Q: My goal is to eventually get an AmEx Gold, but I have a long ways to go because my credit is awful. How can I get a secured credit card from them that I could use to get my foot in the door? I figure it could be beneficial to establish a relationship with them now so that when my credit score improves, I will have a better chance at getting the Gold.
A: On a somewhat regular basis, I will see someone ask on the forum “Does American Express have a secured credit card?” or “How can I get their card with bad credit?” Unfortunately the answer for both questions is the same… it’s not going to happen.
With the exception of a USAA AmEx secured card (which you won’t qualify for unless you’ve served in the military or have an eligible family member who has), American Express, a CreditCardForum advertising partner, has never offered a secured credit card. And when it comes to their unsecured cards, as you can imagine their requirements are picky. You can’t have any recent history of major delinquencies/charge-offs AND you need to already have an established credit history.
If you have bad credit (or no credit), your best approach is this…
Step One: Open a secured card
So you can’t get an American Express secured credit card, but of course you can get one from another bank. Doing that is your first step to improving your credit.
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You also may want to try this card finder tool. Who knows? The results might surprise you.
Step Two: Manage your card the right way
There’s no escaping the past (until it drops off your credit reports) but you can still think of today as Day 1 of doing things right. After your new card is open, make sure you do the following:
- Always pay on time. Aim for a perfect payment history moving forward.
- Keep your credit utilization low. Utilizing too much of your credit limit can actually harm your score. It’s ideal to never use more than 20 or 30 percent of your limit at any given time. For example if you have a $1,000 credit line, then never have more than a $300 balance on your card at any given time. If you can keep your utilization even lower than that (say, under 10 percent), even better.
Step Three: Try applying for an entry-level unsecured card
After you’ve had your secured card open for four to six months, I would recommend applying for a basic no-frills unsecured card. Go here to see my recommendations.
If approved, you will now have at least two active accounts on your file; the secured card and now the unsecured one.
Step Four: Apply for the right American Express (if you have OK credit)
After a nine to 12 months of having two or more cards on file, try applying for an entry level American Express card. That does not mean the Platinum charge card, but rather something like the Delta SkyMiles Gold (which is rumored to be the easiest AmEx to qualify for, based on all the feedback I have received).
Step Five: Move up the ladder
After you’ve had your AmEx open for six to 12 months, you can try applying for a higher-level card, such as the Gold or Blue Cash. If they don’t approve you, call and ask for a reconsideration. Some on the forum have reported a favorable outcome when they do that.
Updated June 10, 2014.