Having been $45,000 in debt once and down by nearly $60,000 today, I've had some awful credit cards. But I've been lucky. The worst credit card ever has never been in my wallet.

Worst?
But then again, my credit has never been so bad as to need the Aspire VISA card. Pity the poor soul that's had to carry this wealth-destroyer.

Strong words? Of course they are. That's because the Aspire VISA has as many ways to separate you from your money as do most Vegas card sharks. Here's a brief list.

  • Annual fees. The Aspire VISA charges $150 a year for the right to extend you credit. Even among those cards designed for those who are seeking to rebuild their credit history, as Aspire claims to be, this VISA falls far short. For example, the Orchard bank 2% cash back MasterCard, a top choice from the editors of researcher Cardratings, charges those with poor credit no more than $59 annually.
  • Monthly fees. But there's more. Aspire also dings its customers $6.50 monthly for the right to have a card. Nice. Why not raid the fridge and kick my cat while you're at it?
  • Application fee. And finally, there's the cruelest charge: $29 just to open the account.

What, exactly, do all these fees buy you? A lower average interest rate, perhaps? Hardly. Aspire's terms and conditions set the rate at 19.75% as of December 2005. But that may be cheap. Taken from the terms and conditions for the card:

"Your APR may vary. The APR for Purchases is determined by adding 12.50% to the Prime Rate, but in no event will be less than 19.50% ... The Prime Rate used to determine the applicable APR is the highest 'Prime Rate' published in the 'Money Rates' section of The Wall Street Journal on the 25th day (or if not published on the 25th, then on the date of the next publication following the 25th) of any of the three calendar months immediately preceding the month in which the Billing Cycle begins." [Emphasis mine.]

Let's do the math. According to the Journal, the Prime Rate, at 8.25%, sits at a 52-week high. Therefore, it's a good bet that Aspire is charging its customers in the neighborhood of 20.75% on unpaid balances.

Little gain, lots of pain
And that's going to hurt. Once again, to the terms and conditions:

"Available Credit Limitations: Your initial credit limit will be $300 and the following fees will appear on your first statement: Annual Fee of $150, and an Account Opening Fee of $29. After making your initial minimum monthly payment of $20, your available credit will be $141." [Once again, emphasis mine.]

That's right, Fool. Open an Aspire VISA, and, within minutes, half of your so-called credit limit will be gone, eaten up by fees. And you'll be paying 20.75% on the balance. Still want to order that pizza?

Follow the money
Unfortunately, Aspire isn't alone. Foolish poster rah1420 had some choice words for MBNA at our Credit Cards and Consumer Debt discussion board:

"Sure, we could get on their hardship plan. All we needed to do was maintain 12 months of on-time payments and we'd be off of it again. ... In a week we had a letter confirming the hardship rate (18%) and the suspension of the credit privileges. ... We grimly paid on time, faithfully, for the year. However, after a year elapsed and we were off the hardship rate, and after making a year of on-time payments, MBNA rewarded us. How? By raising the rate from the hardship rate BACK up to 24%. And did they restore all our credit privileges? No."

The lesson? Don't think that just because you're starting over, you have to accept a rotten deal. You don't. Credit issuers do best when they keep your accounts earning interest. So, whether you're dealing with Citigroup (NYSE:C), JPMorganChase (NYSE:JPM), or American Express (NYSE:AXP), ask whether your bank can do better. If they can't, move on.

Cardratings.com is my preferred place to find card deals, although Bankrate, which is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick, also features some excellent links.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 1,284 out of more than 20,500 in Motley Fool CAPS, didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Get a peek at everything he's invested in by checking Tim's Fool profile. You can bank on The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.