credit cards for people with bad credit

Credit Cards For Bad Credit

Top cards for rebuilding your credit score

If your credit history is non-existent or poor, there are special credit cards that can help rebuild your credit – provided you repay on time each month. Our guide has top picks and full info on how to avoid the rejection spiral and improve your credit history. Plus our eligibility calculator will show your chances of acceptance before you apply, reducing the risk of a failed application.

Looking for a balance transfer? If you've existing debt, you may be able to cut it to 0% with a balance transfer – even if you've a poor credit score.

Not what you want? Other related guides...

Credit Scores | Budget Planning | Debt Help | Credit Cards Explained | Low Credit Card Limit 

The seven 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).

  • credit card rejection spiral

    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 report, or you've applied for a card intended for those with an 'excellent' score when you only have a 'good' score. Sadly, most 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 report, 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

    • 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 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 check 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 MSE Credit Club brings together the key components to give you the full picture of your credit. Plus, crucially, it tells you what it means for your acceptance chances and gives you tips on 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 £10-ish 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 our top pick cards that can help you rebuild credit. Though which to go for will be determined by which you can get. Our eligibility calculator shows your chances of acceptance for many of these top cards, without the need to apply.

If you see a high acceptance chance for lots of cards, look out for these below as they also give a short 0% spending period, which can be used to reduce interest on other debts.

Four months' 0% on spending and seven months' 0% on balance transfers while rebuilding your credit

This Aqua card (apply via our eligibility calculator) is a good option for poorer credit scorers. It gives four months' 0% on spending and a seven-month 0% period on balance transfers, with a one-off 3% transfer fee based on the amount of debt you shift to the card (min £3 fee).

The 0% spending period can also be used to give a respite from existing debts, but in a slightly more roundabout way (see below). Helpfully, our eligibility calculator can tell you if you're pre-approved for this card.

Important: Aqua has asked we send people to our eligibility calc, to reduce demand on its call centres at this crucial time.

  • 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 hefty overdraft rates. 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. In effect you've now got the debt on the card instead of as a payday loan or overdraft.

    Step 3: 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. Ensure you budget to work out how to do it.

    Step 4: At the end of the four months the rate jumps to 34.9% APR, though some will pay as much as 59.9%. 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. If your overdraft interest rate's less than the rate you get given on the card, simply use the overdraft to repay any remaining debt on the card.

Representative APR (variable)34.9% (some will pay up to 59.9% – 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. Plus, 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 CCJs? Yes, provided they're a year old or more
Accepts bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's 18 months old or more
Minimum repaymentGreater of 1%, 2%, 2.5%, 2.75% or 3.25% of balance plus interest (depending on the interest rate you get) or £5

Four months 0% while rebuilding your credit

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

  • We would caution anyone with past credit problems against new borrowing. Yet you can use the 0% spending offer on this card to give you respite and save you money on costly debts, such as payday loans or overdrafts with high interest. 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 repay payday loans or reduce your overdraft. In effect you've now got the debt on the card instead.

    Step 3: You've got three months without any interest accruing in which to reduce your overall debt – though you do still need to pay the minimum monthly repayments. Ensure you budget to work out how to do it.

    Step 4: At the end of the three months the rate jumps to 34.9% rep APR so ensure there's no debt on it by then – but in the worst case scenario it's still likely cheaper than payday loans. If the interest rate on the card's higher than the one you pay on your overdraft, use the overdraft to pay off any remaining debt on the card.

Representative APR (variable)34.9% (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. 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

Three months 0% and £20 Amazon voucher

This card from Amazon (apply, sadly not in our eligibility calculator) is a good option for poorer credit scorers. It offers new customers a three-month 0% spending period which can be used to give respite from existing debts. You'll also get a £20 Amazon voucher on acceptance or when you activate the card.

  • We would caution anyone with past credit problems against new borrowing. Yet you can use the 0% spending offer on this card to give you respite and save you money on costly debts, such as payday loans or overdrafts with high interest. 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 repay payday loans or reduce your overdraft. In effect you've now got the debt on the card instead.

    Step 3: You've got three months without any interest accruing in which to reduce your overall debt – though you do still need to pay the minimum monthly repayments. Ensure you budget to work out how to do it.

    Step 4: At the end of the three months the rate jumps to 29.9% rep APR so ensure there's no debt on it by then – but in the worst case scenario it's still likely cheaper than payday loans. If the interest rate on the card's higher than the one you pay on your overdraft, use the overdraft to pay off any remaining debt on the card.

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. Make sure not to miss a payment or bust your credit limit, as you'll be charged a fee and get a mark on your credit file
Minimum repaymentGreater of 1% of balance plus interest or £5

Credit-rebuilding card with three months' interest-free spending

The Post Office credit card (check eligibilityapply*) offers new customers a three-month 0% spending period, which can be used to give respite from existing debts (see below).

  • We would caution anyone with past credit problems against new borrowing. Yet you can use the 0% spending offer on this card to give you respite and save you money on costly debts, such as payday loans or overdrafts with high interest. 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 repay payday loans or reduce your overdraft. In effect you've now got the debt on the card instead.

    Step 3: You've got three months without any interest accruing in which to reduce your overall debt – though you do still need to pay the minimum monthly repayments. Ensure you budget to work out how to do it.

    Step 4: At the end of the three months the rate jumps to 29.9% rep APR so ensure there's no debt on it by then – but in the worst case scenario it's still likely cheaper than payday loans. If the interest rate on the card's higher than the one you pay on your overdraft, use the overdraft to pay off any remaining debt on the card.

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. 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
Accepts CCJs? Yes
Accepts bankruptcies? Yes, provided it's a year old or more
Minimum repaymentGreater of 3% of balance plus interest or £5

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 to avoid nasty interest charges.

CARD REP APR
(Variable)
Barclaycard Forward – three months' interest-free spending
Apply direct to lender*
33.9%
Tesco Foundation – collect Clubcard points on spending
Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc)
27.5%
Chrome from Vanquis Bank
Check eligibility (i)
29.3%
Capital One Platinum
Check eligibility / apply*
29.8%
Aqua Classic
Apply via eligibility calculator (ii)
32.9%
Marbles
Apply via eligibility calculator (ii)
32.9%
118 118 Money
Apply via eligibility calculator (iii)
34%, 39% or 49%
Aqua Advance
Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc) 
34.9%
Capital One Classic
Check eligibility / apply*
34.9%
Post Office
Check eligibility / apply*
34.9%
Zopa
Check eligibility / apply
34.9%
Thimbl
Check eligibility / apply
39.9%
Vanquis Classic
Check eligibility / apply
39.9%
Ocean
Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc) 
39.9%
Think Money
Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc) 
39.9%
In order of feature then representative APR. But as you should avoid ever paying interest, the rate's not crucial. See all Official APR Examples. (i) We've only included a link to our eligibility calc as this card isn't available direct on Chrome's site. (ii) Marbles and Aqua have asked we send people to our eligibility calc, to reduce demand on them at this crucial time.(iii) 118 118 Money has told us you have a better chance of getting its card if you go via our eligibility calculator, but if you prefer you can go direct to 118 118 Money* instead.

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Special credit-building products if you can't get any credit card

Sadly there's no guaranteed approval of credit cards for bad credit. So, 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.

Build your savings pot and your credit history – save from £20/mth

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 – here's how it works.

  1. You choose a fixed amount you can save each month (£20-£200) for a year
  2. Loqbox gives you a 0% loan for the total (so £240-£2,400) – you won't be able to access the money, but it appears on your credit file
  3. Your savings are then used to 'repay' this over the year, with these payments reported to all three credit reference agencies
  4. At the end of the 12 months, you get all your money back

If you make your monthly payments in full and on time, Loqbox says this should help build your credit history. However, any missed or late payments are also recorded, which can harm your score further. If you know you can't pay, you're better off cancelling the agreement before the next payment is due – you can do this at any time and will get anything you've saved back.

To get your money (at the end of the year or if cancelling) you'll need to pay £30 for Loqbox to pay your savings back into your existing bank account, though there's no fee if you open a new account with one of its partner banks such as TSB and NatWest. Loqbox says most won't require a hard credit search, but be wary if you choose one that does.

Monthly fee: None – but you must repay £20-£200/mth
Withdrawal fee: £30 for your savings to be repaid into an existing account or none if you open a new bank account through Loqbox
Payment: Recurring monthly 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. 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.

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 monthly 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.

Coronavirus credit card help

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.

For the latest updates and full information on the support available, see our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide.

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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