Citi® Secured Mastercard® review: A bare-bones card for building credit
This card is great for helping people build or rebuild credit, but not much else.
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Citi® Secured Mastercard® Overview
Although it doesn’t earn rewards or carry special perks like some of the top secured cards, the Citi® Secured Mastercard® can be an accessible entry-level credit card if you have limited or no credit history. It’s an easy way to build your credit with all three major credit bureaus for no annual fee and a comparatively low APR (23.99 percent, variable) — especially if you already have a banking relationship with Citi.
Since Citi determines your credit limit by looking at other financial indicators like income and debt, having a positive financial history with Citibank might help you qualify for a higher security deposit and credit limit. Plus, you can earn rewards with eligible Citibank accounts that you can later transfer to a reward-earning Citi credit card.
It’s worth noting that the Citi Secured card isn’t specifically marketed for those with bad credit, and you can’t apply if you’ve had any bankruptcy history in the last two years. Continue reading our Citi Secured Mastercard review to see if this is the best starter card for you.
Pros and cons
- Not many additional benefits, dropping it to middle-of-the-pack compared to other cards in its category
- There are no rewards, at all, so you can’t recoup the security deposit with cash back
- A few competing secured cards offer better rates and benefits with fewer fees
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: N/A
- Welcome offer: N/A
- Annual fee: $0
- Purchase intro APR: N/A
- Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
- Regular APR: 23.99 percent variable
The Citi Secured Mastercard doesn’t currently offer a welcome bonus. Sign-up bonuses aren’t common for secured cards, but a few may provide introductory APR rates or other first-year offers.
Like many secured cards, the Citi Secured Mastercard doesn’t earn rewards. This isn’t a deal-breaker, though, since secured cards are meant to be used as a stepping stone to bigger and better rewards cards.
Unfortunately, this card doesn’t carry extra perks aside from basic account management features and the Citi Entertainment program, which is available to nearly all Citi cardholders. These features add up to a perfectly serviceable experience while you shore up your credit score, but a student credit card may carry a stronger roster of benefits if you’re currently enrolled in college.
Graduate to an unsecured card
There isn’t a defined card graduation process to an unsecured card like you may find on other credit-building cards, but the card terms state that Citi may upgrade your card by refunding your deposit at 18 months.
A year and a half is plenty of time to demonstrate responsible use and boost your credit score through on-time payments and low credit utilization, however, so you may have already built up enough credit by then to spring for a better card anyway.
Account management features
Features like automatic account alerts, auto-pay, choice of payment due dates and identity theft protections are standard perks you should find on any card worth applying for. These standard perks are all present on the Citi Secured Mastercard and can help you keep your credit score journey on track. You can also monitor your progress online with free access to your FICO score at any time.
Digital wallet access and contactless pay
Your Citi Secured card can join your digital wallet for easy access on and offline. Plus, the physical card comes with a contactless payment chip-enabled for quick, safe transactions.
With Citi Entertainment, you gain access to exclusive travel, dining and entertainment events. If you’re already planning excursions in the future, Citi Entertainment is a great way to snag presale concert tickets and more before the general public can.
Rates and fees
The main appeal of the Citi Secured Mastercard is its low-cost, no-frills approach to credit building. There is no annual fee, and the $200 minimum security deposit may be less of a burden than the upfront cost of similar secured cards. Even the 23.99 percent (variable) ongoing APR is a bit lower than competing cards’ interest rates. It’s still well above the current average interest rate though, so make sure you don’t carry a balance.
Citi’s secured card also may not be the best to use abroad, since it charges a 3 percent foreign transaction fee (after USD conversion). While you’re exploring your credit card options, you should also take note of the 29.99 percent penalty variable APR and up to $40 late payment fee in case you miss a payment.
How the Citi Secured Mastercard compares to other secured cards
Though the Citi Secured Mastercard may be a good choice thanks to its bare-bones structure, some other secured credit cards carry fewer fees and more benefits — even rewards, in some cases.
Unless you’re already a loyal Citi customer, you might want to consider one of these alternatives.
Citi Secured Mastercard vs. Discover it® Secured Credit Card
When it comes to carrying a balance from one month to the next, the Citi Secured barely edges out the Discover it Secured, making these two cards close contenders.
Where these two credit-building secured cards differ is in the perks. While the Citi Secured card has benefits standard for secured credit cards, Discover it Secured comes with cash back, matching cash back at the end of the first year with the account and one-time late payment forgiveness. The Citi Secured is the best card if you have no credit history, are loyal to Citibank and plan to use a secured credit card only for building credit instead of earning rewards.
If you want to earn modest cash back on the side while you build credit, the Discover it Secured outshines the Citi Secured Mastercard.
Citi Secured Mastercard vs. Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
Again, the Citi Secured Mastercard is a middle-of-the-road secured credit card option, just like the Capital One Platinum Secured. Both cards have no annual fee, no rewards and no introductory APR benefits. However, the Capital One Platinum Secured has a slightly higher variable APR of 26.99 percent, so if you’re someone who tends to carry a balance, the Citi Secured is the better option here.
That said, the Capital One Platinum Secured is more lenient with its credit limits. Applicants can put down a deposit as low as $49 to access a $200 credit limit with the opportunity for a credit limit increase after the six-month automatic account review. To serious credit-builders, this credit limit increase is a boon for keeping your credit utilization ratio under control without expensive deposits. For that reason, the Capital One Platinum Secured is a slightly better option, despite its slightly higher APR.
Best cards to pair with this card
It’s generally not recommended to use more than one card when you’re building or rebuilding credit. In this case, the best card to pair with the Citi Secured Mastercard isn’t a card at all. If you choose the Citi Secured card as your first credit card, you should pair it with a free credit-monitoring tool, like Experian, and connect your non-traditional accounts for reporting. Using Experian Boost or UltraFICO will link utility, subscription and certain rent payment accounts and report positive payments to aid you in improving your credit.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Citi Secured Mastercard worth it?
The Citi Secured Mastercard offers an opportunity to build credit at a low cost. Its rates and fees beat out quite a few middle and lower-tier options, but the bare-bones Citi Secured is a few ranks shy of being crowned the top secured card.
It’s a good option if you bank with Citi and plan to get a Citi rewards card afterward, but the Citi Secured’s penalty APR and lack of credit-building features make cards like the Discover it Secured Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card better overall choices.