How credit cards work
Different credit cards have different benefits as well as interest rates, but the underlying idea is the same.
Put simply, they allow you to borrow money at a set rate of interest - known as the APR or Annual Percentage Rate - up to a limit determined by the provider. You generally get about 56 days between buying something and interest being charged, which means if you pay off your balance in full each month they are effectively free to use.
There is an additional benefit to spending on a credit card rather than a debit card or with cash too. Thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you're buying something costing between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card to pay for any part of it, the card provider is held jointly liable if things go wrong.
That means you can apply to them for a refund (for the full purchase amount) if the seller lets you down - especially useful for things like holidays and purchases abroad where you might not have the same rights to refunds as you have in the UK.
Types of credit card
You can get a credit card for a wide range of uses, far beyond the basics of simply making purchases and paying for them later.
For example, you can use credit cards to help pay off other debts using balance transfer or money transfer credit cards. Or you can use them to collect rewards and cashback, spend money cheaply abroad or improve your credit score.
Balance transfer credit cards
Balance transfer credit cards allow you to transfer debt from one credit card provider to another and pay no interest on that debt for a set period.
Some of the leading deals give you 0% interest for as long as two years or even more.
You'll generally have to pay a balance transfer fee if you want a longer 0% period, which is a percentage of the total debt you are transferring. Generally speaking, the longer the offer period, the higher the fee will be, but it's generally 1% to 4%.
It can still work out much cheaper than keeping your debt on the same credit card.Once the 0% period ends, you'll be charged interest on however much of the debt is left on the card.
0% purchase credit cards
With a 0% purchase credit card, no interest is charged on debt built up through new purchases you make on the card for a set period - although you still have to at least pay back the minimum amount requested each month.
That means as long as you clear the full amount before the 0% period ends, you can effectively borrow money for free. Just make sure you do pay off the debt within the offer period, or you could get stung with high interest rates on anything left on the card.
You can compare 0% purchase credit cards with Uswitch.
Cashback and reward credit cards
Some credit cards give you rewards or cashback on purchases. They usually have a higher interest rate than other cards, so only get one if you can afford to pay back the balance in full at the end of each month.
Cashback credit cards give you back a percentage of the money you've spent on them as cash into your account. You can later withdraw it or use it to pay back some of your credit card balance.
Other reward credit cards available offer air miles, where you collect points to spend on flights and travel with every purchase you make, and supermarket loyalty points.
Finding the right reward or cashback credit card for you depends on your lifestyle and spending habits. Think carefully about which rewards will serve you best and make sure you can always pay off the cards in full each month to get full value from them.
Travel abroad credit cards
Travel abroad credit cards let you can make purchases overseas without having to pay the foreign transaction fees charged by standard credit and debit cards.
Travel abroad credit cards use the payment issuer's exchange rate (MasterCard or Visa exchange rate) to work out the price in pounds, without adding any extra on top. This means you also get one of the best exchange rates possible - with the added bonus of protecting your purchases thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
You can use Uswitch to search for credit cards for travelling abroad.
Money transfer credit cards
Money transfer credit cards allow you to transfer cash into your current account. This means you can pay off any kind of debt or spend as you see fit. Money transfer cards are typically used to pay off expensive overdrafts or as a cheap loan.
Similar to a 0% balance transfer credit card, money transfer credit cards come with a 0% interest offer periods. So, you can repay the balance without paying interest over a year or two...or sometimes longer depending on the card you get approved for.
You'll be charged a fee of around 4% of the amount you wish to transfer from your credit card to your account, though this varies depending on the credit card provider.This amount could be far lower than paying off a £2,000 debt on a loan or overdraft.
Compare money transfer credit cards currently available.
Credit building and bad credit credit cards
If you have a poor credit score or little credit history, you might still be able to get a credit building or bad credit credit card. These credit cards are aimed at those with a less than perfect credit history and can help customers improve their credit score.
Each time you make a debt repayment it shows up on your credit report, helping improve your score. Credit building credit cards encourage you to make debt repayments in full and on time because they have low credit limits and high interest rates.
Check out Uswitch's selection of credit cards for those with poor or limited credit.
How to choose the right credit card for you
The right credit card is the one that's best at meeting a specific need you have.
If you've build up debts on other cards, and want to save money on intetest payments, a 0% balance transfer could work well. If you're heading abroad soon, an overseas use card could make your holiday cheaper. If you're looking to furnish a new flat, a 0% purchase card could let you spread the cost without paying interest.
The good news is you can have more than one card at once, to be used as you need it. The bad news is applying for a lot of cards at once could hurt your credit rating, while otherlenders can be spooked if your
How to apply for a credit card
Start by comparing credit cards to find the right one for you. Once you've decided what you want, it's worth using an eligibility checker to work out your chances of getting it.
You must be at least 18 years old to get a credit card, but whether or not you can get one ultimately depends on your financial situation.
If you've never borrowed money before or have a poor credit rating credit card providers may still give you a card, but perhaps with a low spending limit, or a short interest-free period.
After deciding what you'll apply for, the process for a credit card application typically looks like this:
- Apply online for a credit card (approximately 5 minutes)
- Wait for a response to see if your application has been approved or rejected (could be as quick as one minute or as long as two weeks)
- If you've been approved, wait for your credit card to arrive in the post (usually takes 5-10 business days)
- You may need to register the card online or call up the provider to activate before you can use it (a couple of minutes)
In terms of what you will need to provide, it's generally quite straightfoward. Questions you can expect on a credit card application include:
- Your name
- Contact information
- Date of birth
- Address and how long you have lived there
- Residential status (tenant, owner, living with parents, etc)
- Your annual income
On a balance transfer or money transfer credit card application, you will need to have the details of the other accounts you are transferring to your new credit card.
What does 'most popular' mean?
When we use the term ‘most popular’ on Uswitch in reference to credit cards, these cards are ranked by the number of clicks they have received on the site in the past 48 hours.
The most clicked on cards are at the top, with the least at the bottom. This reflects how popular they are with visitors to Uswitch.com. Consequently, this is a good table to look at if you’re interested in seeing which cards most people think are worth getting.
What does it mean if a card is listed as an 'advertisement' or 'promotion'?
We sometimes receive payment from card providers to display their cards in prominent locations.
These are adverts and are designed to be distinct and separate from the other cards on our comparison tables. We hope this makes it clear which cards are top-of-table deals and which cards are paid-for promotions.