This week: Everyone knows how to get a credit card when you're debt free. But what if you're not?

Question: My credit score stinks because I did some dumb stuff when I was younger that I’m still fixing — like buy expensive cars and declaring bankruptcy and getting a lien placed against me once. I’m doing everything right now thanks to sites like this one and some credit counseling. I even cut up all my credit cards a couple years ago.

But now that I got my stuff together, I want to get a credit card and earn some reward points and maybe airline miles. Is there one you suggest?

— Rick in Arizona

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

I’ll give you two answers, Rick. The first one you probably won’t like.

Don’t get a credit card.

Without more details about your finances, I can’t speak authoritatively about your past debt problems. However, I know enough to applaud you for fighting your way back. A big part of that success, I’m sure, was cutting up those credit cards that led you into trouble in the first place.

Why mess with that success?

In my second book, Power Up, I directly addressed your situation. I was speaking to a hypothetical individual, but it could very well be you, Rick:

Considering the position you are in, you may not qualify for a credit card. Believe me, it’s not the end of the world, and remember, we are concentrating on how to change your ideas of spending and saving money — you are financially reinventing yourself to be stronger, more resilient, and better able to adapt to a fiscal crisis…If you don’t use credit cards, you will begin to take your money more seriously.

Is your credit rating holding you back? Find out how to fix it.

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The Good Side

Fortunately, you seem to have already done that last part, Rick. You’ve not only recognized and admitted how overspending got you into trouble, you’ve already done something about it.

If you’re still determined to get a credit card, then I have some advice: Get a secured credit card.

These cards require a deposit, which then becomes your credit limit. For example, you deposit $500, and that’s all you’re allowed to spend. Why go through the extra step when you could just spend your $500? There are two:

When you pay your statements on time, that fact gets reported to the major credit bureaus. Do that for a year or two, and your credit score will likely improve enough to acquire one of those coveted rewards cards.

There’s a psychological benefit to having a card and paying it off each month. You confidence is boosted as you prove to yourself that you can handle this responsibility now, even if you couldn’t in the past.

Not all secured credit cards are created equal. So I suggest you read our report on the best credit cards for those with bad credit.

Once you master that secured card, consult’s list of the best credit cards.

Good luck, Rick!

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched I’m glad you’re here.

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