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1st NorCal Secured Visa

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By : Mr Credit Card

Who Is 1st Northern California Credit Union?

The 1st Northern California Credit Union serves the San Francisco Bay area. It has a few credit card offering and their secured credit card caught our attention because you can deposit up to $10,000 as your security deposit and hence get up to a $10,000 credit limit on the card. We'll now look at this card in greater detail.

Card Details

Annual Fee $0
Regular APR Min 7.9%
Foreign Transaction Fee 3%
Credit Limit Max $10,000

Fees and Rates - The 1st Norcal Secured Card has no annual fee. The APR is also very low at 7.9%.

Security Deposit and Credit Limit - You can deposit up to $10,000 as a security deposit and hence have a limit as high as $10,000. For those thinking about getting secured credit cards, determining how much to deposit as your security deposit is very important because you can control your credit utilization ratio.

Chip and PIN - 1st NorCal is one of the very few US based issuers that have Chip and PIN technology on their credit cards. At this moment, we are not sure if it is PIN preferred or PIN priority but suspect it is still signature preferred. Unfortunately, 1st NorCal also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee and so the advantages of having a Chip and PIN card to use abroad to totally undone by the 3% FX fee.


There are many secured credit cards available to consumers today and it is just impossible to compare this card to all of them. Having said that, I will compare the 1st NorCal secured card to cards who also have high credit limits and perhaps low rates. The cards I have chosen are listed in the table below.

Card Annual Fee APR Credit Limit Foreign Transaction Fee Chip and Pin
1st NorCal Secured $0 7.9% Up to $10,000 Not Sure No
CU of New Jersey $0 Min 14.99% Max $25,000 1% No
FirstTech Secured $0 9% to 18% $500 - $25,000 0% Yes
NIH Secured Visa $0 8.99% $250-$25,000 1% No

I have listed three other credit cards with security deposit limits and credit limits of $25,000. They are secured credit cards from First Tech FCU, National Institute of Health FCU and Credit Union of New Jersey.

All three of 1st NorCal's peers have obviously higher credit limit. But other than that, they are pretty similar. All have no annual fee. However, among them all, 1st NorCal has the lowest APR at 7.9%.

Among the cards listed in the table above, First Tech and NorCal has CHIP and PIN technology. Both however, are not PIN priority. First Tech does not check any foreign transaction fee while 1st NorCal charges the usual 3% fee when you use the card abroad.

Pros and Cons


  • No Annual Fee - Like many secured credit cards from credit unions, this one has no annual fee

  • High Credit Limit - $10,000 is a pretty good credit limit for a secured credit card where most have limits up to $3,000.

  • Low APR - The APR is only 7.9% which is really low for a secured credit card or for any credit cards for rebuilders.

  • Has Mobile App - You would be surprised to learn that there are still many that do not have mobile apps. The app is called MyCardRules and you can download it from Apple and Android app stores.

  • CHIP and PIN - 1st NorCal used Chip and PIN technology, which makes this card very useful when you are traveling outside the US.


  • No Reward Program - While not having a reward program for a secured credit card is not a deal breaker, you should know that many issuers do have one.

  • Charges Foreign Transaction Fee - It's a pity that 1st NorCal charges a 3% foreign transaction fee as they actually have Chip and PIN technology. If not for the foreign transaction fee, this would make a great card to use abroad.

How to Join 1st NorCal?

As we have mentioned earlier, 1st NorCal is based in the San Francisco region> Below is a list of criteria for joining them as members.
  • Any and all persons who live, regularly work, currently attend school, or currently worship in Contra Costa, Solano, or Alameda counties, as well as any and all businesses, corporations, and other legal entities in those counties.
  • Persons within the immediate family or household of a member.
  • The surviving persons within the immediate family of a deceased member.
  • Persons retired as pensioners or annuitants from any of the groups listed herein.
  • Corporate or other legal entities listed herein.
  • Organizations of such persons listed herein.

Our Take: Should You Get the 1st NorCal Secured Visa?

There are two standout features of the 1st NorCal Secured Visa. Firstly, it gives you the opportunity to have a high credit limit (up to $10,000 if you put up that amount of security deposit). Secondly, he ongoing APR is also very low at 7.90% (though we generally do not recommend anyone carry a balance).

One of the advantages of having a secured credit card is that you control your credit utilization ratio. You do this by knowing how much you are going to charge to your secured credit card a month and work backwards and figure out the credit limit you need to achieve a certain utilization ratio. Most credit bureaus recommend 30% credit utilization ratio as the max you should go.

Many secured credit cards only allow you to deposit up to $2,000 or $3,000. 1st Nor Cal is one of the few secured credit cards that allow you to deposit up to $10,000.

Another great feature about this card is that it has Chip and PIN technology rather than Chip and Signature. I suspect that the cards are still not PIN preferred or PIN priority but it is still much better than Chip and Signature cards. It is a pity that 1st NorCal charges a 3% foreign transaction fee otherwise, this would be a great card to use when you travel abroad.

To sum up, if you are in a rebuilder and are in a position to deposit a large amount for your security deposit to control your credit utilization ratio, and you are eligible to join 1st NorCal, then the 1st NorCal Secured Visa is a good choice for you.

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