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Credit cards for bad credit

Cards for those with a poor credit score

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Helen S

Updated Weekly

Applied for a credit card and been rejected? FREEZE! Assess why you've been knocked back, then 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 Card guides.

The eight golden rules

Before you get one of these credit cards, there are a few things you need to know. Get this wrong and it can cost you large, so please read the following (even if you only have time to read and remember the headlines, it should help protect your pocket).

  • If you've been rejected for a credit card, FREEZE! Don't apply for another straightaway.

    Bad credit application rejection spiralApply for too many cards and receive multiple rejections in a short period and you could shoot your credit rating in the foot for years. This is the dreaded rejection spiral!

    Here's how it works...

    • You apply for a new credit card and get rejected. This could be for a number of reasons: a bank error, incorrect info on your credit file, or you've applied for a card intended for those with an 'excellent' score when you only have a 'good' score. Sadly, many lenders don't publish their criteria before you apply.
    • You apply elsewhere, and get rejected again, which hurts your future credit chances. As well as the reason you were rejected in the first instance, you now have an extra search on your credit file, which counts further against you when banks make their decision. You'll now have TWO recent searches on your file, and NO new cards. If you were unable to get credit before, it may be impossible for a while.

      Multiple rejected applications can mess up your score for up to a year as more applications mean more searches, which compounds the problem. If you haven't applied for a while, or have applied once and been knocked back, you should first check your credit reports, or see below to check your eligibility for these (and other) cards.
    Quick question

    Why am I being rejected?

  • To protect your credit score use our eligibility calculator before applying to find which cards you're most likely to get

    The only way to know if you'll be accepted is to apply, yet each application marks your credit file. But our eligibility calculator shows the odds of you getting almost every card in this guide, so you can find the ones most likely to accept you, minimising applications.

    Once you've filled in the form, it's also worth checking the other tabs to see if there are any "good" credit cards that will accept you, before heading for one of these credit-rebuild cards.

    Quick question

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

  • Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check, including your free Experian Credit Report, Affordability Score and Credit Hit Rate

    The new MSE Credit Club is a game-changer. For years the credit market has been shrouded in mystery but our revolutionary tool brings together the key components to give you the full picture, and crucially, what it means for your acceptance chances and how to boost your creditworthiness.

    A credit score alone isn't enough to borrow, as there are other factors at play (it's why many with perfect scores still get rejected). Our new Credit Club shows you...

    1. Free Experian Credit Report - your credit accounts & how you've managed them.
    2. Free Experian Credit Score - how lenders rate your past credit behaviour.
    3. MSE Affordability Score - how lenders assess if you can afford a product.
    4. Your Credit Hit Rate -
    how likely you actually are to be accepted when you apply.
    5. Credit Card & Loan Eligibility Calcs
    - what your odds are of getting specific top deals.
    6. How to improve your credit profile - we show where your profile's strong and weak, & how to improve it.

  • Try to repay in full every month, but ensure you always repay AT LEAST the minimum to help improve your credit score

    If you're building or rebuilding a credit history, this is one of the most important things you can do. Paying on time and meeting all your commitments is likely to improve your credit score as it shows you can be trusted to repay so lenders are more likely to give you credit in future. So, every month you must pay at least the minimum monthly amount.

    If not, you can lose any promotional offer (eg, a 0% rate) and the credit card provider will report your missed payment to the credit reference agencies. You'll also be hit with a £12 fee for late payment each time it happens.

    Quick question

    How much should I aim to pay?

  • Check you actually need NEW credit – you may be able to use existing cards

    Rebuild your credit rating 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 allow you to reduce the interest you pay on outstanding debts without applying for new cards – read the full Credit Card Shuffle guide for more.

    After you've done it, you could have 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 from this guide.

    Quick question

    If I need to spend, what's the best option?

  • NEVER withdraw cash on these cards

    It can be tempting to use these cards to get cash advances when you're short of ready money. Though know that repeated cash withdrawals on a credit card are a red flag to lenders. It's expensive to do, so credit card providers assume that anyone withdrawing lots on other cards is desperate for cash, so they're less likely to lend.

    On top of that, you'll pay a cash withdrawal fee, and interest from the moment you take the cash out until it's paid off, often at a higher rate than on spending.

    Quick questions

    Why do I pay interest on my cash withdrawal if I've paid it off in full?

    Does withdrawing cash on a credit card affect my credit score?

  • You won't always get the advertised APR even if you're accepted for the card

    There's a catch to watch out for. Some card firms give those with lesser credit histories a higher APR on the card than the one advertised in big letters. Sadly, the law only requires that 51% of people accepted for the card get the advertised APR.

    So just because a card says it has a 34.9% representative APR doesn't mean that's the interest rate you'll get. However, use these cards right, and you shouldn't be paying interest, which would mean the rate you get shouldn't matter.

    Quick questions

    Is there any way to know what deal I'll get before I apply?

    Why do lenders give some applicants worse deals?

  • If you can't get any of the cards in this guide – avoid borrowing

    If all your 'perfect matches' come with sky-high interest rates, 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 our Debt Problems guide.

Best Buys Top cards to rebuild your credit score

Here are the best cards to help you rebuild your credit.

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 you should be trying to pay in full every month, so what interest rate you get shouldn't really matter.

Plus, you'll get a £20 Amazon voucher after two months as long as you've used the card, paid on time and stayed within your limit. This is a lower amount compared with the cashback you get with the Barclaycard Initial card above, but it is paid much more quickly so could be a better option as long as you don't mind spending at Amazon.

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 after two months if you've paid on time and stayed within your credit limit, though you must have used the card at least once. The voucher is emailed to you within your third statement month.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • Always clear the card IN FULL as interest's charged a horrid 34.9% rep APR from day one – there's no 0% period.
  • Don't miss a payment or bust your credit limit as you'll get a mark on your credit score and be charged a fee.
  • 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 bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's 18 months or more old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5
Aqua

Get 0.5% cashback on all spending while rebuilding your credit

Aqua Reward*

The Aqua* Reward card is a good all-rounder, designed for people with a less-than-stellar credit score. You'll get 0.5% cashback (max £100/yr) on spending – even abroad – but don't use this as an excuse for overspending on the card. Only do your normal spending on it and always repay in full, as there's no 0% period so you'll pay interest from the start. Our eligibility calculator can tell you if you're pre-approved for this Aqua card.

As this card only pays cashback as a percentage of your spending, as a rule of thumb, if you think your annual spend on the card will be less than £4,000, you may be better off with one of the cards above.

Need-to-knows
  • Starting credit limits are low: between £250 and £1,200, so don't plan a spending spree.
  • You can earn a maximum of £100 in cashback per year.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • The card doesn't levy a charge for spending abroad (most cards charge a 3%-or-so fee) making this a good card to take overseas.
  • Pay off IN FULL every month, else the hefty 39.9% interest quickly wipes out cashback gains - there's no 0% period.
  • Don't miss a payment or bust your credit limit as you'll get a mark on your credit score and be charged a fee.
  • Interest's charged at 34.9% APR. Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 44.9%, 49.9%, 54.9% or 59.9%.
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 bankruptcies? 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.

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 one included with the Aqua card typically costs 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.

What's pre-approval? Aqua has provided us with info so we can tell many people that they've a 100% chance of getting this exact deal (subject to passing its ID & fraud check). There's no impact on your credit score, though of course if you then apply, that marks your file.

Aqua

0% spending for four months, plus rebuild your credit

Aqua*

This card from Aqua* can also help you rebuild your credit and it comes with four months 0% on spending. Our eligibility calculator can tell you if you're pre-approved for this card.

Need-to-knows
  • Even during the 0%, you MUST still make at least the monthly minimum repayments (preferably more) – 0% doesn't mean nothing to pay. If you miss a payment or bust your credit limit you'll get a mark on your credit score and be charged a fee.
  • You need to be super-organised and repay the card IN FULL BEFORE the 0% ends. If you don't clear the card before the four-month 0%-interest period ends you'll be charged a hefty 34.9% representative APR on any balance left. Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 44.9% or 49.9%.
  • Your credit limit will start between £250 and £1,200. If you pay on time & don't bust your limit, Aqua could increase your credit limit on your fourth statement.
  • You get free credit reports/alerts with this card, helping you keep track of your credit rating.
  • You won't be able to get this if you already have an Aqua card.

How to use this card for respite from bank charges and payday loans

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 bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's 18 months old or more
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5
Key questions

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 one included with the Aqua card typically costs from £5-£15 a month.

You'll also be signed up to receive Noddle Alerts, which highlight any significant changes to your credit report by sending you an email. 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.

What's pre-approval? Aqua has provided us with info so we can tell many people that they've a 100% chance of getting this exact deal (subject to passing its ID & fraud check). There's no impact on your credit score, though of course if you then apply, that marks your file.

Cap One

Same 0% spending period as the card above whilst rebuilding your credit

Capital One Classic Complete*

This card from Capital One* can help you repair your credit history and, like the Aqua card above, also offers four months 0% on spending. This can be used to give you respite from existing debts (see below on how to do this).

Need-to-knows
  • Even during the 0% period, you MUST still make at least the monthly minimum repayments (preferably more) – 0% doesn't mean nothing to pay.
  • Outside of the 0% period make sure you clear the card IN FULL or you'll pay a horrid 34.9% interest on any balance left over.
  • Credit limits start from £200 to £1,500.
  • This card also offers 0% on balance transfers for four months which could give you a respite from existing debts, though there's a hefty 3% fee.
  • If your credit score improves, see our 0% Spending Cards guide.

How to use this card for respite from bank charges and payday loans

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 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

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 Eligibility calculator
Barclaycard* + 3mths 0% spending 34.9% Barclaycard chances
Marbles* + 3mths 0% spending 34.9% Marbles chances
Chrome* 24.7% Chrome chances
Aqua Classic* 27.4% Aqua Classic chances
Tesco Foundation* 27.5% Tesco chances
Chrome* 29.3% Chrome chances
Marbles* 29.7% Marbles chances
Aquis* 29.8% Aquis chances
Capital One Platinum* 29.8% Capital One chances
Capital One Classic* 34.9% -
Ocean 34.9% -
In order of perks then representative APR, but as you should avoid ever paying interest, the rate's not crucial. See all official APR examples.

Best Buy If you can't get any credit card...

If you've tried the eligibility calculator, or applied for any of the cards above and you can't get them, it's likely your credit score won't permit you to get any card. In this case, you have a few options – you can wait until your bad credit history is less recent and try again, you can try a special 'credit-builder' prepaid card, or you can take out what is effectively an interest-free loan.

With the products below, if you've had past credit problems it's hard to quantify how much of a positive effect using them would have in comparison to waiting for a year before applying for credit. However, if you've not had any credit before and want to make a start, these may have the impact you're looking for.

Cashplus

Pay £70 to be reported as a good payer

Credit Improver*

Make no bones about it – for your £70 the main thing you get is Credit Improver* telling all three credit agencies you've met repayments on time to help your score. So it certainly isn't for everyone. You pay a £14.99 upfront fee and then £4.99 monthly for 11 months (£69.88 for one year).

However, because the amount you're paying back is so small and for such a short period of time, it's hard to quantify how much of a positive effect using this product would have in comparison with waiting for a year before applying for credit.

Credit Improver also offers a more expensive 'Guaranteed' product for a £14.99 upfront fee and then £9.99 monthly (£124.88 for one year). This may be more effective as it's a larger amount, and it also comes with the promise of your money back if your credit score doesn't improve, but there are really stringent conditions attached – though they're designed to improve your credit score anyway. We've no feedback as it's a new product, so let us know if you use it.

Need-to-knows
  • Credit Improver is a credit broker that will liaise on your behalf with DDC Financial Solutions Ltd, which provides the finance.
  • There are two packages: 'Standard' (£4.99/month) and 'Guaranteed' (£9.99/month), which you can take out from one to three years.
  • With the Guaranteed package you're promised an improved credit score or a full refund, so long as you meet certain stringent criteria, so only go for this if you think you can fulfil these.
  • Never miss a monthly payment. Doing this would leave you in a worse position than not getting the package and doing nothing.
  • No credit check is needed, but your identity will be checked.
  • However, you can't be rejected, so if you think the cost is worth it, it could help you improve a poor credit score.
Stats box
  • Application fee: £14.99
  • Monthly fee: £4.99/£9.99
  • Payment: Recurring debit card payment
Key questions

How does paying £4.99 a month improve my credit history? The idea is that DDC Financial Solutions Ltd provides you with an interest-free 'loan' of £69.88 (for the most basic package), which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your £4.99 monthly payments then go toward paying off that loan, and each month your credit record will show that. So, at the end of the year, you'll have a fully repaid loan, and hopefully 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.

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

What's the difference between the two packages? Either package could help improve your credit score, though you get the benefit of a guaranteed score improvement with the guaranteed product so long as you follow Credit Improver's stringent criteria.

Which credit reference agencies will my 'loan repayments' be reported to? Your payments will be reported to Equifax, Experian and Callcredit.

Cashplus

The last resort! Buy a prepaid card – it's £76/yr but you're guaranteed to get it

CashPlus* Creditbuilder

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 can't be rejected! It could help you improve a poor credit score – but it'll cost you £76 for the year to do it.

Bear in mind, though, that if your credit is so bad that you can't get any of the cards above, how much this card will improve your credit score is questionable. We're just giving this as an option as it's impossible to verify how effective it is.

Need-to-knows
  • You'll be 'lent' £71.40 when you take the card out. You pay this back in £5.95 monthly instalments, which are reported on your credit file.
  • There's also a £5.95 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: £5.95
  • Monthly fee: £5.95
  • Top-up fee: Free by bank transfer, standing order and at the Post Office
  • ATM/transaction fee: £2/£3 abroad | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Fee to get your cash off the card: £10
Key questions

How does paying £5.95 a month improve my credit history? The idea is that CashPlus loans you £71.40, which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your £5.95 monthly payments then go towards paying off that loan, and each month your credit record will show that. So, at the end of the year, you'll have a fully repaid loan, and hopefully 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.

Which credit bureaux will my 'loan repayments' be reported to? Your payments will only be reported to Experian, not Equifax or Callcredit. This may help your record at Experian but won't have an effect on your record at Equifax or Callcredit. Keep this in mind as not all lenders check all credit bureaux before accepting or rejecting you for credit.

Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account.

Full help to take advantage of this and pros and cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.

Credit cards for bad credit Q&A

  • I already have a lot of debt. Will this help me?

  • How else can I improve my chances of getting a card?

  • Should I close down old accounts?

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