Check http://www.bankrate.com for current offers from legitimate credit card companies. Shop and compare before you apply. Remember that the APR is only one aspect of your decision, and not necessarily the most important. What you want to look very closely at are the annual fees, setup fees, and monthly fees.
It’s important to realize that you may not be able to get an unsecured credit card when you’re just starting to rebuild your credit. Instead of paying $257 to get $300 in credit, you would be much better off putting $250 as a deposit on a good SECURED credit card from a major, reputable bank. In this real example, the annual fee is just $29, the APR is 19.99%, and there are no setup fees or monthly maintenance fees. Your $250 deposit will give you a $250 credit (minus the $29 annual fee) and you’ll build a positive credit history just as quickly as with the ridiculously expensive offer discussed above. Plus, that original $250 deposit is still your money. Once you’ve re-granted unsecured credit and paid off any outstanding balance on the secured card, you can get your deposit back.
One last tip. If you have the opportunity to join a credit union, you should consider checking out their offers for secured, low-limit credit cards. Credit unions often offer much better terms than regular commercial banks. Through credit unions, you can often find credit cards with no annual fees, lower interest rates, and more flexibility. However, be sure to confirm that the credit union reports account activity to the credit bureaus. Otherwise, your positive payment history on the new credit card will not increase your credit score. And remember, no matter what card offer you’re considering, be sure to read that fine print!
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