While your income level may or may not prevent you from receiving a credit card, it's more important to figure out your long term credit goals. Depending on your lifestyle, a prepaid credit card or a secured credit card might be the right financial tool for you.

If you have "no credit" because you've never had a credit card, you've got what lending professionals call a "light" or "thin" credit file. Your middle-of-the-road FICO score just means there's no track record of how well you can keep up with a monthly payment on a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or utility bill.

Secured credit cards

Secured credit cards can help you build a stronger credit profile by reporting a stream of steady, on-time, monthly payments to your lender. Since you have "no credit" so far, a lender will let you put a small security deposit in a locked savings account. The amount you set aside will match your initial credit line, though some secured credit card issuers will "graduate" you to a partially unsecured credit line down the road. Capital One screens applications for secured credit cards, redirecting eligible applicants to their unsecured accounts for consumers with light files like yours. Building your credit this way can help you save money on other financial products, like insurance policies and home loans.

Prepaid credit cards

On the other hand, maybe you only need access to a credit card number to make your life more convenient. A prepaid credit card (technically a debit card, since you only spend your own money) can open you up to more online shopping websites and retail loyalty programs. Running your daily purchases through a single debit card can also help you keep better records, especially when your card lets you export transaction data to popular accounting programs. Most prepaid debit cards cost about the same as a typical checking account, but give you the added convenience of adding cash or checks to your account at grocery or drug stores.

Prepaid debit cards come with more perks these days, to help them compete with credit cards. For instance, MetaBank's AccountNow® Prepaid MasterCard® offers cash back rewards, while the Mango MasterCard from Horizon Bank offers an online bill pay service. Then there's the Pink ACE Elite™ Visa® Prepaid Card, also from MetaBank, which donates a portion of your purchases to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Before choosing a prepaid debit card, review the fine print carefully to avoid getting caught by unexpected service fees. Remember that prepaid debit cards don't report your activity to credit bureaus. They just make it easier to manage your cash.

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