The Lowdown on So-called Gold, Platinum, and Pre-approved Credit Cards

If you’re thinking about applying for a credit card, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says be skeptical of gold, platinum, or pre-approved card offers that promise to get you a major credit card or improve your credit rating. Marketers of these offers often promise that, if you participate in their credit programs, you will get a major credit card (like an unsecured Visa or MasterCard), no-fee cash advances, lines of credit from national specialty and department stores, improve your credit rating, and other financial benefits. Here’s the lowdown on offers for credit cards:

Fact: Some marketers charge hefty fees for their cards without making it clear that these fees will be charged.

  • Follow-up: Many credit cards have fees. Read your credit card agreement carefully to make sure you understand all the fees associated with your card. You can use the Federal Reserve's consumer credit card agreements search to find general examples of the type and range of fees a credit card may have.

Fact: With some of these cards, your purchases are limited to over-priced merchandise from specialized catalogs. Even then, you’re not allowed to charge the total price of an item. Instead, you have to pay a cash deposit on each item you want. That is usually the same amount the catalog company paid for the product. Once you pay the deposit, you can charge the balance.

  • Follow-up: If a marketer promises that a card is accepted at certain retail chains, call the retailers to verify.

Fact: Signing up for these credit programs almost never improves your credit rating or gets you a major credit card.

  • Follow-up: Claims that paying for a credit card will improve your credit history can be misleading. There are no quick and easy solutions to a poor credit rating that’s based on accurate information. The best way to improve your credit record? Pay your bills on time.
  • Follow-up: If a marketer claims that information about you will be reported to credit reporting companies, call those companies to confirm that the merchant is a member. If the card merchant isn’t a subscriber to the credit reporting companies, they won’t be able to report information about your credit experiences.
  • Follow-up: The only major cards you usually can get through these marketers are secured. A secured card typically requires a security deposit in a bank account. The deposit may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Your credit line is a percentage of the deposit — typically, 50 to 100 percent.

Fact: Advertising that the cards can be used to get no-fee cash advances can be misleading. In truth, the offer of a free cash advance may actually be from an unrelated payday lender for a short-term, high-rate loan that you could get without the promoter’s card.

  • Follow-up: Decisions about credit and loans involve lots of factors, including how much money you need, what terms you’re offered, and who is behind the offer. If you are choosing a credit card or wondering whether offers of credit and loans are on the up and up, visit Credit & Loans.