I am young and want to try to start building credit. The tellers at SunTrust advised that I start with a secured credit card, and eventually I will transfer to an unsecured one. Is the transfer like closing an old account, which is generally not good for credit? Would it be better if I just keep the secured card so that I have a longer credit history?
It's quite possible that they may do just that: convert your account from unsecured to secured. If they close the old account and send you a new card, don't sweat it. You'll have a credit history.
To be honest, though, you're worrying about the small things, when you should really be worried about The Big Thing: paying your bill fully, on time every month (which falls under the category of "live below your means").
That, and keeping each card's "usage rate" (the bill divided by the credit limit) below 10% are the two prime factors in successfully using a CC.
(You might rightly ask how to keep the usage rate below 10% if you need to buy more stuff than will fit in 10% of your credit limit. Simple: pay most of the bill before the closing date. That was difficult Back In The Day, but now you can log on to the bank's web site, check your balance and instantly make a payment. I just did that yesterday afternoon.)
Don't overthink it. A few points to consider
Credit Scores are made by banks for the bank's advantage not for yours. They intentionally shroud the process in mystery so it feels more important and gives them more psychological leverage over the customer. They also hype up the importance of it.
If you live financially responsible, than your credit score will be mostly irrelevant. Financially responsible means:
- NEVER carry credit card debt
- Pay all your monthly bills completely and on time
- Don't borrow money to buy things that you can't afford (yet)
- Minimize borrowing, loans, installments. If you can't pay cash for it, wait until you have saved a enough to buy it or consider a cheaper alternative.
There are a few exceptions to #4, specifically buying a house or apartment, college education, and perhaps cars. These may or may not warrant taking on debt, but that depends very much on the specific situation and should only be done after a careful analysis.
If you do all these things your credit score will be great but it doesn't matter much since you will almost never need it for anything. You will also end up with way more money in your own pocket since you are not spending a lot on interest, fees, & finance charges, etc.
You will be most financially successful if you focus on financially responsible behavior and don't worry about small tactical decisions that may or may not affect your credit score.
An example: we moved to the US from a different country so we had no credit score whatsoever. However, we had saved enough money for a decent down payment, so we had no trouble buying a house, getting a mortgage and a decent interest rate.
Short Answer: It depends.
Long Answer: I would write down the advantages and disadvantages of keeping it open or closing it. Then, answer questions such as: Are there any annual fees with the card ?, Can the issuer convert the card into an unsecured one, and am I planning on making any big loans in the coming future?
Hope this helps.