For starters, a mailed offer and customer agreement should mention the actual name and address of the chartered depository institution taking the deposits. Then, you or a friend or family member willing to do a little extra research can then go to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Web site and search for the institution's call report or thrift financial report, by clicking here.

Follow that link and, for report type, select "Call/TFR." Then type the institution's name to search for it. If no report comes up, and we are in the middle of the quarterly cycle when banks file their financial information with regulators, you may need to go back a quarter when selecting the report date.

The call report includes the bank's address right at the top.

The credit card offer should also include a customer service phone number. Call them and speak with a representative, to make sure you know which bank is involved. If they don't provide a customer service phone number, they are already making things difficult. Take your business elsewhere.

A Secured Card Can Be a Great Thing

Secured credit cards are excellent tools to help consumers quickly improve their credit scores. Having a low credit score won't keep you from getting a mortgage loan -- assuming you have the cash for a down payment and can prove sufficient income to afford the loan -- but you will be offered a much higher interest rate than a borrower with a relatively high credit score.

The same is true for auto loans. You'll get a loan, but your rate may be in the high double digits, if you have a very low credit score.

With the commitment of a relatively small deposit, and an agreement to pay an annual fee, you can easily get a secured credit card, while building a real credit history almost immediately, with payments reported to the three major credit agencies. And after a year of on-time payments, you could get your deposit back, even if you are running a balance on the card. You can also get your deposit back at any time if you pay the card balance down to zero and close your account.

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