Do it right and credit cards are the cheapest way to borrow. You can get 0% for up to 23 months - yet get it wrong and you'll be stuck in debt for years.
This is a step-by-step guide, updated daily, to the cheapest credit cards for new borrowing and how to use them, saving you £1,000s.
Best buy 0% cards
Is a credit card right for you?
With recent memories of the credit crunch and recession, many people now shy away from borrowing. Lose your income and debt will leave you in a nightmare. So before choosing which card is right for you, watch out for the following...
Want to cut existing debt costs?
You don’t need this guide, which is about cards with cheap ‘purchases’ interest rates for new borrowing. Instead, please read the Cheap Balance Transfers guide.
Don’t use cards to supplement day-to-day spending
The big worry about credit cards is they allow you to borrow willy-nilly. There's no structure in place to ensure repayment. This is one of the reasons they’re the primary cause of personal debt crisis. Many people simply use their cards to supplement their income.
To correctly use a credit card, ensure all borrowing is planned, budgeted for and as cheap as possible. If you’re just grabbing it to ease the strain on your pocket, that's a mammoth danger signal. Please read the Debt Problems guide before getting yourself into trouble.
Have you budgeted and planned repayments?
Always borrow as little as you possibly can. Yet it's not just about how much, but also how quickly you can repay. The quicker you can repay, the cheaper it will be. Use the free Budget Planner to help.
Don’t borrow your way out of debt
If you’re getting a new card to help ease existing debt, it's likely you’re going to make things worse. The old adage ‘never borrow your way out of debt’ still holds true. If you're having trouble making ends meet, please read the Debt Help guide, which will take you through debt issues step by step.
Watch out, lenders bite!
Credit card companies have an array of tricks to bite your cash. If you fail to repay in full, you'll pay interest on the whole amount. Miss a payment, or pay late, and you can lose any cheap interest deals, be fined and hurt your credit score. Find out how to beat credit card tricks.
Can your credit record take the application hit?
Every time you apply for a credit card, it adds a footprint to your file for a year - and this is the case whether you're accepted or rejected. So, apply for too many cards, especially in a short space of time, and it can trigger rejections as it makes it look like you're desperate for credit.
Therefore, space out applications if you can. In fact it's almost worth thinking about applications as 'spending'. Is it really worth spending an application for a 0% card, or should you save it for something else?
So if you need a 0% card and have no other credit you need to apply for in the next six months or so, great, spend your application. But if you're just about to apply for a mortgage, wait until after you've done that. Prioritising is important.
You can read full information on how applications affect your file in our Credit Scores guide.
Is it worth getting a card?
Debt is like fire. Used well, it’s a great tool. Used badly, you’ll get burned. Unless you’re financially disciplined and doing it tactically for stoozing, it's always worth borrowing as little as you need, and where possible, using savings instead of borrowing.
The worst thing to do with a credit card is to use it to fill the gaps your income doesn’t meet each month. That will see borrowings constantly grow and can leave you in a debt spiral (see the Stop Spending guide for more).
Ensure your borrowing stays free
However, if you need to borrow for a defined purchase, then used correctly, credit cards are cheaper than loans. This may be for a football season ticket, where it works out cheaper than forking out for individual matches; you may need a new sofa as the old one's kaput; or it might be to pay for a year’s car insurance as the insurer’s interest rate for paying by the month is huge.
Done right, it's possible to borrow at no cost.
Make at LEAST the minimum repayments
Ensure you set up a direct debit for at least the minimum repayment as soon as you are accepted. Even though you're paying 0%, you still need to make repayments. If you miss one, you will lose your 0% deal, so the rate will jump and you'll get a £12 charge.
Clear the card within the 0% period
Go even one month beyond the promotional period and the rate rockets, so calculate the amount needed to clear the balance by then. For example, borrow £600 on a year’s 0% card, divide the spend by the number of months (£600 / 12) to get the monthly repayment - in this case £50 - and set up a direct debit to do that.
Diarise the end dates
It's incredibly vital you make a note of the 0% end dates (or use the Tart Alert) to make sure you pay off the debt in time, or be ready to switch to a new Best Balance Transfer deal. If you forget to switch when the deal ends, the interest cost will swiftly outweigh the card's benefit.
Pick the right type of card
To find out the best way for you to borrow, answer the questions below. They'll assess how you spend, and direct you to the relevant part of the guide.
Will you pay your card off in full EVERY month?
Select NO even if you only rarely fail to do this
The cheapest cards for new borrowing
The choice is simple. Those who can pay off in under 20 months, or are willing to tart, should go for a 0% deal. Everyone else should pick the cheapest long-term low rate. All the following deals only apply to NEW cardholders.
If your application's rejected, check your credit rating immediately. If you're accepted and the credit limit is too low, don't chuck the card as it's already on your credit file. Simply apply for a second card to use alongside it. See the Low Credit Limit guide.
Pre-apply to check eligibility with NO credit file mark
You'll see that 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 your chances of getting the card without applying.
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 allows us to check without you following a link from a specific card.
Best BuysLong 0% deals
The main aim is to find the card which will give you the longest 0% introductory deal without charging an annual fee. The 'go to' rate that cards jump to after the 0% periods are also listed. But as these cards are only for tarts/quick repayers, this shouldn't affect you.
These cards are getting more competitive, so now you may also pick based on extra perks, such as cashback or store points.
Longest (without an annual fee) and you'll get the full 0% period if accepted
Clydesdale/Yorkshire* – 20 months 0%
This card from Clydesdale* offers the longest 0% balance transfer deal with no annual fee. There is a longer 0% period - 23 months - offered, but the card has an annual fee (for more see Santander 23mths 0%). The Clydesdale card offers 20 months 0%, and if accepted you'll definitely get this long. But it doesn't offer additional spending or reward perks like the cards below.
Need to knows
Yorkshire Bank* also offers the same 20 month 0% deal, as it is part of the same banking group (National Australia Group).
Make sure you fully clear the card(s) by the end of the 20 months or you'll be charged 18.9% interest on any remaining balance.
Long 0% - though some may get fewer 0% months
Halifax* - 20 months 0%
Also without an annual fee is the Halifax* card which also offers 20 months 0% spending. But only a minimum of 51% of applicants have to get the top deal - the rest may get 16 months (worse, but still not a bad deal). There are also no spending perks on this card - fortunately other cards below only offer one month less at 0% but rewards too if that's what you want.
Need to knows
- If you already have a Halifax card you won't be able to get this one.
- Poorer credit scorers may get 16 months, instead of the market-leading 20 months.
- After the 0% period ends, you'll be charged interest at 18.9%, but poorer credit scorers may get 21.9% or 25.9%.
Will get the full 19 months if accepted, plus earn 0.5% in rewards
M&S* - 19 months 0%
If you like to shop at M&S then this M&S* card may be for you. Not only do you get a decent 19 months 0% on spending but you'll also earn M&S reward points as you spend.
Need to knows
You'll earn 1 point for every £1 spent in M&S stores, and 1 point for every £2 spent elsewhere. These points are then converted into M&S vouchers every three months.
You'll either get the full 19 month deal or you'll get rejected.
Make sure you fully clear the card by the end of the 19 months or you'll be charged 18.9% interest on any remaining balance.
- Poorer credit scorers could get a higher interest rate, up to 22.9%
Longest 0% period. Plus up to 3% cashback, but £24 annual fee
Santander 123* - 23 months 0%
The Santander 123* credit card, which was already a cashback best-buy, now also offers a whopping 23 month 0% spending period. But the card comes with an annual fee (unless you have the Santander 123 bank account), so carefully weigh up whether your planned spending would earn you enough cashback to cover this.
Need to knows
- The 123 card pays 3% cashback on fuel & rail spending (max £9/month), 2% in department stores and 1% in supermarkets. See a full review of the cashback you can earn.
- It has a £24 annual fee, though new and existing Santander 123 bank account holders get year one's fee refunded.
- After the 23 months 0% is up you'll pay 12.7% interest on spending (16.5% representative APR, including the annual fee).
- You'll either get the full 23 month deal or be rejected.
Best Buys More 0% purchase cards
|Card||0% length||Representative variable APR after||Eligibility|
|19mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|Lloyds Platinum*||19mths (3)||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card|
|Bank of Scotland*||19mths (3)||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|See all Official APR Examples (1) Reward points: 5 pts per £4 in Tesco stores/fuel. 1 pt per £4 elsewhere. (2) Reward Points: 2 pts per £1 spent in Sainsbury's stores/fuel. 1 pt per £5 elsewhere (3) Poorer credit scorers could get 16 months.|
Need a longer 0% period?
If you want longer at 0% than the 23 months on offer, there is a way to do it, but it's not with a purchases card. You need a whole different type of card.
Spending on a money transfer card allows you to transfer money from the credit card into your current account (usually for a fee of around 4%). You spend the cash and owe the new card.
You get longer at 0% (the top card has 36 mths 0%), but you pay a fee, and you don't get section 75 protection for the purchase. Consider if this is better for you than the cards in this guide.
Read the money transfers guide for a full how-to, plus a list of which cards allow it (most don't, or at least not at a cheap rate).
Best Buys0% Purchase Cards for poor credit
If you've a history of poor credit, then the cards above aren't likely to be open to you (use the eligibility checker first to check). This card offers 0% on spending for a few months.
0% spending for 3mths, good for rebuilding credit
Barclaycard Initial* - 3 months 0%
If you've got payday loans or you're teetering on the brink of an unauthorised overdraft, Barclaycard Initial* gives a respite - but remember it is only a respite - from these more expensive debts. And, used right, it could help rebuild your credit.
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 need to be super-organised and repay the card in FULL BEFORE the 0% ends. If you don't clear the card before the three-month 0% interest period ends and you'll be charged a hefty 34.9% representative APR on any balance left.
- If you pay on time & don't bust your credit limit, Barclaycard will review your APR and credit limit once you've held this card for a year.
- If you already have a Barclaycard you won't be able to get this one.
- Promo rate: 0% for 3 months
- Representative APR: 34.9% variable
- 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
- Required income: £3,000
- Rate example: Official APR example
What's the best way to use this card?
If you already have debt problems, beware of borrowing more, especially where the go-to APR is 34.9%. This card's a good short-term emergency tool if you're organised but you're facing repeated bank charges or are considering payday loans. But, budget to ensure you clear the card before the 0% ends.
How do I use this card as a respite from other debts?
Do normal spending on this card rather than from your bank account (don't overspend, make sure you do a budget). Then use the money that builds up in there to pay off expensive overdrafts or repay payday lenders. However, still aim to clear the Barclaycard within six months, or you'll end with pricey debt on it instead.
I've had past credit problems. Can I get this card?
It's aimed at borrowers who've had credit issues in the past, including defaults on debts or CCJs. Defaults must be more than a year old, and as long as your CCJ's been settled & you don't have more than one outstanding in the past six years, you're likely to be accepted.
I don't have other debts. Can I still use this card?
Just because it's got a 0% offer doesn’t mean you need to use it. If you’re just looking to rebuild your credit, repay it in full each month anyway.
Beware balance transfers
There's a devious trick some cards play if you have a 0% for purchases deal. Often they also allow you to shift debts to the card, but this can be at a higher interest rate.
Repayments must go towards the most expensive debts first, under rules introduced in 2011. But as you're unlikely to be able to repay in full, you'll still get charged interest.
So if you need to transfer debts, it's best to use a separate card instead. See the Best Balance Transfers guide.
Best Buys Cheapest long-term low rate deals
Here, the aim is to get a card where the low rate is for the long term, not just an introductory offer. While it's not 0%, it does mean that you don't have to remember to shift from card to card, and know you've got a deal for the long term.
Cheapest long-term, low-rate card
The top card offering a long-term low rate is the Lloyds* Platinum card, which gives 6.4% representative APR on all spending. Technically, the rate is variable but regulations mean that Lloyds can't hike the rate in the first year, and if it tries after that, you can just pay the card off at the same rate, provided you don't spend more.
Need to knows
- Not everyone will get the low 6.4% APR. Some will get higher APRs of either 10.9% or 14.9%.
- You must at least make the monthly minimum repayments or you could lose the low rate.
- You'll also get the same rate on debts shifted to the card. There is no fee to do a balance transfer in the first 90 days (3% fee after).
- If you already have a Lloyds card you won't be able to get this one.
Slightly costlier, but good alternative if you can't get the Lloyds card
Second best is the MBNA* card which gives 6.6% representative APR on all your spending. The rate is only slightly more than Lloyds, so is a good alternative if you can't get that card. Like the Lloyds card, the rate is variable, so it could rise in time, but regulations mean it can't in the first year.
Need to knows
- Slightly poorer credit scorers will be given higher rates of 8.9% or 11.9%.
- You must make at least the monthly minimum repayments or you could lose the low rate.
- You'll also get the same rate on debts shifted to the card with no fee, though if you need this it may be better to look at the Best Balance Transfer cards.
Can these cards be used for balance transfers too?
On these cards, often - but not always - the rate applies to debt that is shifted to the card. If that's the case, and you're looking for long-term cheap debt, it's likely to be reasonably competitive and there's nothing wrong with doing it. Though always compare with the Best Balance Transfers first.
Yet don't assume the rate automatically applies for all transactions. For example, the Sainsbury's low rate card charges a big 24.93% rate for cash withdrawals. So never, ever, ever use it - or any credit card for that matter - for withdrawing cash.
Worried about being rejected?
The cards listed above are the market's top deals. Some of them require a good credit score. If you're worried about this, then use the eligibility checker before you apply. If it shows that you aren't likely to get these cards if you apply, then you can take steps to improve your credit.
Check your credit score for free
Understanding why you may be rejected is crucial for picking the right card. So first use the Free Credit Check guide for a full explanation and how to do it.
If you've only limited/minor issues
Some of the cards above should still be accessible to you, especially those that rate for risk (they give some poorer credit scorers fewer months).
However, if all score low on the eligibility checker, then see if any credit cards for poorer credit are suitable. But beware, deals don't tend to be as good for poorer credit scorers.
Should you tart? Keep your debt at 0%
While disloyalty is frowned upon in relationships, it's lauded for consumers. Credit card tarts shift debt from 0% deal to 0% deal to ensure the minimum possible cost for their debts. This is the cheapest way to use credit cards, but it takes discipline and a good credit score.
How to tart
If you're a new tart, the process is pretty simple.
Get a 0% purchases card
This is a card that you can spend on, and all the spending will be at 0% for a set period. See the longest 0% deals below.
Ensure you make the repayments
All "0% interest" means is there is no cost to the borrowing; it still needs to be repaid. Ensure you make at least the minimum repayments to avoid being fined, or worse, having the 0% deal withdrawn, meaning you need to pay the expensive standard rate.
Move or repay the debt BEFORE the 0% period ends
At the end of the 0% period the rate will jump to the standard APR, which will usually be around 20%. At this point you either need to have the card cleared, or shift it to a new card with a 0% balance transfer deal. If you still haven't repaid the debt when that deal closes, shift it again.
To tart or not to tart?
Tarting is without doubt the cheapest method, but it takes active management and you need to stay on top of it. If not, there's a big warning...
Unless you shift the debt before the 0% period ends, it only takes a couple of months before all the gain is lost.
The other thing it's important to understand is that to tart, you're going to need a good credit history. So it's important to check your credit rating, which can be done for free before you start. Plus the nature of repeated applications can have an impact on your score.
So if you're going to take well over a year to repay and aren't good with money, or have a poor credit score, then it's best to stick with the best long term low rate deal instead.
The size of the saving
If you spent £400 each month and repaid £150 each month on an AA Visa card at 17.9%, you'd pay £310 interest in year one. On the Tesco card, you'd pay nothing in the first year (as it's 0% for 19mths), and with the MBNA card you'd pay £115.
After three years, the AA card charges a massive £2,810 in interest, while the Tesco card charges £1,960 – it’s high because the rate jumps to 18.9% after the 0% period ends.
But it's after three years that the MBNA card comes into its own. Yes, there's no 0% period, but it also charges the least in interest (£970) of the three cards.
That said, a good credit card tart taking advantage of 0% deals would pay nothing in interest (though would need to pay at least £31 in balance transfer fees to keep the debt at 0%). This is the best way to keep interest costs down.
|Credit card interest
£400 spending/month, repaying £150 per month (1)
|Interest cost after...|
|1 year||2 years||3 years|
|AA Visa card||17.9%||£310||£1,210||£2,810|
|Tesco||19 mths 0% then 18.9%||£0||£420||£1,960|
|Credit card tarting (2)||0% (rotating cards)||£0||£0||£0|
|(1) For ease of comparison, ignores minimum payments rules and credit limits.
(2) Needs a good credit score.