While multiple hard inquiries can increase score drops, particularly for those who are new to credit, credit-scoring agencies recognize the importance of rate shopping. As a result, multiple inquiries for student loans that occur with a 14- to 45-day window (depending on the type of credit score) only count as a single inquiry when your score is being calculated.
If I shop around for a balance transfer credit card, my score will get crushed: FALSE! If your score does decline, it probably will not decline by much. You can expect 10-20 points per credit application. But, remember: you apply for a balance transfer to help reduce your balance faster. When you open a new credit card and transfer your balance, then you will be able to:
With poor credit, you may not be able to get approved for new credit products like credit cards. Although you may still be able to take out an auto loan or a mortgage, you’ll pay a much higher interest rate because of your low credit score. Compared to a borrower with good credit, someone with poor credit can pay $50,000 more in interest on a mortgage. Over an entire lifetime, you could end up paying over $200,000 more in unnecessary interest just because of bad credit.
I do not agree with the secured card info you've provided. They are great tools when used correctly. You can find one with no/small annual fee. The interest rate won't come into play if you pay your balance in full each month. Even if you don't pay in full, the interest on a very low balance is a non-factor. Alomst any credit union will allow you to open an account with as little as $5 and secured card with $300/500. My card is $500 and I never charge more than $150(30%). It takes will power to not max it out. You don;t want to fall back into old habits (if that is what got you into this situation in the first place).
This is easier said than done, but reducing the amount that you owe is going to be a far more satisfying achievement than improving your credit score. The first thing you need to do is stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all of your accounts and then go online or check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they are charging you. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.