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A lender must agree to give you credit before they hand over one of their coveted cards, on the understanding that you will be paying them back the funds you spend, as well as any previously agreed charges and fees. The lender will want to know your credit history – if you have or have had any debt in the past, and how you've handled it – before they can decide whether you're trustworthy, and what interest rate they would be willing to offer you.
Once you've got the card, you can use it in any way that you like (though beware that there will be different charges depending on the kind of card and how you use it, explained further below). Just remember to pay back at least the minimum required every month, and more if you can, otherwise your debt may get out of control.
Credit card applications are now mostly made online, but it’s still perfectly possible to apply for a bank credit card in branch, by post or over the phone. You’ll need all your usual details to hand as well as some of your financial details. If you’ve lived at your current address for less than five years, then you’ll need to provide details of all your previous addresses.
In addition, if you’ve changed your name (through marriage, divorce or by deed poll), then you will have to supply this as well. The card provider will also want details of your employment (if you are currently working full or part-time), your salary and an idea of your current outgoings and debts – so expect to be asked how much you pay a month for rent/mortgages, utility bills, groceries, any child support payments and, of course, details of any loans, credit cards or other credit arrangements you have.
Before you apply for a credit card, it’s always a good idea to check your credit score. This will not only determine if your application is accepted, but also what your credit limit will be set at. For more information, read our How to improve your credit score and your chances of getting a credit card.
Sometimes you will be told instantly at the end of the application if you have been successful or if the credit card provider needs a day or two to assess your suitability. You may also receive an acknowledgement and further information by email, but the physical card and any new PIN numbers will be sent separately and will arrive up to 10 days later in the post.
Having the use of a credit card can be very handy in many ways. However, for all their good points, there are equally things that you must be careful of when you are thinking of applying for a credit card. They are, as the old saying goes, “a double-edged sword”.
Firstly, think carefully about why you want a credit card. Is it as an emergency back-up if you have a sudden expense that you can’t cover any other way? Is it to repay debts you’ve accumulated? Or do you intend to use it to spread the cost of a big purchase in the near future? All of these are valid reasons and knowing its intended purpose will help you choose the credit card that is right for you.
To know which card will work best for you, you'll need to know what different types are available, and what they do:
Whatever you need, make sure you compare credit cards to find the best credit card deals. Also, check that you are eligible before you apply for credit, and that doesn’t just mean having a good credit rating. Are you old enough? Have you been a UK resident for long enough? Some lenders may insist you earn a certain amount per year, or that you already have an account with them, so check that it’s a good fit before you apply, otherwise you may jeopardise your credit score for no reason!
Aside from considering which introductory offer is more generous, the main thing to look out for when you compare credit cards is the APR (annual percentage rate) that is charged. Credit cards are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which requires a clearly indicated APR that allows easy comparison between cards. This relates to the interest that at least 51% of customers will be offered on standard purchases per year. This makes it easy to compare credit card rates at a glance but remember that you may not get this rate; bear in mind too that if you're looking to use the card solely for transferring debt, you may want to look at the interest charged on that instead.
Next to interest rates and introductory offers, you may also want to look at eligibility criteria and how you can apply for and manage the card. A card that is appropriate for most people might not be the right fit for you, which is why it's so important to always compare the best credit card offers to find the one that's best for you.
You'll have to pay interest based on the rate that your lender has set unless you manage to pay off the balance each month before interest can be charged or you are benefitting from an interest-free period. Additionally, most providers charge fees for balance and money transfers, as well as for taking out money.
Unless you're getting a travel credit card, you will likely pay fees on withdrawals or any spending made abroad, and even travel cards might still charge something. Last, but certainly not least, be careful as some lenders charge an annual fee for having the card, even if you don't use it.
Your credit limit will depend on your credit score and other criteria, so there is no way to know until you've applied. That's why it's important to make sure you choose a competitive card and have your finances under control before you apply. Check your credit score for free today.
After you've chosen the best credit card offer for your needs, you will have to supply the provider with personal details so that they can run a credit check. If you apply online, this process can take as little as 15 minutes, whereas applying in branch or by post can take somewhat longer.
Different lenders will take different amounts of time to approve your application (this will again depend on how you apply) and send over the card. Generally, however, you can expect your plastic friend around 10 days after you've been approved. Still, if you need it for a specific purpose, apply for a credit card a month in advance to be sure you get it on time.
As you are not required to put your property or possessions up as security when taking out a credit card, they can be considered unsecured debt. However, if the situation gets so bad that you are unable to pay back what you've lent without selling your car or house, these possessions could still be at risk.
Mortgage applications require credit checks, to make sure you're a safe bet for the mortgage provider. Since your credit rating is affected by owning a credit card – positively if you've managed to pay the balance off every month, negatively if you've accumulated debt on it and/or missed payments – your credit card will most certainly affect the success of the application. For that reason, it's a good idea to check your credit score before you apply for either a card or a mortgage.
As mentioned above, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 you may be refunded for a purchase that is faulty, substandard or has gone missing.
This depends on the provider, but there is certainly an increasing number of credit cards available that allow contactless payments.
Yes, but due to the high charges usually associated with this it is not advisable to use a card for cash withdrawals.
While it is possible to have multiple cards tied to the same account, there is always one person solely responsible for the debt that is accrued on the account. So, while you can arrange for your partner (for instance) to get a credit card on the same account, you would be responsible for ensuring that the balance gets paid off.
In the UK, credit cards cannot be used for direct debits. However, you may want to consider setting up a direct debit from your bank account to pay off (a certain percentage of) your credit card debt each month.
To transfer money from your credit card to a bank account, you’ll need a money transfer card or one that has this ability. Transferring money is quite simple and can be done online or by phone. You’ll have to provide the sort code and account number and the transfer can take as little as two hours up to a couple of days, depending on who you bank with, your credit card provider and anti-fraud checks.
Depending on your credit card and any special deal that might apply, you will likely have to pay a fee on top of whatever sum you transfer. In addition, make sure you are aware of what, if any, interest will be charged and if you have any 0% interest-free periods that you can take advantage of.
If you cannot transfer money directly from your card to your bank account, you might be tempted to withdraw cash from an ATM on your credit card to deposit in your account. However, before you do, make sure you read our Beware of credit card cash advances guide.
Theoretically, there’s no limit to how many credit cards you can have. So long as you have a decent credit score and can convince the provider that you can afford this new line of credit, you should experience few problems.
However, in practice, you may find that credit card providers may be wary of issuing you with a credit card if you have several already – even if these are not carrying any outstanding balances. While this might not be a ‘deal-breaker’, you should expect that they may ask a few more questions and take a bit longer to consider your application.
Also, bear in mind that applying for a new credit card will show on your credit record and may cause your credit score to temporarily drop. Therefore, it’ not wise to apply for several cards in a short amount of time.
Yes, if you are buying from a dealership or motor trader then they will be happy to accept your credit card as payment.
This may be a good idea if you have a 0% interest offer on purchases with your card as this can allow you to spread the payments over a longer period without incurring any interest.
However, pay careful attention to the APR you’ll be paying once this interest-free period ends as, if you can’t repay the whole amount during this period, the interest charges could soon start to mount up. You might also want to compare the cost of credit between your credit card or using a loan instead, which could be cheaper over the long-term.
There may be a time when you’d like to cancel your credit card. Doing this is straightforward but remember that you’ll need to pay any outstanding balance back, along with any interest due, before the card provider can close your credit card account. You can find out more about cancelling your credit card by reading our Want to cancel your credit card? guide.
Credit card debts unfortunately remain after you die. Any outstanding balances will have to be settled by any remaining assets you have left, including savings accounts, property or life insurance pay-outs. If it is a joint credit card, then the surviving partner will become liable for the outstanding debt.
The only exception to the above is if you have valid payment protection insurance for the credit card. This will settle the outstanding debt in total or up to a certain limit if this is a limited policy.
When shopping online, always make sure you're on a legitimate website before typing in your credit card details, and never give the long number on the front of the card out to someone in the street or knocking on your door, no matter how legitimate they may sound.
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