Credit cards for bad credit
Top cards for rebuilding your credit score
If you've a poor credit history, using a credit card to show you can repay on time each month can help rebuild your creditworthiness. Our guide has full info on how to best manage a credit card, plus our Credit Card Eligibility Calculator will show your chances of acceptance before applying, reducing the risk of a failed application.
What is a credit card for bad credit?
Every adult has a credit history, which is a record of how well you've managed credit (eg loans, store cards or credit cards) in the past. Other lenders then use this record when you apply to see if you're a good risk to lend to.
Yet if you've made a few mistakes in the past, such as paying late, or missing payments (or even past bankruptcies, defaults and CCJs) then you could appear too high a risk, meaning lenders may not accept you for further credit.
However all is not lost as there are special credit cards that are more likely to accept you, even if you've had past problems. If you've a poor credit history, getting one of these cards could be a financial lifeline as – used correctly – it can help heal your creditworthiness by showing you (now) have the ability to repay reliably and on time.
Golden rules to rebuild credit
Follow these golden rules and it should lead to an improvement in your credit record. You can track changes through free tools, though you'll need patience as it can take several months to see a positive change – but it's worth the perseverance.
Instead of using cash or a debit card for spending you'd already planned to make, start using the credit card. Ideally you should limit this to less than 30% of your credit limit (the maximum amount you can spend on the card at one time) as this shows you're not reliant on the borrowing.
The balance in your current account will appear to be higher, though remember you'll need this to repay the credit card at the end of the month. As you spend on the card, try moving that amount from your bank account to an instant access savings account, which you can then transfer back before your credit card bill is due.
NEVER withdraw cash
Don't be tempted to use a credit card at an ATM for cash. It's not only expensive (often a fee for each withdrawal plus expensive ongoing interest) but repeated cash withdrawals are a red flag to lenders - they can make you look desperate for credit - so can harm your creditworthiness.
Most cards don't charge interest on spending (though not cash withdrawals, which usually attract interest from day one) if you pay the money back in full and on time by the statement due date, so this is the absolute best way if you're able to.
Otherwise you'll be charged interest on your full balance (look out for the APR displayed for each card – the higher the number, the more expensive it will be).
However, there's a catch to watch out for. Some card firms could give you a higher interest rate than the one it uses to advertise the card, as only 51% of people accepted need to get this advertised APR.
So just because a card says it has a 34.9% representative APR, it 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.
If you can't repay in full, the minimum repayment is the lowest amount you must repay each month, on or before your statement due date. This is crucial, or you'll likely get both a £10ish late fee and a negative missed payment marker on your credit report (this will damage your chances of getting credit in future).
To ensure you don't miss a payment, set up a monthly direct debit to automatically pay off the minimum amount (or a higher/the full amount if you can). If you know you won't be able to pay, contact your provider immediately and work with it to agree a different repayment plan.
How to find YOUR top card to rebuild your credit history
There is no one single top-pick card that can help you rebuild credit as, used correctly, any credit card can boost your rating and for free, if it's repaid in full each month.
- If you've already got a credit card, use that instead of getting another.
Prevent another credit check and follow the steps above to manage your existing credit card, which should have the same impact as a new card.
If you've reached the limit and can't use it for further spending, always ensure you're paying at least the minimum repayment and try to pay off as much as you can, whenever you're able. See our Persistent Debt Help guide for full help including how to shift existing debt to 0% to clear it quicker and where to find free one-on-one debt help.
- If you need to apply for a new card, read on.
Which card to go for will be determined by which will accept you – we've steps below to find your top card, plus help if you can't get any. Before you start, always check your credit reports for any errors as this could be incorrectly damaging your rating (and may impact which cards you can get). See Check your reports for free for full help.
Usually, applying is the only way to know if you'll be accepted for a credit card. Yet that leaves a 'hard search' on your credit report, and too many of these in a short space of time can affect your ability to get future credit.
To help, our free tool uses a 'soft search' to find your chances of acceptance before applying – and this soft search won't affect your ability to get credit in future. Try it, or read on for a quick how-to and our top tips to find the right card.
a) Enter your details to see your chances of acceptance for 15+ cards
Always answer honestly and check every detail carefully as lenders compare the information you enter to details on your credit report. If you were then to go on to apply, any mismatch could lead to an application being delayed or even declined, so always double check. And then check again!
b) Look for the card with the highest acceptance chance
The best bet is to generally go for the one with the highest acceptance score, as this has the lowest risk of a failed application. Look for these boxes next to the cards in your results...
c) Eligible for more than one card? If you see a high acceptance chance for lots of cards, here's some extra things to look for:
- If you've expensive debts elsewhere look for cards with a short 0% period as you can use this to save money on other costly debts.
- Try other categories in the eligibility calculator as you may qualify for other cards, including some that give rewards or a longer 0% period. See Different types of credit cards explained for full help.
d) If you identify a suitable card, hit 'apply' to be taken to the card provider's site to complete an application. The card provider may ask you to enter your details again, but this time it's part of its official application, so will appear on your credit report. Therefore always double check the information you've entered is correct, before submitting.
You'll usually receive an automated decision within a few minutes, though some applications may need longer to be reviewed. If you're accepted you'll receive the card in the post, often in a few days. If you find you've been declined, we've full help in step 3.
We've added our top-pick cards below, which includes cards that are – sadly – not in our eligibility calculator. So if you've been unable to find a card you're eligible for in our tool, or for wider choice, look out for cards with just an apply link. For these, we link to each card's own eligibility checker (as, like ours, these use a soft search which won't affect your creditworthiness).
Sadly there's no such thing as guaranteed approval of credit cards. So, if you've tried the steps above and not found a card you're eligible for, it's likely your credit rating won't permit you to get any card.
Important. If you've been declined for a card, don't keep on applying for more.
Apply for too many cards and receive multiple rejections in a short period and you could shoot your credit rating in the foot for years. So for safety, you've now got two options:
- Wait until your bad credit history is less recent. Then try again (see step four for how to track changes to your credit rating) and/or
- Try the 'credit-builder' product below. It's hard to quantify how much of a positive effect using this will have in comparison to waiting a year before applying for credit. However, this option is fee-free (if you open a free account at the end, if not it's £30) and essentially gets you into a good savings habit, so could be worth a try.
Build your savings pot and your credit history – if you can commit to saving between £20-£200/mth for one year.
Hopefully one of the steps above is working for you, and you're on the way to healing your credit history. The best way to keep track of this is to regularly check your credit reports.
There are three credit reference agencies which hold your credit reports – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit). It's best to check all three reports, because lenders may check one, two or all three when you apply for credit.
- Experian – use MSE Credit Club, which offers free access to your Experian credit report and score.
- Equifax – use Clearscore*, which provides free Equifax scores and reports.
- TransUnion – use Credit Karma, which gives you free access to your TransUnion report and score.
While your credit score is a good general indicator of how well you're doing, it's not the be all and end all, as it doesn't take in to account other things lenders will know about you when you apply for credit, such as your application data.
So, by all means monitor your credit score as it's a decent way to easily keep track, but don't assume that once your credit score's "excellent" that you'll get accepted for any and all credit - that's just not how it works.
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 are in our Top Cashback Sites guide.
If you're struggling to pay off debt on an existing credit card due to coronavirus, lenders should provide support. Yet the blanket payment holiday help that used to be available has ended.
So if you're struggling to pay your credit card debt now, or you're coming off an agreed payment holiday, lenders are now supposed to provide 'tailored support'. Under this, you could be offered a (further) payment holiday or a period of reduced payments, reduced interest or a repayment plan – lenders should take into account how much you can afford and how your finances are likely to change in the near future.
Providers are expected to report any support they give you to credit reference agencies, which could affect your future creditworthiness. Yet don't let that put you off from contacting your provider – missing payments or defaulting is likely to have a far worse impact.
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