Discover it Secured Card review

The ever-growing Discover ‘it’ family has a new addition. This time, it’s a secured credit card. If your less-than-stellar credit places Discover’s regular credit card offerings out of reach, the Discover it Secured Credit Card (with no annual fee) may be worth pursuing. But before you apply, make sure you know all the details.

discover it secured card

The basics

If you’re not familiar with secured credit cards, they’re products designed specifically for consumers who want to rebuild their credit. If you’re approved for the card, instead of getting an unsecured line of credit (as you would with a regular card), you have to put down a deposit upon approval to secure your line of credit.

For the Discover it Secured card, here’s how it works:

  • First, you’ll apply and, if you’re approved, you’ll put down a security deposit. Your credit line will be equal to that deposit. For example, if you deposit $500, you’ll have a $500 line of credit. The minimum required deposit is $200, and the highest you can go is $2,500. Discover will determine your limit based on your income and ability to pay.
  • Then, use your card (responsibly) to build credit. That means paying on time and keeping your credit usage well below your limit.
  • Discover will review your account monthly (starting at the one-year mark) to see if you qualify for a security-deposit refund. If you’re eligible for a refund, that would essentially turn your card into a regular Discover rewards card.

Unlike some other secured cards on the market, this card has no annual fee.

The rewards and perks

Unlike most secured cards, the Discover it Secured Card offers rewards:

  • 1 percent cash back on all eligible purchases
  • 2 percent back at restaurants and gas stations (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter)
  • Double cash back the first year (for new cardholders only). However much cash back you earn in Year One, Discover will double it.

Plus, as with Discover’s other products, you get the following benefits:

  • Free FICO score access: You can see your TransUnion FICO score for free on your statements or via online banking.
  • Freeze-it: Freeze-it lets you temporarily block purchases, cash advances and balance transfers via an app if you misplace your card. This buys you some time to search for it and determine it’s really missing before you contact customer service for a replacement.

Is it a good option for rebuilders?

For something as important as rebuilding your credit, you’ll need to make sure you have the right card – and there are other cards for rebuilders to consider.

For example:

  • The Capital One Secured MasterCard is a no-annual-fee secured card with a unique security-deposit structure; your credit limit may be higher than the deposited amount. Your security deposit will be $49, $99 or $200. A $49 deposit gets you a $200 credit limit, and, if you deposit one of the higher amounts, you could get a limit of up to $3,000 (depending on your credit history). In other words, you may get a higher limit with this card for less money up front. The drawback? Unlike the Discover it Secured Card, you won’t earn rewards.
  • The Cash Back Rewards Card from Credit One Bank is designed for rebuilders, too, although it’s not a secured card (meaning no deposit). It also offers rewards (an unlimited 1 percent back on groceries and gas). However, this card comes with an annual fee of $35 to $75 the first year and $35 to $99 thereafter. It’s also worth noting that Credit One doesn’t have any prime cards in its portfolio. After you’ve built up your credit, you’ll have to close your card and move on to another issuer.

For more secured card options, go here.

The Discover it Secured card is a well-rounded and compelling option. While we usually advise consumers to put rewards on the back burner while they’re rebuilding credit, the rewards on this card are a nice perk (especially because there’s no annual fee). Because your (likely low) limit will keep you out of too much trouble, overspending to earn rewards is less of a concern.

More importantly, perhaps, is that Discover may refund your deposit and allow you to keep the card and its benefits. That basically turns your card into the Discover it Chrome card. There’s no guarantee Discover will raise your limit (which will be relatively low to start with). But even if it doesn’t, you can rest assured that you have a card with competitive rewards and benefits (and no annual fee) – and good enough credit to go for one of Discover’s prime products or for a prime product from another issuer.

You set up a profile on a dating site to find love. But that message from a stranger with an attractive profile photo may be the first of many steps that lead to financial ruin, identity theft and credit damage.

Think you’d never fall for a “romance scam” – or that a romance scammer would never get his hands on your Social Security number?romance scams

“If you think you are invincible, you are vulnerable,” says Jody Buell, a moderator and peer counselor (and former romance scam victim) at victim-support site RomanceScams.org.

A “many-to-one” attack

Put succinctly, romance scams (often called sweetheart scams) involve “creating the illusion of a relationship to gain trust,” says Michael Bruemmer, vice president of consumer protection at Experian.

Here’s the longer version: The victim creates an online dating profile, and the scammer, with the help of fake photos and a carefully crafted backstory, begins wooing the victim (a better word is “grooming,” Buell says). Because the fraudsters are often part of massive scamming collectives in West Africa, the backstory usually stars the scammer as an American who is awarded a mining or construction contract in, say, Nigeria or Ghana. Hence, the inability to meet face-to-face (although victims will spend hours each day chatting on the phone or online with their pursuers).

Eventually, the victim’s new love starts running into problems. Maybe they need a new laptop but can’t buy from abroad. Maybe they can’t deposit a check while abroad and ask for your bank account details so they can deposit the money (which you will then send to them or a third party). The requests get bigger and bigger (“It’s one calamity after another,” Buell says) until “doctors” are calling you, demanding thousands of dollars to treat your love, who has been “shot.” Buell figured out the ruse when her scammer claimed to have malaria — her desperate searches for hospitals in Ghana on the U.S. embassy website led her to RomanceScams.org.

Scammers are successful because of their sheer numbers. Behind every scammer promising sweet nothings on the phone stands an entire call center of hackers and researchers.

“It’s a many-to-one attack,” Bruemmer says.

Because of this strength-in-numbers approach, scammers can take as long as necessary to groom victims (sometimes years, Buell says) because they’ll often already have several paying victims on the hook. Their success record – and growing pool of victims — has drawn professionals (lawyers, engineers, computer experts) to the trade, according to Buell.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age, especially with the rapid growth of dating sites and the use of the Internet to meet people, the likelihood of being scammed has increased exponentially, especially over the last 24 months,” Bruemmer says.

How romance scams can damage your credit

Losing thousands of dollars to a heartless faker is bad enough. But a far more insidious effect of romance scams is long-term credit damage. How can romance scams contaminate your credit? There are two main paths:

Debt damage: Once you’ve emptied your checking and savings accounts in the name of love, you might turn to credit cards. Sometimes, victims supply scammers with their card numbers for “emergency” purchases. Once the cards are maxed out, with your love “in the hospital” or “in jail,” you might turn to other avenues of financing that you can’t afford.

“We’ve seen victims take out second mortgages,” Buell says. “We’ve seen people file for bankruptcy.”

Maxed-out cards, late payments and bankruptcy pretty much make up the formula for bad credit.

Identity theft: In addition to money, victims will often hand over sensitive personal information. Once a thief has your Social Security number and other information, he can open credit accounts in your name, max them out, neglect to pay and ruin your credit.

Even worse, if thieves suddenly decide you’re not a profitable enough victim, they might simply sell the information they’ve gathered on you.

“So now, instead of one person working your information, you have thousands,” Buell says. “You’re never really safe after that.”

Some might ask: Aren’t we well trained to not give our Social Security numbers away?

“You’re trained never to give your Social Security number away to a stranger,” Buell emphasizes. Thanks to months or years of grooming, the victim no longer regards the scammer as a stranger.

“Imagine your husband asks you for your Social Security number,” Buell says. “That’s the level of trust we’re talking about.”

In some (even sadder) cases, the victim has sent the scammer compromising videos and photos. Armed with these, the scammer can extort more money and information.

“They’ll threaten you,” Buell says. “They can say, ‘I know where you work. I belong to a hacking network. We’ve hacked into your email accounts and will send this video to every single person on your contacts list.’”

Even if you never revealed your Social Security number (willingly or under coercion), you’re not necessarily safe. Buell and Bruemmer emphasize that a thief can cause plenty of damage without it, using:

  • Other information: Identity thieves rarely start with all the information they need to steal your complete identity. Scammer collectives have researchers tirelessly combing publicly available information, which they collect in robust databases.

    “Just put your name into any search engine and see how much information can be assembled about you,” Bruemmer says. “It could be your name, address, phone number, employer and organizations you’re associated with.”

    In conversations with the scammer, you might reveal additional useful tidbits, such as your birth date and even medical conditions.

    Once the scam collective has enough, it might impersonate you with an institution that has your most sensitive information. Bruemmer recalls a case in which a thief called a medical center where the victim was receiving treatment, posed as the victim and got an employee to give up the victim’s Social Security number

    “It can unravel very quickly, even without someone giving up their Social or passport number or driver’s license number,” Bruemmer says.

  • Hacking: In your conversations, you might reveal answers to common security questions, Bruemmer says, including your first car, your mother’s maiden name and your high school mascot. If thieves gain access to your email account, they will get the treasure trove of personal information many of us keep in there (bank account documents, passwords to other accounts and family members’ contact info, for example).
  • Your family: Children are about four times more susceptible than adults to ID theft, Bruemmer says. Their credit histories are usually unblemished, and, because they’re not technically supposed to have credit reports yet, nobody is watching over their credit, meaning newly opened accounts may go unnoticed.

    For that reason, romance scammers may pursue mothers.

    “And who doesn’t like to talk about their kids?” says Bruemmer.

    Even innocuous information can lead to child identity theft. Revealing you’re throwing a 10th birthday party for your son, Johnny, reveals name, gender and birth date for example.

    In one case Bruemmer remembers, a scammer found a victim on a dating site who told him her son played Little League. The local league website had forgotten to redact Social Security numbers from the enrollment information posted on the website, and the scammer opened up accounts in the child’s name.

How to protect yourself

Signing up for an online dating profile this Valentine’s Day? The following tips will help keep you safe:

  • Understand that you’re vulnerable: “Putting yourself out there” is often considered a good thing when it comes to finding love. But it comes with a risk, no matter how reputable the site.

    “There is no website out there that [scammers] are not on,” Buell says. “Dating websites do not screen for scammers. They could, but then they couldn’t claim to have 20,000 new members every day.”

  • Beware of intense interest, but no contact: If a new online match is coming on strong but won’t (or can’t) meet face to face, it’s a sign of a scam.

    “They want to get into a relationship, and things look good, but they’re avoiding face-to-face communication,” Bruemmer says. “That’s a red flag.”

  • Look out for ghosts: Scammers use fake names, so Google the names potential love interests give you. If there’s a lack of information out there, they don’t have a profile on the company they claim to work for, or the picture and personal details they give you don’t match their Facebook profile, something’s amiss. Don’t ask the scammer to try to explain – they’ll be only too happy to. “They might say they’re not listed in the company directory because they’re on special assignment,” Bruemmer says. “Stuff that sounds logical.”

If you’re already deep into a romance scam, take these steps to staunch the damage:

  • Break ties stealthily: Because scammers threaten victims who catch on to them, “block all connections quietly and permanently,” Buell says. Block them on Facebook (and report their profile), deactivate your dating profile and change your phone number. Close all bank accounts they may have access to (and notify your bank you’ve been victimized when you open new ones).
  • Check your credit (and all financial accounts): Look at all three of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Look at bank statements and your mobile phone account. A credit-monitoring service (which will inform you when a new account is opened with your Social Security number) may be helpful here, Bruemmer says. Often, such services also guide you through which steps to take.
  • Put a fraud alert on your credit (or freeze it): Freezing your credit will prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. If you need access to new credit, though, it may not be practical. Another option is to put fraud alerts on all three of your credit reports. Fraud alerts compel creditors to notify you when someone applies for credit in your name. It’s an imperfect system, but a layer of protection nonetheless. Whatever you do, do it the moment you find out you’re embroiled in a romance scam – even if you don’t think a scammer has enough personal information on you.

    “Quick action is better than waiting to see if something will happen,” Bruemmer says.

If you suspect you or a loved one is being victimized by a romance scammer, get in touch with RomanceScams.org.

For more tips, Bruemmer provided us with the following infographic, from ProtectMyID, Experian’s credit-monitoring arm:

Sweetheart Scammers Infographic experian

Soft Pull Credit Cards?

"no thanks" to credit inquiriesIs it possible to apply for a credit card with a soft pull inquiry? This is a question that is frequently asked. Obviously, the fewer hard inquiries you have on your credit report the better. But can you really get a new card using only a soft credit check?

While applying for a card will require a hard inquiry (sorry!), you can check which cards you’ll likely qualify for with only a soft inquiry. While you’re not guaranteed approval for the card when you actually apply, checking offers you’re pre-qualified for can help you aim for the right products.

These soft-pull tools will help you browse offers you’re likely to get approved for.

1. Capital One Card Finder Tool

This is a great service offered by Capital One that functions like the CardMatch tool mentioned above, except that it only features Cap One products. You can see which offers you qualify for without it affecting your credit. While it may seem limiting to only see Capital One offers, they are one of the largest card issuers and have a wide array of card offerings – everything from high-end reward cards to secured credit cards. It can be a great place to start when you don’t know which level of card you might qualify for.

2. Chase’s Prequalified-Offers tool

Chase is another issuer that offers a proprietary tool that lets you see your pre-qualified offers. You’ll need to provide your name, address, the last four digits of your Social Security number and some other info. Again, you’ll see only Chase offers, but the issuer has a wide swath of cards, from cash-back cards to perk-heavy rewards cards for travelers.

3. CardMatch (checks across many major credit card issuers)

CreditCards.com has a new feature to match you with offers based on your credit score. Using this to check does not affect your credit because only a soft pull is performed.

I’ve seen this service tested with varying levels of credit (subprime, moderate, good and super prime) and the system results have been spot-on accurate. My friend with bad credit had no results available, but then my other friend with great credit was given two pages of offers.

Anyone can use this feature – regardless of your current credit level. And if you fall into the latter category you may be matched for exclusive signup bonuses which are higher than what the general public can get. That’s a choice feature.

Go here to use CardMatch and see your offers in 60 seconds

3. Multiple account applications within a short period

A few years ago I applied for two different cards from Chase within a short period of time (if I recall correctly, it was within a 30 or 45 day window). And guess what? Only one hard pull from them showed up on my account. So I basically got a 2 for 1 special.

Written or last edited on Feb. 5, 2016

Play it safe with 0 percent on purchases

A card with an introductory 0 percent APR on purchases can seem like an answer to your cash-strapped prayers. envelope advertising 0%

Yet before you apply, you’ll need to figure out if you’re the type of person who can use one of these deals safely, or if you’ll incur massive financial damage.

“Certain people can use this and essentially get an interest-free loan, whereas other people might not be able to make the payments they thought they would and then end up paying even more,” says David Weliver, founder of personal finance blog Money Under 30.”

How no-interest promos work

For a certain number of months after opening the card (generally 6 to 15 months, depending on the card), no interest will accrue on new purchases. After that period expires, the go-to interest rate will be charged on any outstanding balance.

Zero percent on purchases can be a good deal for the consumer – and for the bank, too.

“Even though it’s just for a promotional period, the bank is thinking you’re going to have this card for a while,” says Katie Bossler, a financial counselor at non-profit credit counselling agency GreenPath Debt Solutions. “They hope you’re going to like it and you’re going to continue to use it.”

Zero percent offers on purchases from major banks are not to be mistaken for deferred-interest deals (often the domain of store cards). Differed-interest deals start off similarly (no interest charged for a certain number of months). But interest is being calculated that entire time — and when the promo period runs out, you’ll be charged retroactive interest, dating back to the original purchase date.

“If you’re at the computer store or furniture store and they’re saying you can pay for it with their card, that’s probably a deferred-interest situation,” Bossler says. “If you have a card with a major bank, that’s probably going to be a promotional 0 percent rate.”

Safety instructions

We’ll look at some situations in which savvy consumers might use 0 percent offers on purchases in a moment, but let’s set some ground rules first:

  • Calculate your monthly payment: Pretend that you’re taking out a loan and MUST clear the balance by the end of the term.

    “Take the cost of whatever you’re buying and divide that by how many months the promotional period lasts,” Bossler says. “Make sure you can afford to pay it off within that time frame.”

    Because this is a credit card and NOT a loan, you’ll technically be allowed to pay just the minimum each month if you want. But don’t do this — paying the minimum won’t clear your balance by the time the 0 percent period expires.

    “What you don’t to have happen is you make the minimum payments and then [the interest rate] turns into 18 percent and you’re stuck paying that for a couple years,” Weliver says.

  • Make sure that monthly payment fits in your budget: Remember that monthly payment you calculated above? Take a good hard look at that number. Then, take a good hard look at your budget and your bills.

    “If you’re counting on a tax refund or a bonus, make sure that’s actually going to happen,” Bossler says. “Have some kind of plan for how this is going to play out.”

When to use 0 percent deals — and when not to

Now that you know the safety rules, here are some times to consider a 0 percent offer on purchases – and when you should probably back away.

When to consider it

In general, Weliver says, these deals are best used when you’re making a large purchase (or series of large purchases in quick succession) and want more than a billing cycle to pay them off.

Examples might include wedding expenses, vacation expenses and home improvement projects.

Ideally, such purchases will be planned. However, Weliver says, his wife got a card with a 0 percent period to pay for a surgery while she was in school.

“Sometimes you’re in a tight corner,” Weliver says.

So, perhaps a more realistic take-home message is to make sure your purchases are clearly defined and contained. If you’re using the deal for wedding purchases, don’t use the card to buy a friend’s birthday gift. If you’re using it for home improvements, don’t use the card to buy dinner.

“I think [0 percent deals are] best used for that one-time large purchase or those couple of large purchases right after you get the card,” Weliver says. “And then you don’t use the card again until it’s paid off. That way you don’t get into the habit of putting everything on the card and then the 0 percent runs out.”

When to avoid it:

If you’re looking to bridge the gap during a time of low cash flow (perhaps you’re between jobs), you’re pushing your luck.

“That really makes me nervous,” Bossler says.

If you don’t get the job you were counting on, you could find yourself in high-interest debt without the ability to get another 0 interest offer. So, if you have any other options, Bossler says, take them. Try to make things work on unemployment (if you’re receiving it) or move in with family.

“Live within your reality,” she says. “A [0 percent interest] card is maybe going to allow you to maintain a lifestyle that you can’t afford.”

Credit warnings

In addition to being wary of debt, consider the effects a 0 percent deal can have on your credit:

  • High utilization: Using up a lot of your available credit (you generally want to keep it under one-third of your limit) can hurt your credit score. That means the very nature of these 0 percent deals could spell trouble, if you don’t have enough available credit on other cards to balance things out.

    “Let’s say you get this card and it has a $5,000 limit and you buy something that’s $4,000,” Weliver says. “Your utilization on that card is going to be high, and that can have a big impact on your score until you pay that down.”

  • Missed payments: Don’t just make that purchase and forget about your card for the next 12 interest-free months. You still have to make your minimum payments – or you’ll face credit damage for missed payments.

    “Zero percent interest on purchases doesn’t mean zero payment,” Bossler says. “You still have to make the minimum payments. It’s not a zero-payment loan.”

Romantic ways to use your rewards for Valentine’s Day

Being romantic doesn’t mean you can’t be pragmatic. Your sweetheart doesn’t have to know you flexed your card’s perks or rewards on that surprising gesture – or earned some extra miles or cash back from it. Valentine's day card rewards

Flowers, treats and gifts

Pretty much every rewards program with a shopping portal is offering extra points per dollar on traditional Valentine’s Day gifts – or redemption discounts on certain items. Some even have “Valentine’s Day” sections you can browse. Some examples:

  • Jewelry: Discover Deals is offering 10 percent Cashback Bonus at Zales until Valentine’s Day and 10 percent off at Blue Nile. Looking to redeem rewards for jewelry? The Membership Rewards program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is offering redemption discounts (upwards of 20,000 points in some cases) on specific jewelry pieces form Blue Nile and LAGOS.
  • Chocolate: If you’re enrolled in AmEX deals, you can get $10 on Godiva purchases if you spend $50, for a limited time. Discover Deals, meanwhile, is offering 5 percent Cashback Bonus on Godiva. If you want chocolate-covered fruit, you can get 10 points per dollar via Barclaycards Rewards Boost if you order from Shari’s Berries.
  • Flowers: Approaching Valentine’s Day, you can get 10 points per dollar for ProFlowers via Barclaycard Rewards boost, and 20 percent off 1800Flowers.com with Discover Deals (through Feb. 17). And here’s another option you may not have thought of: If you have an eligible business credit card from American Express, you have access to the OPEN Saving’s network – which includes 1800Flowers.com as a partner. That means you get an automatic 5 percent discount OR 2 extra Membership Rewards points per dollar spent there.
  • Cards: United’s MileagePlus portal is offering 4 miles per dollar at Cardstore.com if you purchase certain Valentine’s Day cards.
  • Perfume and cologne: Barclaycard Rewards Boost and United’s MileagePlus portal are offering up to 30 percent off fragrances at Overstock.com. Barclaycard, Discover and United are also offering various specials on popular fragrance vendors like Macy’s, Kohl’s, Bloomingdale’s and Sephora.
  • Sentimental gifts: Discover Deals is offering 20 percent CashBack Bonus at PersonalCreations.com if you want your sweetheart’s name engraved or embroidered on … pretty much anything. Barclaycard Rewards Boost, meanwhile, is offering 7 points per dollar at Things Remembered.
  • Other options: You have some less traditionally sweet options as well. Barclaycard Rewards Boost is giving 5 miles per dollar at The Popcorn Factory, Wine.com and Omaha Steaks (in case you’d rather cook a romantic meal at home than go out).

If you’re a last-minute shopper and have an American Express card that offers ShopRunner benefits, you may be in luck. ShopRunner gives members free two-day shipping if they shop with one of its partners (which include flower, jewelry, fragrance and food vendors), and some AmEx cards offer membership for no additional cost. Learn now to enroll here.

Dining

Get reservations with the Platinum Dining Program: You might be able to flex your Platinum card’s prestige to get you reservations at popular restaurants. More than 1,000 establishments participate, and the AmEx concierge can even make sure there are flowers at your table. Reservations are on a first-come-first-served basis, though, and everyone knows how hard it is to get a table anywhere on Valentine’s Day. So act fast – and be willing to celebrate Valentine’s Day a bit early or late.

Extra miles with your airline’s dining program: Enroll your card in your airline’s dining program and enjoy extra (sometimes double or even triple) miles per dollar when you eat at a partner restaurant. If you haven’t perused your city’s offerings in a while, take a look – these programs no longer include just mid-priced chains. Plenty of upscale, local and intimate-dining options are now included in major cities. Note that some restaurants lower or eliminate their extra rewards on weekends, which would, of course affect Feb. 14, 2016.

Hotels

If you’re spending a weekend away, the need for a hotel is obvious, but many couples celebrate by booking a romantic night in a hotel, even if they’re not leaving town. Some programs are offering limited-time Valentine’s Day deals, while others have built-in benefits that you might want to use for Valentine’s Day.

  • $60 off a stay of $300 or more at any U.S. Hilton property: You’ll need to have an eligible card from American Express enrolled in AmEx Offers and book directly with Hilton. With the deadline to take advantage of this promo in April, Valentine’s Day is easily covered.
  • $75 hotel credit (and possible upgrade) with American Express Hotel Collection: Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum cardholders are eligible for this benefit. If you stay at a property in AmEx’s Hotel Collection portfolio (for at least two consecutive nights), you will be upgraded (if a room is available) and get up to a $75 credit on things that can make a weekend more romantic –spa treatments, on-site dining and resort activities.
  • Free fourth night: With Valentine’s Day falling on President’s Day weekend this year, you might want to take advantage of the long weekend with this perk. If you use the Citi Prestige concierge to book a stay of four consecutive nights (and pay with your Prestige card), the fourth night is free.
  • Romantic extras at various chains: Even if you don’t have a hotel rewards card, your hotel of choice may be offering Valentine’s Day packages and extras. For example, Marriott, is offering roses, chocolates, a room with a view and late check-out through Feb. 14 for those booking at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Point Clear, Alabama. Meanwhile, booking an eligible stay at the JW Marriott in Las Vegas on Valentine’s weekend will get you buffet breakfast for two, a couples massage, use of spa facilities at no extra charge, late check-out, and champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries upon arrival. You must use the correct promo code when you book to receive these extras.

    You don’t need the co-branded Marriott Rewards Premier credit card to get those special deals – but if you enjoy your stay and want to book with Marriott in the future, the card could be worth getting: