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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. A new development means that you only have to put in your details once and we can check your against all the cards available.

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.

Before going any further, though, there's a vital golden rule...

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

We've got the best cards to help you rebuild your credit below.

Best Buys Top cards to rebuild your credit score

barclaycard

Get paid up to £40 to rebuild your score

Barclaycard Initial*

If you're looking to rebuild your credit score, then bizarrely, this Barclaycard Initial* card will actually pay you to do it. As long as you make the minimum repayment each month and stay within your credit limit, it will credit your account with £10 every three months for a year – so you can effectively earn £40 over the 12 months.

Need-to-knows
  • To get the £10 cashback you must make at least the monthly minimum repayments (ideally more) and stay within you credit limit each month.
  • The £10 cashback is paid within 35 days of your 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th bill.
  • If you miss a payment or go over your credit limit in one of the months, you won't get the £10 cashback for that three-month period. But you'll still get the £10 cashback in the next three-month period as long as you meet the requirements for that period.
  • If you manage your account well in the year, your APR could drop lower.
  • You'll pay 34.9% interest on any balance left over each month, so try to clear the card in full every month. If you think you'll struggle to do that, you might be better applying for its other Barclaycard Initial* card, which gives you 0% on spending for three months. Confusingly this card has the same name, but the benefit here is the 0% on spending for three months (more on how to use this card below), but you won't get the £40 cashback. You can only apply for one of them, so make sure you apply for the right card.
  • If you always pay on time and don't go over your limit, Barclaycard will review your card, and your APR could drop after a year.
  • If you already have a Barclaycard you won't be able to get this one.

How to use the 0% on spending for three months 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 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
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 credit 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.

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
Aqua

Get 0.5% cashback on all spending

Aqua Reward*

The Aqua* Reward card is a good card, designed for people with a less than stellar credit score. You'll earn 0.5% cashback on all spending - even abroad - but don't use this as an excuse for spending on the card. Only do your normal spending and always repay the card in full at the end of each month. There's no 0% period so you'll pay interest from the start.

Need-to-knows
  • Starting credit limits are low, between £200 and £1,200 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 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 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.

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.

Capital One* - 0% until April 2015, 3% fee

Get 0% spending for three months

Capital One Classic*

Do you want to rebuild your credit, or get a short respite from debts? The Capital One's Classic* card 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 - only two cards offer it. Full help on how best to use this card is below.

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.
  • 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.
  • Credit limits are low, ranging from £200 to £1,500. But this could increase in the year.
  • You must apply via the link above to get the three month deal.

How to use the 3mths 0% spending 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 examples)
  • Min income: N/A | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Accepts defaults? Yes, more likely to be accepted if they're a year old
  • Accepts CCJs? Yes, more likely to be accepted if it's over a year ago
  • Accepts bankruptcies?Yes, more likely to be accepted if they're a year old
  • Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5

More credit rebuilding credit score 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
Marbles* 24.8% -
Tesco 28.9% -
Aquis* 29.8% Aquis chances
Aqua Classic* 29.7% Aqua Classic chances
Ocean* 34.9% Ocean chances
Luma* 35.9% Luma chances
Vanquis* 39.9% Vanquis chances
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 those, then 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 'creditbuilder' prepaid card, or you can take out what is effectively an interest-free loan.

With both of these if you’ve had past credit problems it's hard to quantify how much of a positive effect using the product 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

The last resort! Buy a prepaid card - it's £65/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.

Bear in mind however that if your credit is so bad that you cannot get any of the cards above then how much this card will improve your credit score is questionable.

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.

What credit bureau 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.

Effectively an interest-free loan - but with no card

Credit Improver

An alternative to the prepaid card above is to take out one of the packages from Credit Improver*. For the cheapest package, you pay an upfront fee of £14.99 and then a monthly fee of £3.99 for 11 further months (£59 for one year). Make your payments on time and Credit Improver report your payments to Equifax, the idea being that this improves your credit score.

But 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 to waiting for a year before applying for credit. However, you cannot be rejected, so if you think the cost is worth it, it could help you improve a poor credit score.

Need-to-knows
  • Credit Improver is a credit broker that will liaise on your behalf with DDC Financial Solutions Ltd who provide the finance.
  • There are three tiers of packages - Bronze (£3.99 per month), Silver (£6.99 per month) & Gold (£9.99 per month) all of which you can take out from one to three years.
  • 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.
  • Credit Improver will also give you the money to request your credit report from two credit reference agencies, once per year.
Stats box
  • Application fee: £14.99
  • Monthly fee: £3.99/£6.99/£9.99
  • Payment: Recurring debit card payment
Key questions

How does paying £3.99 a month improve my credit history? The idea is that DDC Financial Solutions Ltd provides you with an interest-free "loan" of £58.88 (for the most basic package), which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your £3.99 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 loan option, you could wait for the year, and then the cards above should be open to you.

What's the difference between the three packages? All three packages, Bronze, Silver and Gold could help to improve your credit score. But you get a few additional benefits with the Silver and Gold package that you won’t with the Bronze. For instance you'll get more chances to see your credit report and have access to a free legal service. It’s up to you to decide how important these extra benefits are to you and if they’re worth the extra monthly fee.

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

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.