How to choose the best credit card for you

18 min Read Published: 12 Nov 2020

How to choose the best credit card Finding the right credit card can be challenging as there are so many options available. You need to consider which type of card you need, identify the cards that offer the most attractive interest rates and deals in that category and then work out if your application for the chosen card is likely to be successful. You will also want to check if the company that issues the card is trustworthy and has a good customer service record.

In this article we provide a handy breakdown of the main providers for each type of credit card, show you how to check if you are likely to be accepted and provide you with the Trustpilot ranking for each one to give you an indication of the customer service you can expect.

Which type of credit card do I need?

The type of card you choose will be determined by the way you intend to use it and any particular features you require. The main categories of cards are:

  • Balance transfer credit cards - for those with an existing debt which they want to move to a card with a lower interest rate
  • Purchase credit cards - for those looking to make a large purchase, such as a holiday
  • Money transfer credit cards - for those who need to transfer money to their bank account
  • Credit-builder credit cards - for those with little or poor credit history
  • Cashback/reward credit cards - for those looking to earn rewards or perks through their spending
  • All-round credit cards - for those looking to combine the benefits of a number of features in one multipurpose card

How can I choose the best credit card?

In terms of choosing the best card from within a specific category, it's worth checking out our article "Best Credit cards in the UK". Generally, you should judge a card based on:

  • The interest rate: What is the APR on the card? How does it compare to similar cards? Are you likely to be able to keep up with repayments on the card with the interest rate at that level if you can't afford to pay off the balance in full each month?
  • Introductory offers: The card may offer an interest-free period or other benefits for a set time from the point you open the account. Check the small print to see if there are any caveats to that deal being applied to your account. For example, some cards have, say, two-years interest free on balance transfers but you have to move the money over within the first 60 days of opening the account.
  • Fees: Take into consideration any annual or monthly fees, as well as any additional charges you may incur for things like balance and money transfers or cash transactions
  • Perks: Some cards allow you to earn cashback or vouchers, while others give you access to exclusive tickets to live events or discounts at major retailers

Am I likely to be accepted for a credit card?

Once you have identified the card you want, the next step is working out if you are likely to be accepted for it. Different credit cards have different eligibility criteria attached to them, with most focusing on your credit rating and your history of managing debt in the past. Most providers will also require that you have a permanent UK-based address, have a minimum level of annual income and are over the age of 18.

Before you start looking for a credit card, it's a good idea to check your credit score for free through a service such as Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. This will give you an idea of whether you will be accepted for premium cards or if you need to consider credit-builder options instead. For advice on how to improve your credit score, read our article "How to improve your credit score quickly".

What is an eligibility checker?

As the name suggests, an eligibility checker is an online tool provided by many credit card providers to show you if you are likely to be accepted for a specific card. They typically involve the applicant inputting basic personal details and their address, which enables the credit card company to run a pre-application check on their credit file. The result usually only takes a few minutes to come through.

The benefit of using an eligibility checker rather than simply completing the full application is it won't leave a mark on your credit file if you are not successful. This is worth bearing in mind as multiple unsuccessful applications can have a significant detrimental effect on your credit rating which, in turn, will make it even harder to secure credit in the future.

If a card does not have an eligibility checker, it is vitally important to read the criteria on the product page very carefully before completing the application. Be realistic about your chances of being accepted with your current credit score and make sure you have all of the information you need to complete the form accurately to hand.

In the tables below we show you which of the main providers offer eligibility checkers and provide links to them.

Which are the best balance transfer credit cards?

A balance transfer credit card may be a good option if you have an existing balance on another card that you are paying a high rate of interest on. They offer an introductory interest-free period that allows you breathing space and the opportunity to pay off as much of the debt as possible. The best deals provide as much as 29 months interest free, although you typically have a set period of time - say, 60 days - from opening the account to transfer the balance.

It is worth noting whether you have to pay a balance transfer fee to move your money across, as well as if there is an annual fee to have the account. You also need to be aware of the APR when you come out of the introductory period.

For our best-buys for balance transfer cards read "Best 0% balance transfer credit card deals"

Balance transfer credit card comparison table

Balance transfer card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score Money to the Masses review
Barclaycard YES 1.3/5
Halifax YES 1.7/5 Halifax No Fee Balance Transfer credit card review 
HSBC YES 1.4/5 HSBC Balance Transfer credit card review 
Lloyds Bank YES 1.8/5
M&S Bank NO n/a
MBNA Ltd YES 1.5/5
NatWest YES 1.4/5
Sainsbury's Bank YES 4.0/5
Santander YES 1.5/5
Tesco Bank NO 1.6/5 Tesco Balance Transfer credit card review
TSB NO 1.8/5
Virgin Money YES 1.4/5

Which are the best credit cards for poor credit?

You may need to consider a credit card designed for people with poor credit if you have a history of missed payments on other financial commitments, have a CCJ against you, an IVA or have been declared bankrupt. They are also suitable for people who haven't previously taken out any form of borrowing and, as a result, have no track record of being able to manage a debt responsibly.

Many of these cards are marketed as being 'credit-builder' credit cards, which can serve to improve your credit rating over time. In fact, managing any credit card sensibly will serve the same purpose, however, you are more likely to be accepted for one of these cards and are often also provided with extra support to manage your account, perhaps through reminder emails and text messages when payments are due. The catch is that the APR is typically far higher than for a standard or premium credit card and the maximum credit limit is often relatively low.

For our best-buys for credit-builder credit cards, read our article "Compare the best credit cards if you have bad credit"

Credit builder credit card comparison table

Credit builder credit card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score
Money to the Masses' review
118 118 Money YES 4.6/5 118 118 credit card review
Amazon (issued by NewDay) YES 2.4/5 Amazon Platinum credit card review
Aqua YES 3.9/5
Barclaycard YES 1.3/5 Barclaycard Forward credit card review 
Capital One YES 1.5/5 Capital One Classic credit card review 
Chrome (issued by Vanquis) YES 4.8/5 Chrome credit card review 
Fluid YES 3.7/5
Luma (issued by Capital One) YES 1.5/5 Luma credit card review
MBNA YES 1.5/5
Ocean Finance YES 3.4/5
Opus YES 2.7/5 Opus credit card review 
Origin (issued by Vanquis) YES 4.8/5 Origin credit card review
Post Office Money YES n/a Post Office Money Classic credit card review 
Vanquis Bank Ltd YES 4.8/5 Vanquis Classic credit card review 

Which are the best credit cards for 0% offers on purchases?

Opting for a card with an offer of an interest-free period for purchases gives you the opportunity to spread the cost over a longer period, without ending up having to pay extra on the interest that accrues. It is worth bearing in mind that all cards tend to offer up to 56 days interest-free on purchases if you pay the balance off in full each month. However, these cards are ideal for bigger purchases, for which you couldn't afford to clear the balance over that time frame.

For our best-buys for 0% purchase credit cards, see our article "Compare the best 0% purchase credit cards"

0% Purchase credit card comparison table

0% Purchase credit card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score
Money to the Masses' review
Amazon YES 2.4/5
Aqua YES 3.9/5
Barclaycard YES 1.3/5
HSBC YES 1.4/5
M&S Bank NO n/a
Sainsbury's Bank YES 4.0/5
Tesco Bank NO 1.6/5
TSB NO 1.8/5

Which are the best money transfer credit cards?

Money transfer credit cards enable people to, in effect, borrow money from the credit card and have it paid into their bank account. This money can then be used to pay other debts or for transactions that need to be done in cash or by debit card. Many cards offer an interest-free period for the money transfer, which helps make it more cost-effective.

For our best-buys, check out our article "A complete guide to the best money transfer credit cards"

Money transfer credit card comparison table

Money transfer credit card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score
Money to the Masses' review
MBNA YES 1.5/5
Opus YES 2.7/5
Tesco Bank NO 1.6/5
Virgin Money YES 1.4/5

Which are the best credit cards for cashback/rewards?

As well as looking for a credit card that offers a specific function, many people make their choice based on the perks the card offers. This could include more generalised cashback offers on spending or those tailored to appeal to regular shoppers at a specific shop or supermarket. There are also reward schemes that offer access to tickets to live events or, at the upper end, the potential to earn free flights or hotel stays.

For our best-buys for cashback and rewards credit cards, read our article "Compare the best cashback and reward credit cards"

Cashback/Reward credit card comparison table

Cashback/Rewards credit card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score
Money to the Masses' review
Amazon YES 2.4/5
American Express YES 2.0/5
Barclaycard YES 1.3/5
John Lewis Finance NO 3.3/5
M&S Bank NO n/a
Sainsbury's Bank YES 4.0/5
Santander YES 1.5/5
Tesco Bank NO 1.6/5

 

Which are the best all-round credit cards?

All-round credit cards are multipurpose cards that combine a number of features. Typically they have interest-free offers on balance transfers and purchases, as well as additional benefits, such as cashback or rewards. They're useful as it means you don't have to have a variety of cards offering different things and many of them have attractive introductory offers. On the flip-side, it is often possible to get a better deal on cards that focus on one specific element, so it is worth considering if you are going to take advantage of all of the perks of the all-round offering.

All-round credit card comparison table

All-round credit card provider Eligibility checker? Credit card company's Trustpilot score
Money to the Masses' review
Barclaycard YES 1.3/5
Lloyds Bank YES 1.8/5
M&S Bank NO n/a
MBNA Ltd YES 1.5/5
Sainsbury's Bank YES 4.0/5
Santander YES 1.5/5
Tesco Bank NO 1.6/5
TSB NO 1.8/5
Virgin Money YES 1.4/5

 

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