(MoneyWatch) High rates and abusive terms are not enough. If you want to make the list of the nation's worst credit cards, you've got to go the extra mile -- bury key card terms in the fine print, for instance, or load on fees that are so high they have to use imaginative names for them to avoid running afoul of federal credit card laws.
To be sure, people with stellar credit scores never have to deal with such practices. But if you've got a less-than-pristine credit record, or no credit record at all, you're likely to encounter such card providers.
To that end, here are the nation's five worst credit cards, according to CardRatings.com (CardRatings also has a listing of the cards it considers the nation's best. If you're looking for plastic you'd actually want to use, check out their ranking here or our related story here.)
1. Worst retail card: Fingerhut. You're likely to get their catalog and credit card application after you've lost a job or defaulted on another bill, which might make their offer of credit -- at a mere 24.9 percent -- appear relatively reasonable. But flip through that catalog, which is the only place you can use your new credit card, and you'll see that the cost of credit is insignificant compared with the inflated cost of their goods. Consider their 24" Panasonic television set, priced at $319.99. The same TV sells at Home Depot for $249.99 -- 28 percent less. Or there's the Ninja 72-ounce pitcher blender listed for $119.99 at Fingerhut, also available for $79.99 -- 50 percent less -- at Overstock.com.
2. and 3. (tie) Worst secured credit cards: Matrix and Cerulean Discover. If you've been turned down by other lenders, particularly after a bankruptcy or extended period of unemployment, you probably know that you're going to have to get a secured card -- one backed by a bank deposit. And chances are, your secured card will also levy an annual fee.
The two different secured cards offered by Continental Finance -- Matrix and Cerulean -- bearing the Discover logo have fees that would make the typical bad deal blush. Specifically, in addition to the 29.99 percent interest rate -- and remember they're holding onto your deposited funds for the entire amount of your credit limit and paying no interest on that -- you'll pay a $75 fee for a $300 credit limit. The fee will be deducted from your card, so your credit limit is really $225. In addition, Continental levies "monthly maintenance fees" of $12 a month, or $144 per year. If you want to increase your credit limit by $100, you'll pay another $30 fee. If you add an authorized user to your account, you'll pay $30. If you pay late, there's a $25 to 35 fee. If you go over your limit, there's a $35 fee. If you need paper statements, you get charged $4.95 per statement -- and, yes, that's in addition to the $12 monthly maintenance fee.
4. Most deceptive marketing: Applied Bank's Secured Visa Gold. It looks like a great deal for someone who needs a secured card -- a 9.9 percent annual rate. But what Applied Bank discloses in the fine print is that the card has no grace period, so you pay interest from the moment you use the card. In addition, the card uses an interest calculation called "average daily balance, including new purchases," which tends to inflate the amount of interest you owe. The card imposes a $50 annual fee, which is deducted from your credit limit -- like the miserable secured cards listed above. So if you get a $200 credit limit (backed by your $200 deposit), you only get to borrow up to $150.
5. Lifetime shame award: First Premier Bancard. If you thought the Applied Bank card looked bad, check out First Premier's. There's a $95 "processing fee" to get one -- and yes, your credit limit is likely to be just $300. Then there's a $75 annual fee in the first year; $45 annual fee after that. Monthly service fees: $6.25 per month, or $75 per year. The monthly service fees are waived in the first year, but this means that the card will cost you $120 annually in the second year, which equates to more than one-third of your credit limit. Pay late or go over your modest limit and you'll get hit with a $35 fee. If you need to get cash, you'll pay $6 or 5 percent of the cash advance, whichever is more. Need more credit? That will cost you 25 percent of additional credit limit -- in other words, if they allow you to charge $100 more, it will cost you $25, in addition to the interest charges. The annual percentage rate on the card is a whopping 36 percent.