If you’re looking to take out a credit card, we explain how to increase your chances of getting accepted and how to apply for one.
What is a credit card and who are they for?
Credit cards allow you to borrow money up to a certain limit and then pay back the amount borrowed either in full or in monthly instalments. How much you can borrow will be decided by your credit card provider but it is often a few hundred or a few thousand pounds. If you are unable to pay back the amount borrowed in full each month, you will usually pay interest, unless you have a credit card that charges no interest for a set time.
There are several different types of credit card and they all have different uses, so you’ll need to decide what you need your card for before choosing one - for instance, they can help you to spread the cost of a large purchase, clear debt, earn rewards, or even improve your credit rating. To find out more, read our article ‘How do credit cards work and which one is best for me?’
Am I eligible for a credit card?
Whether you are eligible for a credit card will partly depend on your credit score. Credit card providers have certain lending criteria and will use your credit history and your score to determine whether you are a reliable borrower and whether they are happy to lend to you.
If you have a low credit score, lenders may be more hesitant about letting you borrow. In contrast, if your credit score is high, you may find it much easier to get accepted for a credit card - even those that offer competitive interest rates or perks such as cashback and rewards.
If you’re concerned you won’t qualify for a credit card, the good news is there are a number of ways to improve your chances of getting accepted. For a start, it’s worth checking your credit score through free services such as Experian, Clearscore and Credit Karma. This should give you an indication of how likely you are to be accepted for a credit card and you’ll also be given tips on what you can do to improve your credit score. This might include:
- Registering on the electoral roll
- Correcting any mistakes on your credit report
- Paying your bills on time
- Spacing out credit applications by three to six months
You can read more about this in our article ‘How to improve your credit score quickly’.
To check your credit card eligibility, many credit card providers also now offer eligibility checkers. These run a ‘soft’ search on your credit file and estimate how likely you are to be accepted for a particular credit card. A soft search won’t leave a mark on your credit report as a ‘hard’ search would, which means it won’t affect your chances of being accepted for credit.
The big advantage of using an eligibility checker is that you won’t end up wasting time applying for credit cards you have no chance of being accepted for, and this can help to protect your credit score.
I have no credit history, can I get a credit card?
If you have no credit history - in other words, you haven’t borrowed through a credit card or other form of credit in the past - it doesn’t automatically mean you won’t get accepted for a credit card. However, it can make it more challenging. Because you have no credit history, lenders won’t be able to assess whether you’ve repaid your debt on time in the past. As a result, they may be more reluctant to lend to you.
The good news, however, is that there are credit cards designed to help those with little or no credit history. These are known as credit builder credit cards and, providing you use your card sensibly, they can help you to improve your credit score and get accepted for more competitive credit cards in the future.
The downside of credit builder credit cards is they typically have low credit limits, but if you make your repayments on time each month and don’t exceed your limit, your credit limit may increase after a while. In addition, credit builder credit cards usually have high rates of interest so you’ll need to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid this. To find out more, read ‘Compare the best credit cards if you have bad credit’.
I have a bad credit score, can I get a credit card?
If you have a poor credit score, lenders may be less willing to let you borrow and you may find it harder to get accepted for a credit card - particularly those with interest-free offers or perks such as cashback.
However, as mentioned above, there are steps you can take to help improve your credit score and increase your chances of getting accepted. Again, it can be worth applying for a credit builder credit card initially to help build up your score.
I’m a student, can I get a credit card?
Students typically have a very limited credit history, but student credit cards are specifically designed for those in further education who won’t qualify for mainstream cards.
Similar to credit builder cards, student credit cards often have low credit limits, but the advantage is this can prevent you from building up too much debt. They often have high interest rates too so it’s best to pay off your balance each month in full if you can.
I’m 18, can I get a credit card?
You’ll usually need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a credit card, so providing you are eligible, you should get accepted. Bear in mind, however, that some credit cards have a higher age limit.
I’m unemployed, can I get a credit card?
It’s not impossible to get a credit card if you are unemployed, but it can make it much harder (unless you’re a student), particularly if you have no income at all. That’s because lenders will want to see evidence that you will be able to pay back what you owe.
A credit builder credit card can be a good place to start as some have no minimum income requirements, but be aware that a lender will still assess whether you will be able to afford your repayments.
It’s important to think carefully before applying for a credit card if you have no income and never borrow more than you know you can afford to pay back. Credit builder cards often charge high rates of interest and if you have no way of being able to repay the amount borrowed, your debt can quickly start to spiral out of control. What’s more, if you are unable to keep up with your repayments, this can have a negative impact on your credit rating.
I’m on benefits, can I get a credit card?
Benefit payments may be counted as income by some lenders, which means you may be more likely to be accepted for a credit card than if you have no income at all. Again, your best bet is to apply for a credit builder credit card.
Can I get a credit card online?
Yes, you can compare the best credit cards online or via our regularly updated comparison tables listed below. You can usually apply for your chosen credit card through the provider’s website directly from the link in our comparison tables.
- Compare the best 0% purchase credit cards
- Compare the best 0% balance transfer credit cards
- Compare the best cashback and reward credit cards
- Compare the best first-time credit cards
- Compare the best credit cards if you have a bad credit history
- Compare the best travel credit cards
All you need to do is fill in the form and you may then be sent paperwork to sign and send back. Many providers offer instant approval if you apply online.
Alternatively, you could choose to apply by post, in branch (if the provider has a local bank branch), or by phone.
How to get a credit card
To apply for a credit card, you will need to provide your name and address, date of birth, your nationality, your employment status and your salary or income.
Your identification will be checked through your credit record and the electoral roll, although you may need to send in copies of documents such as your driving licence, passport, a bank statement or utility bill, as well.
If you’ve applied online, you will often find out immediately whether you have been accepted. If not, you should hear within 5 to 10 days. Once accepted, your new credit card should arrive within 10 working days, followed by your PIN.
What happens if I can’t get a credit card?
If you are not accepted for a credit card, it’s best not to apply for another one immediately. Each time you apply for credit, a ‘footprint’ is left on your credit report and if you make several applications in a short amount of time, this can suggest to lenders you are desperate for credit.
Instead, it’s worth contacting the lender to see whether it can tell you why your application was declined. Lenders may not be able to tell you the exact cause but they can usually give you an indication. It’s then worth checking your credit report again and looking at whether there are any other steps you can take to help improve your credit score.
It’s best to wait three to six months before applying again. You might also want to consider other ways of borrowing, perhaps through an overdraft on your current account as, providing you don’t go over your limit, this can also help you to improve your credit score.