Credit cards for bad credit

Top cards for rebuilding your credit score

credit cards for people with bad credit

Applied for a credit card and been rejected? FREEZE! Assess why you've been knocked back, then 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.

The eight golden rules

Before you get one of these bad credit credit cards, there are a few things you need to know. Get this wrong and it can cost you large, so please read the following (even if you only have time to read and remember the headlines, it should help protect your pocket).

  • 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. This is the dreaded rejection spiral!

    Here's how it works...

    • You apply for a new credit card and get rejected. This could be for a number of reasons: a bank error, incorrect info on your credit file, or you've applied for a card intended for those with an 'excellent' score when you only have a 'good' score. Sadly, many lenders don't publish their criteria before you apply.

    • You apply elsewhere, and get rejected again, which hurts your future credit chances. As well as the reason you were rejected in the first instance, you now have an extra search on your credit file, which counts further against you when banks make their decision. You'll now have TWO recent searches on your file, and NO new cards. If you were unable to get credit before, it may be impossible for a while.

      Multiple rejected applications can mess up your score for up to a year as more applications mean more searches, which compounds the problem. If you haven't applied for a while, or have applied once and been knocked back, you should first check your credit reports, or see below to check your eligibility for these (and other) cards.

    Quick Question

    • Banks radically changed the way they decide to lend money after the 2007 financial crisis and the recession that followed. Essentially, they now want to take fewer risks with their cash – meaning if you used to get credit cards fairly easily, you may now struggle.

      Yet whether you're 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, join MSE's revolutionary Credit Club, or read our 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, 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, it's possible you simply don't fit one particular card company's customer profile.

  • The only way to know if you'll be accepted is to apply, yet each application marks your credit file. But our Eligibility Calculator shows the odds of you getting almost every card in this guide, so you can find the ones most likely to accept you, minimising applications.

    Once you've filled in the form, it's also worth checking the other tabs to see if there are any "good" credit cards that will accept you before heading for one of these credit-rebuild cards.

    Quick Questions

    • It uses a 'soft search', which is one you will see on your credit file but lenders usually don't (and where they do, they can't use the info), to give us an indication of your credit score. We then match this against lenders' criteria for acceptance so we can show the odds of you getting each card.

      Once you have this knowledge, it will allow you to make a smarter application. For example, say you have a much better chance of getting a card that's just one month shorter at 0%, you may want to go for that. Therefore, you're less likely to be rejected and less likely to need to apply elsewhere, which would add another mark on your credit file.

  • The MSE Credit Club is a game-changer. For years the credit market has been shrouded in mystery, but our revolutionary tool brings together the key components to give you the full picture, and crucially, what it means for your acceptance chances and how to boost your creditworthiness.

    A credit score alone isn't enough to borrow, as there are other factors at play (it's why many with perfect scores still get rejected). Our Credit Club shows you...

    1. Free Experian Credit Report – your credit accounts and how you've managed them.
    2. Free Experian Credit Score – how lenders rate your past credit behaviour.
    3. MSE Affordability Score – how lenders assess if you can afford a product.
    4. Your Credit Hit Rate – 
    how likely you actually are to be accepted when you apply.
    5. Credit Card & Loan Eligibility Calcs 
    – what your odds are of getting specific top deals.
    6. How to improve your credit profile – we show where your profile's strong and weak, and how to improve it.

  • If you're building or rebuilding a credit history, this is one of the most important things you can do. Paying on time and meeting all your commitments is likely to improve your credit score, as it shows you can be trusted to repay so lenders are more likely to give you credit in future. So, every month you must pay at least the minimum monthly amount.

    If not, you can lose any promotional offer (eg, a 0% rate) and the credit card provider will report your missed payment to the credit reference agencies. You'll also be hit with a £12 fee for late payment each time it happens.

    As the interest on these cards tends to be hefty, try and repay IN FULL each month so you're not stung with high charges.

    Quick Questions

    • Your aim should be to pay more than the minimum – unless you've pricier debts elsewhere, in which case focus max repayments on them. Minimum payments are designed to make debts last as long as possible, which you should try to avoid – see tips to beat this in Danger: Minimum Repayments.

  • 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 allow you to reduce the interest you pay on outstanding debts without applying for new cards – read the full credit card shuffle for more.

    After you've done it, you could have 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 from this guide.

    Quick Questions

    • If you need to spend on a card, it's best to get a 0% credit card for purchases. There are a couple in this guide which accept people with a history of poor credit management, or a short credit history. But you'll only get a maximum of six months at 0%, so use the time as a respite only, and budget to pay the card off at the end of the 0% period.

  • It can be tempting to use these cards to get cash advances when you're short of ready money. Though know that repeated cash withdrawals on a credit card are a red flag to lenders. It's expensive to do, so credit card providers assume that anyone withdrawing lots on other cards are desperate for cash, so they're less likely to lend.

    On top of that, you'll pay a cash withdrawal fee, and interest from the moment you take the cash out until it's paid off, often at a higher rate than on spending.

    Quick Questions

    • Unlike purchases, you normally don't get any interest-free period on cash withdrawals – even if you pay your balance off in full on your next statement date. You usually pay interest from the date of making the cash withdrawal until it's paid off.

      This means you'll most probably see an interest charge on the first statement after the cash withdrawal, which is the interest charged from the date you made the cash withdrawal until the date the statement was issued.

      However, you may also see interest charged on the following statement. There'll be a delay between your statement being drawn up and you paying it. It may be a couple of days, it may be a couple of weeks, but you'll be charged interest on the cash withdrawal until you pay it off.

    • Withdrawing cash on your credit card isn't usually a good idea. Each time you do it, it's noted on your credit record – and lenders may see it as a sign that you can't manage your finances.

      They often think you've withdrawn cash that way because you had no choice, as you were in financial dire straits because your bank account was empty.

      That said, withdrawing cash on your credit card isn't the end for your credit score. If all other accounts are up to date, and you're not maxed out on your cards, then – in isolation – credit card cash withdrawals aren't likely to tip the scales of future credit applications. But if you don't need to withdraw cash on your credit cards, it's best not to take the risk.

      For more on this, read our mini-guide to withdrawing cash on a credit card (it also covers overseas withdrawals) and how it affects your credit record.

  • There's a catch to watch out for. Some card firms give those with lesser credit histories a higher APR on the card than the one advertised in big letters. Sadly, the law only requires that 51% of people accepted for the card get the 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.

    Quick Questions

    • Sadly, the only way to know what APR you'll get is to actually apply for the card (unless our Eligibility Calculator shows you're pre-approved, in which case you'll get the exact deal advertised).

      For other cards, it seems anecdotally that the higher you score in our eligibility calculator (which doesn't affect your credit score), the more chance you have of getting the headline APR deal – though this isn't a hard and fast rule.

    • Lenders tell us they do this based on risk, so if you've a credit score that only just meets a card provider's minimum criteria, it's likely you'll be accepted for the card, but given a higher APR.

  • If all your 'perfect matches' come with sky-high interest rates, 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 our Debt Problems guide.

Top cards to rebuild your credit score

Here are the best cards to help you rebuild your credit.

Get a £20 Amazon voucher and three months 0%

This card from Amazon is a good option for poorer credit scorers. It offers new customers a £20 Amazon voucher and a three-month 0% spending period which can be used to give a respite from existing debts.

  • We would caution anyone with past credit problems against new borrowing. Yet the 0% spending offer on this card can be used to give you respite and save you money on costly debts, such as 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 three 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 three months the rate jumps to 29.9% 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.

Representative APR (variable): 29.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Minimum income: N/A
Important: Repay in full before the end of the 0% period to avoid interest, then pay off IN FULL every month. But don't miss a payment or bust your credit limit, as you'll be charged a fee and get a mark on your credit file.
Minimum repayment: Greater of 1% of balance plus interest, or £5.

Go straight to the lender

APPLY

Get 0.5% cashback on all spending while rebuilding your credit

The Aqua Reward card is a good all-rounder for those with a less-than-stellar credit history. You get 0.5% cashback (max £100/yr) on all spending, but make sure you only do your normal spending on it and always repay IN FULL to avoid nasty interest charges. It also offers fee-free spending abroad, so is a good option to take overseas – though you'll pay a charge for withdrawing cash, so don't use the card for that.

Representative APR (variable): 34.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Minimum income: N/A
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest, and don't miss a payment or bust your credit limit as you'll be charged a fee and get a mark on your credit file
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

  • Credit limits are low: between £250 and £1,200 to start with.

  • Interest's charged at 34.9% APR. Some people accepted for the card may get even higher APRs of 44.9%, 49.9%, 54.9% or 59.9%.

  • The cashback rate isn't the highest available, but the card's a lot easier to get than other cashback cards.

  • 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.

  • Aqua has provided us with info so we can tell many people that they've a 100% chance of getting this exact deal (subject to passing its ID and fraud check). There's no impact on your credit score, though of course if you then apply, that marks your file.

Go straight to the lender

Apply

Four months 0% while rebuilding your credit

The Capital One Classic Complete* is a good option for poorer credit scorers. It offers new customers a four-month 0% spending period which can be used to give a respite from existing debts (see below).

  • We would caution anyone with past credit problems against new borrowing. Yet the 0% spending offer on this card can be used to give you respite and save you money on costly debts, such as 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 four 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.

Representative APR (variable): 34.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Minimum income: N/A
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest, and don't miss a payment or bust your credit limit as you'll be charged a fee and get a mark on your credit file
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 a year old or more
Minimum repayment: Greater of 3% of balance plus interest or £5

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

More credit-rebuilding cards

If you didn't find a card above to suit you, here are quick details of the next-best cards – though as always make sure you read the golden rules above, and pay off IN FULL every month (when there's no 0% period) to avoid nasty interest charges.

CARD REPRESENTATIVE VARIABLE APR ELIGIBILITY CALCULATOR
Barclaycard Forward* + 3mths 0% 34.9% Barclaycard chances
Chrome* 24.7% Chrome chances
Tandem Journey* 24.9% Tandem chances
Tesco Foundation* 27.5% Tesco chances
Chrome* 29.3% Chrome chances
Marbles* 29.7% Marbles chances
Aqua Classic* 29.7%  Aqua chances 
Aquis* 29.8% Aquis chances
Capital One Platinum* 29.8% Capital One chances
Aqua Advance 34.9% -
Capital One Classic* 34.9% Capital One chances
Ocean* 34.9% Ocean chances
Think Money 39.9% -
Vanquis Classic* 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 them, 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 'credit-builder' prepaid card, or you can take out what is effectively an interest-free loan.

With the products below, if you've had past credit problems it's hard to quantify how much of a positive effect using them 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.

Save from £20/mth and build your credit history

If you can afford to save at least £20 a month and have a patchy (or non-existent) credit history, Loqbox* could be for you – though the concept's tricky.

You choose an amount you can afford to save, from £20-£200 a month. When you sign up, you get a loan for 12 months' worth of your chosen amount which buys a Loqbox – a sort of digital voucher – upfront. You then 'repay' your chosen amount each month. In actual fact, your cash builds up in a ring-fenced Lloyds savings account, and you get it all back at the end of the 12 months – though you don't earn any interest.

As you're effectively repaying a loan, your monthly payments are reported to all three credit reference agencies, which Loqbox says should help build your history. You can also get your savings back whenever you want penalty-free by 'unlocking' your Loqbox.

At the end of the 12 months – or before if you choose to unlock earlier – you'll be given the option of opening a new account, eg, a savings account or ISA, with one of Loqbox's partners (or if you're not eligible for any of them, you can just get your money back).

Application fee: None
Monthly fee: None – but you must repay £20-£200/mth
Payment: Monthly direct debit
Important: Never miss a monthly payment. Doing this would leave you in a worse position than not getting the package and doing nothing. If you can't afford to continue saving, you can cancel your agreement and get your money back.

  • The idea is that DDC Financial Solutions Ltd provides you with an interest-free loan, which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your monthly savings then go toward paying off that loan, and each month your credit record will show that. So at the end of the year, you'll have a fully repaid loan and hopefully an improved credit score, and then you get all the money you've saved back.

    We asked the three credit reference agencies that your monthly payments are reported to, and while they wouldn't comment on individual products, Experian told us that in the medium to long term taking out and successfully repaying a loan should have a positive impact, especially if you've little or poor credit history.

    Be aware that in the short term, your credit score could fall as you have a new account with an outstanding balance. For more, see our Credit Scores guide.

  • If you can afford to save at least £20/mth for a year, it's a good way to try to improve your credit by having 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.

  • Your payments will be reported to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit).

  • No credit check is needed, but your identity will be checked.

  • Loqbox is a credit broker that will liaise on your behalf with DDC Financial Solutions Ltd, which provides the finance.

Go straight to the lender

APPLY*

Pay £70 to be reported as a good payer

Make no bones about it – for your £70, the main thing you get is Credit Improver* telling all three credit agencies you've met repayments on time to help your score. So it certainly isn't for everyone. For the 'Lite' offering, you pay a £14.99 upfront fee and then £4.99 monthly for 11 months (£69.88 for one year).

However, 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 with waiting for a year before applying for credit.

Credit Improver also offers a more expensive product for a £14.99 upfront fee and then £9.99 monthly (£124.88 for one year) which you can take out from one to three years. This may be more effective as it's a larger amount, and it also comes with the promise of your money back if your credit score doesn't improve, but there are really stringent conditions conditions attached – though they're designed to improve your credit score anyway.

Application fee: £14.99
Monthly fee: £4.99/£9.99
Payment: Recurring debit card payment
Important: Never miss a monthly payment. Doing this would leave you in a worse position than not getting the package and doing nothing.

  • The idea is that DDC Financial Solutions Ltd provides you with an interest-free 'loan', which'll show up on your credit record as a loan at the beginning of the year. Your monthly payments then go toward paying off that loan, and each month your credit record will show that. So at the end of the year, you'll have a fully repaid loan, and hopefully an improved credit score.

  • 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.

    But there is an alternative. The further in the past your credit problems are, the better the options available to you. Instead of getting this expensive loan option, you could wait for the year, and then the cards above should be open to you.

  • Either package could help improve your credit score, though you get the benefit of a guaranteed score improvement with the non-Lite product so long as you follow Credit Improver's stringent criteria.

  • Your payments will be reported to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit).

  • Credit Improver is a credit broker that will liaise on your behalf with DDC Financial Solutions Ltd, which provides the finance.

  • No credit check is needed, but your identity will be checked.

Go straight to the lender

APPLY*

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.

Credit cards for bad credit Q&A

  • Getting one of these cards could be helpful, but it will depend on how you use it. A few of these cards do offer 0% or cheap-interest periods, which can be used as a respite from paying interest and give you a chance to sort out or transfer other expensive debts.

    But you'll need to be disciplined to also pay off these cards before the 0% ends. If you don't manage to, you'll end up paying interest at 25% APR or more on these cards, which may just exacerbate your debt problems.

    If your odds of getting one of these cards are low, it's likely you need to look at more serious ways to cut costs and sort out your debts. See our Money Makeover guide for how to cut costs on everyday expenses, or Debt Help for where to find help and advice.

  • While it's not an exact science, there are a number of specific things you can do as good practice to improve your credit score and lenders' attitudes towards you. For an even more comprehensive list, join MSE's revolutionary Credit Club, or read the full Credit Rating guide.

  • Like credit scoring itself, the answer to this is art, not science. It's true that access to too much credit, even if it isn't used, can be a problem. But similarly, if closing down old, unused cards would then mean you're maxed out on existing cards, that's actually worse.

    Counterintuitively, it can also be bad practice to close down old cards where you had missed payments or defaults, especially if they're recent. This is because any lender you apply to can see the last six years of your credit history. And if you close down a card with recent problems, that's the first thing the lender sees about that card.

    It's much better to keep old cards where you had problems open – that way, the missed payments or defaults get further back in that card's history, and may have less impact on future applications.

    On the other hand, long-held accounts that show good credit management can be a benefit to your credit score, so these are often best left open. See our Cancel Old Cards guide for full info on what to close when.

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