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Have you had problems keeping up with your debt repayments or failed to pay money you owe? If you have, chances are you now have a bad credit score. Don't worry; you're not alone. Millions of Americans have imperfect credit histories because of their past financial dealings.

Black marks can appear on your history because of having accounts sent to a collection agency, filing for bankruptcy, foreclosure, student loan debts or vehicle repossession. These black marks appear on your individual report, which is used to calculate your score. Your score is a three-digit number that reflects your borrowing risk at any given time. Scores range from 300 to 850, with a lower score indicating higher risk.

A bad score can hurt your ability to get new lines of credit, but you can do something about it and start rebuilding your profile. The best way to improve your score is to use credit responsibly. How can you do that if you can't get credit? The answer is the secured credit card.

What Are Secured Cards?
Most cards are unsecured, meaning you don't have to provide any collateral. Secured cards require cardholders to make a cash security deposit. The cash deposit is usually equal to or slightly more than the credit limit.

While most secured cards begin with a modest limit (rarely more than $500 at the start), the companies that issue them do sometimes reward responsible cardholders with higher limits after a period of responsible payment. These increases often don't require any additional deposit.

With regular, responsible use, you can improve your financial history and eventually qualify for an unsecured card. If you successfully close your secured account, convert it to an unsecured product, your issuer will refund your security deposit.

With so many different secured products out there, how can you be sure which one is right for you? We've compared 11 of the most popular ones to save you time.

Discover it®
Regular APR – 23.49%
Annual fee - $0

The Discover it Secured Credit Card has no annual fees and gives you cash back on every purchase you make – 2% at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 worth of spending per quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. What's more, if you handle your account responsibly, Discover will automatically review your account every seven months to see if you are eligible for an unsecured product.

You can obtain the Discover it Secured Card with a security deposit of $200 or more.

Wells Fargo Secured Visa®
Regular APR – 19.49%
Annual fee - $25

The Wells Fargo Secured Visa Card has a very high potential limit (minimum $300, maximum $10,000), making it a good option for people with plenty of available cash. The $25 annual fee isn't too extortionate, and after 12 months of timely payments, Wells Fargo will review your account to see if you qualify for an unsecured card.

Excent™ Secured
Regular APR – 13.99%
Annual fee - $49

The Excent Secured Card is unique in that it pays you interest on your security deposit, which needs to be a minimum of $200 up to a maximum of $5,000. If your income exceeds your expenses by at least $100, you will be approved.

Capital One® Secured MasterCard
Regular APR – 24.99%
Annual fee - $0

The Capital One Secured MasterCard is one of the very few cards that will give you a limit greater than your security deposit, based on your creditworthiness. For example, depending on your rating, a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200 will get you an initial limit of $200.

primor® Secured Visa Gold
Regular APR – 9.99%
Annual fee - $49

The primor Secured Visa Gold Card has a low APR of 9.99% and offers a limit equal to your savings – anywhere from $200 to $5,000. Your deposit also accrues interest but does not compound.

U.S. Bank Secured Visa®
Regular APR – 19.49%
Annual fee - $29

With the U.S. Bank Secured Visa Card, your security deposit (minimum $300, maximum $5,000) goes into an FDIC-insured, interest-accruing U.S. Bank savings account. Following 12 timely payments, U.S. Bank will review your account to see if you are eligible for an upgraded, unsecured card.

BankAmericard® Secured
Regular APR – 20.74%
Annual fee - $39

You can get a relatively high credit limit with the BankAmericard Secured Card ($300 - $4,900), and BankAmerica may return your security deposit after 12 months of timely payments.

USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®
Regular APR – 10.40%-20.40% (Variable)
Annual fee - $35

With the USAA Secured Card Platinum Visa, you can determine your limit, from $250 to $5,000. There are also no foreign transaction fees, making this a good choice for traveling. Your cash deposit also accrues interest.

Merrick Bank Secured Visa®
Regular APR – 17.95%

Annual fee - $36 for the first year and then $3 a month after that Merrick Bank's Secured Visa has laid back approval standards and lets you choose your limit – from $200 to $3,000. Your cash deposit is also FDIC insured but does not accrue interest.

OpenSky® Secured Visa®
Regular APR – 17.89% (variable)
Annual fee - $35

You do not need to undergo a credit check to apply for the OpenSky Secured Visa Card, making it a great option for people with a chequered credit history. Your cash deposit can be anywhere from $200 to $3,000, and there's a chance you'll qualify for a credit limit increase of up to $5,000 at any time.

Citi® Secured MasterCard®
Regular APR – 22.99% (variable)
Annual fee - $0

The Citi Secured MasterCard requires a cash deposit of between $200 and $2,500. If you have recorded a bankruptcy within the past two years, your application will be rejected. It is also worth noting that your cash deposit will be tied up for 18 months and does not earn interest during that time.

While secured cards can help you rebuild your profile and get you back on the right financial track, they are only a tool. It's only through a solid debt management strategy and sound financial planning that you will find yourself on the way to financial freedom.

The bottom line is that while bad credit is never a good thing and can severely affect your ability to secure an affordable home loan, rent an apartment or get a cell phone, there are ways to get yourself out of a bad financial situation. It may take time, but start with a secured card, run a low balance, and pay your bills on time every time, and your score will soon start trending upward.

Check these cards out here:

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

primor® Secured Visa Gold Card

U.S. Bank Secured Visa® Card

BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card

USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

Merrick Bank Secured Visa® Card

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

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