Methods to improve the performance of high-temperature superconducting current leads are analyzed. Designs are considered that are inherently safe from burnup, even if the lead enters the normal state. The effect of a tapered lead that takes advantage of the increase in critical current density with decreasing temperature will decrease helium boiloff by about a factor of two for an area ratio of four. A new concept, in which Ag powder is distributed in increasing concentration from the cold end to the hot end of a sintered YBCO lead, is shown to have comparable performance to that of leads made with Ag-alloy sheaths. Performance of the best inherently safe designs is about one order of magnitude better than that of optimized nonsuperconducting leads. BSCCO leads with Ag-alloy sheaths show improved performance for Au fractions up to ≈ 3%, after which increases in Au fraction yield negligible improvement in performance.