What’s the Difference Between Secured and Unsecured Business Credit Cards?

Anisha Sekar

Anisha Sekar

Credit Card Specialist at Fundera
Anisha Sekar is a personal finance expert who led NerdWallet's credit and debit card business. She has written for U.S. News and Marketwatch, and featured in Time, NPR's Marketplace, CNN, and more. She currently writes about everything from getting out of debt, to saving for retirement, to finding affordable health insurance.
Anisha Sekar
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If you’re a small business owner with less-than-stellar credit, you might be considering a secured business credit card. Secured cards are easier to qualify for, and they help raise your credit score so you can eventually get approved for traditional lines of credit. But what does a secured card mean, exactly? And what’s the difference between a secured credit card vs. unsecured credit cards?

We break down the differences between secured and unsecured business credit cards to help you decide which is best for your company. (And look at another alternative, too.)

Then, if a secured credit card sounds like just what you and your business need, we’ll help you sift through some of your top secured credit card options out there. 

TL;DR: Secured Credit Card vs. Unsecured Credit Card

Don’t have the time to comb through all of the details on secured credit cards vs. unsecured credit cards? We’ve still got you covered—here’s a rundown on the fundamentals of understanding the differences between a secured credit card vs. unsecured credit cards.

Put simply, unsecured credit cards are generally what you think of when you think of credit cards—a credit limit that you can spend up to and then pay back every month. Unfortunately, unsecured credit cards are often too risky for card issuers to provide to business owners that have lower credit scores. As such, it can be difficult for business owners with credit scores around or below 550 to qualify for an unsecured business credit card, and as a result, they need to improve their credit with a secured credit card.

Secured credit cards are cards that require security deposits to mitigate any risk a card issuer takes on by extending a line of credit to a cardholder. With responsible spending, you’ll be able to use a secured credit card to improve your credit score in order to eventually be able to access an unsecured credit card.

If you think a secured credit card is just what you need, look into your three best options—the BBVA Compass Secured Visa® Business Credit Card, the Capital One Secured Mastercard, and the Discover it Secured Card.

All in all, although keeping your cash tied up in a security deposit isn’t ideal, secured credit cards provide a one-way ticket to improving your personal credit and eventually qualifying for an unsecured credit card that won’t require a security deposit.

What Is a Secured Credit Card?

First, let’s talk generally about secured loans compared to unsecured loans. When you take out a secured loan, you offer up something—for example, a deposit or an asset like your car or house—that the lender can keep if you default. Auto loans and mortgages are secured loans, because if you can’t stay on top of your debts, your car can be repossessed or your house foreclosed on.

Now, for unsecured loans. Here, you can take out a loan without putting down any collateral. If you default, you might face hefty penalties, debt collectors, or bankruptcy, but you won’t necessarily have to hand over a specific asset. Unsecured loans are riskier for lenders, so they often have tighter lending standards or higher interest rates (or both). If you have bad or no credit, you may not be able to qualify for this type of loan.

The same principles apply to the question of secured credit card vs. unsecured credit card. Unsecured credit cards are what most people think of when they think of credit cards—you apply, you’re approved based on your credit score, and you can borrow up to the credit limit without giving the bank any collateral. Secured credit cards require you to post an upfront deposit (usually equal to the line of credit) that the lender can keep if you default. Your deposit isn’t used to pay off your balance—instead, it’s held as collateral and returned to you when you close the account.

You may be wondering why you should make an upfront deposit to borrow money—after all, the point of taking out a loan is that you need more funds than you have available. It’s true that secured credit cards aren’t much help in getting more capital for your business. However, they are useful for building up your credit score so that you can eventually qualify for unsecured loans. If your personal credit is shaky and you can’t qualify for loans based on your business’ credit, secured cards are a way to rehab your FICO score.

Should I Apply for a Secured or Unsecured Credit Card?

Whether you get a secured or unsecured business credit card, you almost certainly need to make a personal guarantee. This means that you personally are on the hook for unpaid debts, even if your business is an LLC. The upside of personal guarantees is that you can qualify based on your own credit history, which is handy for businesses that can’t provide years of revenue, profit, and on-time payment records.

If your personal credit is less than ideal, you might need to use a secured credit card to beef it up. By building a history of on-time payments and responsible use, you can boost your FICO score to the point where a personal guarantee can get you an unsecured business credit card.

However, if you can, you should go straight to unsecured credit cards. Not only will you actually be able to borrow funds for your business without a deposit, but you’ll probably save on fees and earn better rewards. Secured cards are a loan of last resort. If that’s the route you take, here are our picks for the top secured credit cards.

Top Secured Business Credit Cards

No Annual Fee With a Flexible Security Deposit: The Capital One Secured Mastercard

If you’re searching for a secured credit card that offers a flexible security deposit and no annual fees, then you’re looking for the Capital One Secured Mastercard. Unlike most secured cards that will require you to put down at least 90%—if not all—of your credit line’s value in a security deposit, the Capital One Secured Mastercard will allow you to put down a security deposit that’s a smaller fraction of your credit line’s worth.

Depending on your creditworthiness, you’ll be able to provide a security deposit that’s as small as 25% of your credit line with the Capital One Secured Mastercard. Plus, if you can’t pay all of your security deposit upfront, you’ll be able to pay it in installments, as long as you’ve paid the full amount within 80 days.

With the Capital One Secured Mastercard, you’ll be able to access flexibility that’s unparalleled in any other secured credit card.

Best Business-Specific Card: BBVA Compass Secured Visa® Business Credit Card

The BBVA Secured Business Credit Card is one of the few secured credit cards out there that are meant for corporate use. Its $40 annual fee is waived the first year, and it offers free employee cards as well as a rewards rate of 1 CompassPoint per $1 spent on qualifying purchases in bonus rewards on the category of your choice. The minimum security deposit is $500, and your credit line is 90% of the deposit.

The annual fee and relative clunkiness of CompassPoints compared to cash are marks against the BBVA card. However, using a business-specific card has its perks—the other card on our list doesn’t offer employee cards, for example. Plus, BBVA doesn’t report business credit card usage to personal credit bureaus. (It doesn’t report usage to commercial credit bureaus either, so it’s not that helpful in establishing business credit).

If you’re worried about card usage reflecting poorly on your personal FICO score, plan to close the card before its annual fee kicks in. Or if you really need employee cards and accounting help, the BBVA secured card is a solid choice.

No Annual Fee With Rewards: Discover it® Secured Card

The Discover it® Secured Card—No Annual Fee is one of the rare secured credit cards that doesn’t charge annual fees. It goes one step further by waiving foreign transaction fees and over-the-limit fees, as well as your first late payment fee. Its minimum deposit is an affordable $200.

Even better, the card offers  2% cash back on up to $1,000 spent per quarter on gas and restaurants and an unlimited 1% cash back elsewhere. Finally, after your first account anniversary, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned. This means that for the first 12 months of cardmembership, you’re earning 4% back on gas and dining and 2% elsewhere—not too shabby for a secured credit card.

Discover also makes it easy to graduate to unsecured credit cards. Every seven months, the bank automatically reviews your account to see if your on-time payments qualify you for an upgrade.

Keep in mind that the Discover it is a personal credit card, not a business one. This means no business-friendly perks like employee cards or accounting help—and if you mix personal and business expenses on the card, you’re in for a headache come April 15th. Still, with its rewards and no annual fee, the Discover it is a great option for rehabbing your credit.

What if I Don’t Want to Rely on a Secured Credit Card?

Prepaid Business Debit Card: Bento for Business

There’s also the possibility that a secured credit card doesn’t sound like the right option for you for whatever reason. But your credit history might prevent you from getting an unsecured credit card. And that’s completely okay. You still need to do business—and there’s an option for you, too. The Bento for Business prepaid card can help you get a lot done.

Bento is a great prepaid card option, since it allows you to use your own prepaid capital toward purchases. Bento lets you easily set spending limits, track card activity, and integrate expense data into your company’s bookkeeping software. And it provides you with as many cards as you need for your business. So, if you need to monitor employee spending easily, but might not not have the credit score to qualify for a secured business credit card, you can still get this prepaid card for daily purchases.

Although Bento won’t help you build credit history, it does serve as a great day-to-day card for typical business expenses alongside a secured credit card when you’re ready for one. And together, you’ll have a way to build a solid credit history over time without only having one way for your company to make purchases.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Anisha Sekar

Anisha Sekar

Credit Card Specialist at Fundera
Anisha Sekar is a personal finance expert who led NerdWallet's credit and debit card business. She has written for U.S. News and Marketwatch, and featured in Time, NPR's Marketplace, CNN, and more. She currently writes about everything from getting out of debt, to saving for retirement, to finding affordable health insurance.
Anisha Sekar

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