America’s Worst Credit Card

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Some of the highest-fee cards are aimed at people with a poor or limited credit history. The two below are particularly fee-laden.

Worst credit card: First Premier Bank Mastercard

This card made our list of the worst cards two years ago, and it doesn't look like it has improved. In 2007, First Premier signed a $4.6 million settlement with the New York Attorney General's office over the card's deceptive marketing practices. First Premier's card now advertises a $25 to $95 processing charge (which fluctuates by the minute, depending on when you click on the card's website). What's worse is that when you drill deeper into the fine print, you'll find a $75 annual fee and an APR of 23.9% to 59.9% on purchases and cash advances (again, depending on when you visit the site). So you could face a minimum of $100 or a maximum of $170 in fees in the first year for a card with only a $300 initial credit limit. Other fees include an $11 charge for expediting bill payment over the phone and a credit-limit increase fee equal to 50 percent of the increase. So for every $100 that First Premier increases your credit limit it charges you $50. Also, look out for copycats of this card. First Premier Bank markets very similar cards under the names Centennial and Aventium.

Runner-up: Platinum Zero Secured Visa from Applied Bank

The Platinum Zero's marketing trades off its name—zero percent APR on purchases, zero application fee, zero annual fee. But the zero fees end about halfway through the terms and conditions with a $9.95 monthly "maintenance" fee that equates to $119.40 annually. If you're late paying your bill, you'll get hit with a fee of up to $35. And though the card claims to charge zero APR on purchases, the agreement states, "There is no grace period for the account. Interest charges accrue on purchases, cash advances and our charges beginning on the date the transaction occurs or on the first day of the billing cycle in which the transaction is received by us or, at our option, the date the transaction is posted to your account."

What to do

If you want to repair or build your credit history, a better option is the Citi Secured Mastercard. That card has a $29 annual fee, but the $200 to $5,000 that you deposit (and that sets your credit limit initially) goes into an 18-month CD, currently earning 4.07%. After 18 months, you become eligible for an unsecured Citi card. Also, consider the Orchard Bank Secured Mastercard, which waives its $35 annual fee in the first year and has a 7.9% APR.

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