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Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Best credit cards for bad credit scorers

Applied for a credit card and been rejected? FREEZE! Assess why you've been knocked back, then either find cards that fit your profile or try to rebuild your credit rating using the top 'bad credit' credit card, and always pay it off in full.

Plus find out how to avoid the rejection spiral, and improve your credit history. For extra help on specific issues, see the Low Credit Card Limit and Cancel Unused Credit Cards guides. If you don't have a poor credit history, check out our other Credit Cards guides.

Why am I being rejected?

Bad credit application rejection

The financial crisis and recession that followed saw banks radically change the way they decide to lend money. Essentially, they now want to take fewer risks with their cash. This means if you used to get credit cards fairly easily, you may now struggle.

Yet whether you get given new credit isn't a simple calculation based on how much you earn.

Nor is it about some mythical 'universal credit rating' or blacklist. Lenders 'score' you to predict your likely behaviour, but these scoring systems are never published and differ from lender to lender, and product to product.

The whole game of credit scoring is a convoluted one. To understand how it works, and what the banks judge you on, read the full Credit Rating guide. Importantly, always check the information held about you with the three credit reference agencies is correct, as this plays a big part in lenders' decisions (you can do it for free).

If you've been rejected by all and sundry, then it's likely you've got a poor credit score or a problem with your credit history. Conversely, if you've always been accepted in the past and just been rejected once, then it's possible you simply don't fit one particular card company's customer profile.

If you've had the interest rate you pay on an existing credit card increased, read the Rate Jacking guide to rejecting these hikes.

What to do when I'm rejected?

Crucially...

If you're rejected - STOP applying. First, check your file's correct. If it is, consider getting a special 'poor credit' card.

Freeze! Apply for too many cards and receive multiple rejection letters in a short period and you could shoot your credit rating in the foot for years. This is the dreaded rejection spiral!

If you haven't applied for a while, or have applied once and been knocked back, you should first check your file for free. Or you could use our Eligibility Calculator.

How can I boost my chances of getting a credit card?

Once you've worked out whether it was a one-off rejection or down to a poor credit score, you need to plan how to act next. If you need a card for borrowing (either a 0% card for new spending or a top balance transfer credit card deal), use this quick three-step scheme:

Minimise the new credit you need

If you're after a card to reduce the cost of existing debts, first see if you can achieve the same using the plastic you already have. A special technique can enable you to reduce the interest you pay on outstanding debts without applying for new cards - read the full Credit Card Shuffle guide.

After you've done it, you could have some credit cards with no debt on. You should then check the APR on these if you require plastic to spend on. If your credit rating's a bit shabby, these rates could well be lower than anything you'll get on new cards you apply for.

Check your eligibility with NO credit file mark

You'll see most cards in this guide have a link to our eligibility checker tool, which we've designed to allow you to see the probability of getting the card.

We do a 'soft' credit search which YOU can see, but lenders CAN'T, so it has no impact on your future creditworthiness - and lets you see the chance of you getting the card without applying for it.

We map the details you give us against lenders' criteria, and show your chances for all the cards on this page that we can do so for. Now you can check without following a link from a specific card.

No luck? Avoid borrowing

If all your 'perfect matches' come with sky-high interest rates, then it's best you do everything you can to avoid borrowing money. Try our full Money Makeover to cut down on every expense and possibly boost your income, and do a proper budget.

If you're still struggling at this point, you may need to get professional debt help. For a step-by-step checklist of how to act, and a full listing of non-profit debt counselling agencies, read the Debt Problems guide.

What's the best card to rebuild my score?

Rebuild your credit rating

If you can't get the top deals or a card with decent rates, it's time to look at rebuilding your credit rating. One of the best ways to do this is by getting the right sort of credit card.

By getting any kind of credit and operating it perfectly (never missing payments, always staying within the limit), you can either build up a credit history from scratch, or remedy a tarnished one.

There are two main paths, depending on how bad your rating is in the first place. Before going any further, though, there's a vital golden rule...

Repay in FULL, every month, to avoid paying interest.

Unless you've got a 0% period, borrowing on any of these cards will be hideously expensive and should be avoided at all costs. However, cleverly using one (or even two) of these cards for six to 12 months, spending a little every month and paying it off, can help clean up a muddied credit history, or build one from scratch.

Redress if things go wrong

Before you apply, be aware that only some of the card providers listed abide by the conditions of the Lending Code, which is a code of practice over and above what's required by consumer credit regulations and laws.

It requires you to be treated fairly by the lender, and has special clauses for how lenders must deal with your account if you've disclosed mental health problems to them or if you've told them you're in financial difficulty. It's an extra layer of protection if things go wrong.

Of the cards below, the providers of Barclaycard, Luma, Capital One and Aqua subscribe to the Lending Code. Vanquis Bank does not.

Best Buys Top cards with short-term borrowing

barclaycard

0% spending for three months, plus £20 cashback

Barclaycard Initial*

Do you want to rebuild your credit, or get a short respite from debts? Barclaycard Initial* is designed for both of these purposes as it has a 0% period on spending, which is rare for a card designed for people with a poor credit history. Plus, you'll also get £20 cashback if you manage your account well, by making your minimum repayments on time and staying within your credit limit.

Need to knows
  • There are two main uses of this card; either use it to rebuild credit or as a respite from payday loans or bank charges (see key questions for how to do this).
  • Even during the 0%, you MUST still make at least the monthly minimum repayments (preferably more) - 0% doesn't mean nothing to pay.
  • £20 will be credited to your card within 35 days of your third statement, if you pay your minimumbalance on time in the first three months and stay within your credit limit.
  • You'll pay 34.9% interest on any balance left over after the 0% period, so try to clear the card, or at least minimise the debt.
  • If your credit score's improved, see the 0% Spending Cards guide for be.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 34.9% representative APR (See Official APR examples)
  • Min income: £3,000 | Card issuer: Visa
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, but only if settled, and not more than one in last six years
  • Accepts bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's six years old or more
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, 2.25% of balance or £5
Key questions

How do I use this card to rebuild my credit history? Just because this card has a 0% spending period doesn't mean you need to use it. If you don't, then you can just use it as a normal credit (re)builder card. Do, say, £50 a month of normal spending, and repay it in full each month. Over time, it can boost your ability to gain credit, eg, for a mortgage.

What if I'm in payday loan debt? How can this card help me? This method's a bit trickier, but means you're exchanging debt with interest rates in the 1,000%s to debt with interest rates a fraction of that.

If you have payday loan debt, or you're at the brink of your overdraft, do normal spending on this card up to the credit limit, instead of spending on your debit card. Then use money built up in your bank account to reduce your overdraft or repay lenders. Now the debt's on the card and you've three months at 0% to try to clear as much of it as possible (try to clear it all if you can).

Best Buys Top cards with cashback

Aqua

Get 0.5% cashback on all spending, plus a £20 Amazon voucher

Aqua Reward*

The Aqua* Reward card is a great all-rounder card, but unusually is designed for people with a less than stellar credit score. It gives 0.5% cashback on all spending, and doesn't charge a currency conversion load if you use it overseas. Plus, if you apply through the link above you'll also get a £20 Amazon voucher if you manage your account well. Just don't borrow on this card, as there's no 0% period so you'll pay interest from the start.

Need to knows
  • Starting credit limits are low, between £200 and £1,500 so don't plan a spending spree.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • The voucher's given in month three.
  • The card offers load free spending abroad (most cards charge a 3%-or-so fee) making this a good card to take overseas too.
  • Pay off IN FULL every month, else interest quickly wipes out cashback gains.
  • Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 39.9%, 44.9% or 49.9%.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 34.9% representative APR (See Official APR example
  • Min income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year old or more
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year old or more
  • Accepts bankruptices? Yes, provided it's 18 months old or more
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5
Key questions

How good is the cashback? The cashback rate isn't the highest available, but it's a lot easier to get than other cashback cards.

How do I get the £20 Amazon voucher? Aqua see the £20 voucher as a reward for good behaviour. You need to spend at least once, and also pay off your balance on time and keep within your credit limit in your first two months. Do this and you'll receive your voucher in the third month.

What is the free credit report? Aqua appointed Noddle as its credit checker so you'll get access to its online credit report. Noddle does offer free access to a limited credit report, but the ones included with the Aqua card typically cost from £5-£15 a month.

You'll also be signed up to receive Noddle Alerts, which highlight any significant changes to your credit report, sending you an email alert. Finally, you get Noddle Improve, which is a credit score with added tips on how you can improve it if it comes up a little low.

Cap One

Get 0.5% cashback, plus an annual £10 bonus (for good account management)

Capital One Classic Extra*

The Capital One* Classic Extra is a good credit rebuilding card. It gives you 0.5% cashback on all spending, plus if you always pay on time then Capital One give you a £10 bonus on top of your cashback for doing so.

Need to knows
  • Starting credit limits tend to be low, between £200 and £1,500.
  • Cashback is unlimited, though you may find it's constrained by the credit limit.
  • The bonus is pro-rata'd in year one, so you'd get £5 if you'd had the card for six months.
  • Cashback is paid to you each January - it will be shown as a credit on your card account.
  • Pay off in full each month else the interest quickly wipes out cashback gains.
  • Interest's charged at 34.9% on this card from day one - there's no 0% period.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 34.9% representative APR (See Official APR examples)
  • Required income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's a year or more old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5

Best Buys Top Cards allowing balance transfers

CapitalOne

Pay 0% on shifted debts for six months (though you pay a 3% fee)

Capital One Balance*

If you've had past credit issues, then you're usually frozen out of headline-grabbing 0% deals. While six months at 0% isn't the longest available, if you've costly debts elsewhere, then Capital One's* Balance card can provide an important respite from interest costs. It has a short term 0% deal on balance transfers for six months, though you have to pay a one-off fee of 3% of the amount shifted.

Need to knows
  • Once the 0% period is over, you'll start paying interest on any remaining debt at 34.9% so try to clear the card before this happens.
  • Credit limits are low, there's a maximum of £1,500, so if you've more debt than this, you won't be able to transfer it all.
  • A 0% deal doesn't mean there's nothing to pay - you must pay at least the minimum every month or you'll lose the 0% deal.
  • Never spend or withdraw cash on this card - you'll pay the 34.9% interest rate from day one.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 34.9% representative APR (See Official APR examples)
  • Minimum income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts bankruptices? Yes, provided it's a year or more old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5
Key questions

How can I best use this card? This card's best used as a respite from costly debts. But, to maximise it's effectiveness, you'll need to follow a tried and tested system:

  • Shift debts from the card with the highest APR. Shift as much debt up to the credit limit as possible, from the card(s) you have with the highest APR.
  • When the 0% ends, shift the debt back. After the 0% ends, if you shifted it from a card with a lower APR than its 34.9%, try to shift the remainder back onto the original card. There should be room if you’ve not spent on it – see Credit Card Shuffle.
  • If you’re not sure, try to clear this debt during the 0%. Normally we say repay the highest interest rates first – as that’s the most costly - and just pay the minimums on all others. This card is a bit more complex, as the 0% is only for six months and then the rate rockets. If you’ve other cards that cost more than 34.9%, then always clear them first. If not, you could try to use the 0% period on this card to pay as much off as possible, so that when it hits 34.9% you’ve little debt left.
  • Don’t use this card if you’re borrowing elsewhere. The rate when the 0% ends is horrid. If you’re borrowing elsewhere too, it's unlikely you will have room left on the credit limit to move the debt away from this when the 0% ends. That could leave you stuck on the nightmare rate.

Best Buys Top Cards with reducing APRs

Cap One

APR drops if you manage your account well, plus get a £20 Amazon voucher

Aqua Advance*

We all like to be rewarded for good behaviour, and here's a card that does just that. Although the Aqua* Advance card starts by giving you a hideous 34.9% rep APR, it does give you a chance to lower it. All you need to do is pay on time, and not bust your credit limit. But - as we always say - you should be trying to pay in full every month, so what interest rate you get shouldn't really matter.

Need to knows
  • Credit limits tend to be low, between £250 and £1,200 to start with.
  • Your APR drops by 5% a year if you manage your account well, so in three years time it should be a 'normal' 19.9%.
  • You also get a £20 Amazon voucher in two months' time as a reward for good account management, provided you've used the card at least once.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • Interest's charged at 34.9% rep APR on this card from day one - there's no 0% period.
  • Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 44.9% or 49.9%.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 34.9% representative APR (See Official APR example)
  • Required income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts bankruptices? Yes, provided it's 18 months or more old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5

Best Buys Other top cards to rebuild credit score

Aqua

Use this card to help you build a good credit history

Aqua Classic*

The Aqua* Classic card doesn't have 0% periods or cashback perks, but it does have a slightly lower interest rate than most other cards in this guide. However, the idea is not to pay interest, to just spend, say, £50 a month on the card and pay it off in full every month, thus creating a good repayment history.

Need to knows
  • Starting credit limits are low, ranging between £250 and £1,200.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • There's no interest free period on this card, so if you don't pay it off you'll pay interest of 29.7% rep APR.
  • Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 44.9% or 49.9%.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Rate: 29.7% representative APR (See Official APR example)
  • Required income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year or more old
  • Accepts bankruptices? Yes, provided it's 18 months or more old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5

More credit rebuilding cards

If you didn't find a card above to suit you, here are quick details of the next best cards.

Card Representative variable APR Notes
Aquis* 29.8% Eligibility calculator
Capital One Classic* 34.9% Eligibility calculator
Luma* 35.9% Eligibility calculator
Vanquis* 39.9% Eligibility calculator
In order of representative APR, but as you should avoid ever paying interest, the rate's not crucial. See all Official APR Examples.

If you can't get a credit card at all...

If you've tried the eligibility calculator, or applied for any of the cards above and you can't get those, then it's likely your credit score won't permit you to get any card. In this case, you have two options - you can wait until your bad credit history is less recent and try again, or you can try a special 'creditbuilder' prepaid card.

Cashplus

The last resort! Buy a prepaid card - it's £60/yr but you're guaranteed to get it

Cashplus Credit Builder*

If you've been rejected for the 'expensive' cards above, there's a last resort option. The Cashplus Creditbuilder* is a prepaid card, meaning you have to load it with cash before spending, rather than having a credit facility. However, you cannot be rejected! It could help you improve a poor credit score, but it'll cost you £65 for the year to do it.

Need to knows
  • You'll be 'lent' £60 when you take the card out. You pay this back in £4.95 monthly instalments, which are reported on your credit file.
  • There's also a £4.95 application fee. You have to select the 'Creditbuilder' function when you apply for the card.
  • Never miss a monthly payment. Doing this would leave you in a worse position than not getting the card and doing nothing.
  • No credit check is needed, but your identity will be checked.
  • You can also earn cashback on spending on the card from 100s of retailers including Boots, Tesco, BT and M&S.
Stats box
  • Application fee: £4.95
  • Monthly fee: £4.95
  • Top-up fee: Free by bank transfer, standing order and at the Post Office
  • ATM/transaction fee: £2/ Free in the UK | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Fee to get your cash off the card: £10
Key questions

How does paying £4.95 a month improve my credit history? The idea is that Cashplus loans you £59.40, which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your £4.95 monthly payments then go towards paying off that loan, and each month your credit record will show that. Thus, at the end of the year, you will have a fully repaid loan, and hopefully have an improved credit score.

Is it really worth it? Well, it's an expensive way to improve your credit, but after 12 payments, it should show on your credit history as a fully repaid loan agreement. This should make you a more attractive customer to many companies, hopefully meaning you can apply for better credit card and loan deals.

However, there is an alternative. The further in the past your credit problems are, the better the options available to you. So, instead of getting this expensive prepaid card option, you could wait for the year, and then the cards above should be open to you.

If you're just after the best value prepaid card, read our full Prepaid Cards guide. For more details on this card, including pros and cons, read the Cashplus Creditbuilder discussion.

How else can I improve my chances?

While it's not an exact science, there are a number of specific things you can do as good practice to improve both your credit score and lenders' attitudes towards you. For an even more comprehensive list, read the full Credit Rating guide.

  • Get on the electoral roll

    If you're not on the roll, it's unlikely you'll get any credit. Immediately check if you are by calling your council. If you aren't eligible to vote (mainly foreign nationals), send all the credit reference agencies proof of residency and ask them to add a note to your file.

  • Keep up payments and never be late

    Always try to follow at least the minimum repayment plan for your financial products (though paying more is preferable, see the Minimum Repayments guide). Defaulting or missing payments could cause problems that can cost you for years (though you may get past charges back, see the Bank Charges Reclaiming guide). If you're in difficulties, the cliche 'contact your lender' is a good one, as it should attempt to help. Changing your repayment schedule is preferable to defaulting - and though it will hit your credit score, it's better than a CCJ against you.

  • Dealing with defaults on your file

    One of the major problems people face are past debt defaults. These can easily hamper applications for new credit and, if they're genuine and fair, are tough to deal with. There are a few things to try though, particularly if the default is unfair (read the Financial Fightback guide).

    • Complain to the Ombudsman. First write to the company and complain the default isn't fair and lay out your terms. Ask it to wipe it from your file, which it can do if it's disputed. If that fails, complain to the Financial Ombudsman, the free independent arbiter of disputes, as it can rule that the default can be wiped.
    • Negotiate with the lender. If you are prepared to settle the debt, either in part or in full, then you can enter a negotiation with whomever you owe the money. This can include a condition of settlement that the default is wiped off your credit file. Companies are allowed to do this for disputed defaults.
    • Add a notice of correction. If all else fails and you believe the default's justifiably unfair, add a notice of correction to the file explaining the problem, such as: "It was a joint account and the debt was run by my ex-husband/wife once I no longer had access." This will slow applications down, as most companies will look at it manually, but as a substantial default is likely to stop you getting credit anyway, that's usually not a problem, providing it helps.
  • Cancel unused credit cards, debts and accounts Access to too much credit, even if it isn't used, can be a problem. If you have a range of unused credit cards, cancel most of them. This lowers your available credit and should help (see the Cancel Old Cards guide for full info on what to close when). However long-standing bank accounts with good credit histories can be a benefit to your credit score, so they're often best left open.