Do it right and credit cards are the cheapest way to borrow. You can get 0% for up to 27 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.
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.
However, don’t almost clear your card in full - clear it IN FULL if you can. For example, if you've £1,000 debt from spending on a credit card and pay off £999, the fact it’s not cleared IN FULL means you pay a month’s interest on the whole amount.
So if you can nearly clear your card, do what you can to totally clear it (even if it's a 0% spending card it's a good habit to get into).
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 27 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.
Longest 0% and you get Nectar points on spending
Sainsbury's Nectar* - 27 months 0% (18.9% rep APR after)
Sainsbury's* has upped the length on its 0% spending card (from 25 months), meaning you can now get a massive 27 months interest-free on new purchases, the joint-longest offer we've seen. You'll also earn Nectar points on all spending.
- New customers applying by 27 September 2016 will get 5,000 bonus Nectar points if they spend £800 in Sainsbury's in the first three months - but don't use this as an excuse to spend more than you normally would.
- You get 2 points per £1 spent on Sainsbury's shopping and fuel, and 1 point per £5 spent elsewhere.
- Make sure you fully clear the card(s) by the end of the 27 months or you'll be charged 18.9% interest on any remaining balance. Poorer credit scorers may get 21.9% or 28.9%.
- You'll either get the full 27-month deal or you'll get rejected.
Joint longest 0% spending card
Post Office* - 27 months 0% (18.9% rep APR after)
This Post Office* card offers the same 0% period as the Sainsbury's card above, though you have to make at least one purchase in the first three months. If you don't, you'll only get the 0% deal for the first 16 months, which won't make it a good deal - so bear that in mind when you're picking a card.
Some of you have told us that when you apply it looks like there's a 0% period of just 16 months on spending but we've confirmed with the Post Office that as long as you make a purchase in the first three months, you'll get the full 27 months 0%.
- You'll either get the full 27 month deal or you'll get rejected.
- Make sure you fully clear the card by the end of the 0% period 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%.
Second longest 0% spending card
Clydesdale/Yorkshire* - 26 months 0% (18.9% rep APR after)
This card from Clydesdale Bank* offers 26 months 0% on spending, just one month less than the market-leading cards. It's a good option if you can't get the Sainsbury's of Post Office cards, as it still gives you a long time at 0% to pay off your purchases. Use the eligibility calculator to find out which you've best chance of getting.
- You'll either get the full 26 months 0% or be rejected - Clydesdale isn't one of the lenders which accepts you for the card, and gives you a different 0% offer.
- Make sure you fully clear the card by the end of the 0% period or you'll be charged 18.9% interest on any remaining balance.
- Clydesdale's sister Yorkshire Bank* (eligibility calculator) also offers the same 26 month 0% deal.
Joint second longest 0% spending card
The AA* - 26 months 0% (18.9% rep APR after)
The AA* Dual Credit Card offers the same 26 months 0% on spending as the Clydesdale card above so is a good option if the eligibility calculator tells you you can't get that one. You can also do a balance transfer with this card but it has a high fee so look at other options first.
- If you're accepted, you'll definitely get the full 26 months 0%.
- Make sure you fully clear the card by the end of the 26 months or you'll be charged 18.9% interest on any remaining balance.
- After the 0% period ends, you'll be charged interest at 18.9%, but poorer credit scorers may get 22.9%.
Best Buys Other long 0% purchase cards
|Card||0% length||Representative variable APR after||Eligibility|
|Barclaycard*||25mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|Virgin Money*||24mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card|
|Halifax*||24mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|Lloyds*||24mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|Sainsbury's*||24mths||18.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|Tesco Bank*||21mths||18.9%||Eligibility check not available.|
|Amex*||21mths||22.9%||You can use our eligibility calculator for this card.|
|See all Official APR Examples (1) Poorer credit scorers could get fewer months.|
Need a longer 0% period?
If you want longer at 0% than the 27 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 - though you need to pay a fee for this. You spend the cash and owe the new card.
You get longer at 0% (the top card has 40 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 Buys 0% 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 four months, plus rebuild your credit
This card from Aqua* can help you rebuild your credit if you have a poor history, including some with past CCJs or defaults, and unlike some of the other cards designed for this has four months 0% on spending, which can give you a respite from other debts.
Plus, our eligibility calculator can now tell you if you're pre-approved for this card.
- 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 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
Yet the 0% spending offer on this card can be used to give you respite and save you money on costly debts like payday loans or bank charges for going beyond your overdraft. Here's how...
Step 1: Do normal spending on this card up to the credit limit. As you’re using it instead of cash from your bank account your income should build up there.
Step 2: Use the money built up in your bank account to reduce your overdraft or repay lenders.
Step 3: Effectively you’ve now got the debt on the card instead of the bank charges or payday loans.
Step 4: You’ve now got four months without any interest accruing in which to reduce your overall debt – though you do need to still pay the minimum monthly repayments. Do ensure you do a budget to work out how to do it.
Step 5: At the end of the six months the rate jumps to 34.9% APR so you want to ensure there is no debt on it by then - though in the worst case scenario it is still likely cheaper than payday loans or overdrafts.
- 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
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 the new pre-approval? Aqua has now provided info so we can tell many people they've a 100% chance of getting that 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.
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 every few months, and know you've got a deal for the long term.
New. Low interest rate for five years, good loan alternative
MBNA* 5 – 4.9% interest for 60 months, 0.5% balance transfer fee
The MBNA 5* credit card offers a low interest rate of 4.9% for five years on purchases made within 60 days of getting the card. If you've a big purchase to make, it's a good alternative to a loan as the APR beats the best buys up to around £5,000 – just make sure you budget to pay it off by the end of the 60 months.
- You must make purchases within the first 60 days to get the low 4.9% rate.
- After your low rate ends, you'll pay 8.9% interest a year on any debt leftover.
- Some poorer credit scorers getting this card may be given initial interest rates of 8.9%, jumping to 10.9% at the 60 months' end.
- This card also offers balance transfers and money transfers at 4.9% interest for five years, with a 0.5% fee.
Joint cheapest long-term, low-rate card
Lloyds Platinum* - 6.4% rep APR, no fee
The Lloyds* Platinum card 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.
- 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.
- Halifax* (eligibility calculator), also part of the Lloyds Banking Group, offers the same deal on its low rate credit card.
Joint cheapest low-rate card
The AA* 6.4% interest, no balance transfer fee
The next low-rate, long-term card is the AA* card, which has the same 6.4% representative APR on all spending as the cards above. It also offers the same low rate on balance transfers, with no fee.
- The AA can increase the rate after a year. But you can reject this rate hike.
- Poorer credit scorers may be given higher rates of 10.4% or 14.9% APR.
- Balance transfers can't come from Bank of Ireland, Post Office or other AA cards.
- You can transfer your balance at any time, there won't be a fee to transfer.
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 Nectar card charges a big 28.95% rate for cash withdrawals. So never, ever, ever use it - or any credit card for that matter - for withdrawing cash.
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 & cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.
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 a standard 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 21mths), and with the Lloyds card you'd pay £113.
After three years, the standard card charges a massive £2,810 in interest, while the Tesco card charges £1,770 – it’s high because the rate jumps to 18.9% after the 0% period ends.
But it's after three years that the Lloyds card comes into its own. Yes, there's no 0% period, but it also charges the least in interest (£952) 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 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||21 mths 0% then 18.9%||£0||£260||£1,770|
|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.