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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 the normal Balance Transfer Credit Cards guide.

Why am I being rejected?

Bad credit application rejectionThe 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 Ratejacking guide to rejecting these hikes.

What to do when I'm rejected?


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... use our Pre-Application Eligibility Checker.

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How do I get a card to use?

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:

Step one

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.

Step two

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.

Check your eligibility here

Step three

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 ratingIf 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...

Strictly repay EVERY month, in FULL, so there's no interest cost.

Borrowing new debt on any of these cards - except by strictly using 0% periods - 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 law.

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 for you 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.

Top cards with short-term borrowing

Barclaycard Initial*0% spending for six months + rebuild your credit

  • Representative APR: 34.9% variable
  • Required income: N/A
  • 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?: No.
  • Rate example: Official APR example

Do you want to rebuild your credit, or get a short respite from debts? Barclaycard Initial* (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) is designed for both of these purposes.

  • Use 1: (Re)build credit history. Do, say, £50 a month of normal spending, preferably repaying IN FULL. Over time, it can boost your ability to gain credit, eg, for a mortgage.
  • Use 2: Respite from bank / payday loan charges. Do normal spending on this up to the credit limit, instead of 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 six months to clear it (ensure you do).
  • Never miss monthly repayments. Even during the 0%, you MUST still make at least the monthly minimum repayments (preferably more) - 0% doesn't mean nothing to pay.

How good is this card? It's good, as it's rare you see a decent 0% offer on a credit card designed for those with little or bad credit. But you need to be careful that you can pay the card off. If not, you'll be charged a hefty 34.9% representative APR on any balance left. If your credit score's improved, see the 0% Spending Cards guide.


Aqua Reward* For those with a poor history: 0.5% cashback Plus £20 voucher

  • Representative APR: 34.9% variable
  • Required income: N/A
  • Rate example: Official APR example
  • 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
  • Cashback: 0.5% on spending

The Aqua* Reward card (you can use eligibility checker for this card) is a decent card for rebuilding credit. It gives 0.5% cashback on all spending, but make sure you pay off your balance in full to avoid paying its nasty 34.9% representative APR. Plus, if you apply through the link above you'll also get a £20 Amazon voucher.

Unusually it won't automatically exclude those with past CCJs or defaults over a year old (you still need to pass a credit score) and bankruptcies over 18 months. You'll also receive free credit reports and alerts to help you keep track of your credit rating.

Because it accepts people with no credit history, or with past issues, the interest rate is massive. Only get this card if you'll ALWAYS pay it off in full every month. If not, it's 34.9% representative APR, which quickly wipes out cashback gains. Even poorer scorers may get 39.9%, 44.9% or 49.9% APR.

Capital One Classic Extra*For those with an OK history: 0.5% cashback + £10 bonus

Cap One
  • Representative APR: 34.9% variable
  • Required income: N/A
  • Rate example: Official APR example
  • 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
  • Cashback: 0.5% on spending
  • Max cashback/year: Unlimited

If you want a good all-round cashback card, the Capital One* Classic Extra (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) is a good credit rebuilding card. It charges an enormous 34.9% interest so must be paid off IN FULL every month.

  • Cashback. The card gives 0.5% on all spending (50p for every £100). There's also a £10 bonus every January (pro-rata'd for the first year) provided you pay on time.
  • High APR. Ensure you repay the card of in full at the end of each month, as the rep APR is a massive 34.9%.

How good is this card? Obviously there are much higher cashback rates available, but the Capital One Classic Extra is easier to get than all the other top pick cashback cards. So if you've little credit history, or you've a history of bad credit, this card's a top pick.

TOP Cards allowing balance transfers

Capital One Balance*0% on transfers until June 2015 with 3% fee

  • Balance transfer length & fee: 0% till June, 3% fee
  • Rep variable APR: 34.9% (Official Rate Example)
  • 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 income: N/A
  • Card issuer: Mastercard

For those who’ve had past credit issues, Capital One's* Balance card (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) is 0% on balance transfers until June 2015 with a one-off fee of 3% of the amount shifted.

  • High APR. From June 2015 the APR is 34.9%. Don't spend on the card, as you'll pay interest on it.
  • Credit limits are low. You'll get a maximum of £1,500 so if you've more debt than this, you won't be able to transfer it all.

How good is this card? Those with poor credit histories are usually frozen out of the headline-grabbing 0% deals, so this can be a lifeline if you need to transfer debt, as it doesn't automatically exclude defaults or CCJs, as long as they're at least a year old.

TOP Cards with reducing APRs

Aqua Advance*APR reduces annually if paid on time. Incl £20 voucher.

Cap One
  • Representative APR: 34.9% variable
  • 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
  • Rate example: Official APR example
  • Required income: N/A

The Aqua* Advance card (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) starts off by giving you a hideous 34.9% representative APR, but manage your account well and it'll drop each year.

  • Your APR drops if you manage your account well. Pay on time and don't exceed your limit, and the APR could drop to a 'normal' 19.9%.
  • £20 Amazon voucher after two months. You need to spend at least once, meet minimum repayments & not go over your credit limit.

How good is this card? This card gives you a way to get your APR down, rewarding you for good behaviour. Though if you can, try to pay it off each month to avoid interest. Be aware, credit limits are likely to be low, from £250 to £1,200.

Other top cards to rebuild credit score

Aqua Classic*Can get it even with CCJs

Cap One
  • Representative APR: 29.7% variable
  • Required income: N/A
  • 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
  • Rate example: Official APR example
  • Required income: N/A

The Aqua* Classic card (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) should be used as a credit rebuilding card. It also gives you free access to your credit report, plus alerts when something changes.

  • Low credit limits. You'll only get a maximum of £1,200 with this card.
  • It's a cheaper option than payday loans or getting bank charges. If you're at risk, put a little spending on this instead of on your debit card to get your overdraft under the limit, then try to clear the card after (but keep to a tight budget and be careful).
  • Free credit reports & alerts. This card gives you a credit report package worth £80. You get unlimited free access to your Noddle credit report, plus alerts when something on it changes.

How good is this card? While it's not got the 0% periods or cashback perks of the cards above, it does have the lowest APR of all the 'bad credit' credit cards. Though that's not to say you should aim to pay interest - ALWAYS try to clear the card each month.

Alternative cards for rebuilding a bad credit rating
Representative variable APR
Capital One Classic
In order of representative APR, but as you should avoid ever paying interest, the rate's not crucial. See all Official APR Examples.

The last resort! Buy a prepaid card*It's £65/year, but anyone is guaranteed to get it

  • Application fee: £4.95
  • Monthly fee: £4.95
  • Spending fee: None

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, and it costs £4.95 to apply for. However, you cannot be rejected!

  • Paying the monthly fee improves your credit file. 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.
  • Never, ever miss a monthly payment. Doing this would leave you in a worse position than not getting the card and doing nothing.
  • You must click the creditbuilder option. If you don't click this option during application, you won't be able to improve your credit file.
  • No credit check is needed. However, you must still be able to prove your identity to get the card.

How good is this card? 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.

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

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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.

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Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help Aqua Advance, Aqua Classic, Aquis, Barclaycard Initial, Capital One Balance, Capital One Classic, Capital One Classic Extra, Cashplus Creditbuilder, Luma, Moneysupermarket smart search, Vanquis

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