If you are considering whether you can get a credit card without having to go through a credit check, the short answer is no. It is a requirement of all credit cards that applicants must undergo a full credit check for two reasons:
- Running a credit check gives the credit card provider greater confidence that you are going to be able to make the monthly repayments and aren't going to default and leave them out of pocket
- A credit check also assesses whether the applicant can afford to take on debt, avoiding irresponsible lending and the potential for the applicant's debt spiralling to unmanageable levels
If you are worried about not being accepted for a credit card, there are a range of cards that are specifically designed for those with an impaired credit history, or very little credit history. There are also other forms of borrowing and spending that don't require a credit check.
If you have previously turned down for a credit card and aren't sure what to do next, read "5 things to do if you're turned down for a credit card".
What is a credit check?
A credit check - also known as a credit search - is the process of a company looking at information about your financial history and current financial position. This information is used to help determine whether you should be accepted for a financial product, such as a credit card or loan. If you have a history of missing payments or going beyond your credit limit, you may be turned down for some products. Similarly, if you have a limited credit history because you haven't previously borrowed money, you may also not be considered a good person to lend to.
There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They collate the information on your past and present financial behaviour and come up with an overall credit score. An issue is that all three credit reference agencies work slightly differently and come up with a score based on different scales so your credit score or rating isn't universal. Moreover, not every financial company will provide information to each credit agency and lenders may only use the services of one or two when running their own checks and ultimately credit scoring you. This means it's important to keep on top of what is included in each of your credit reports, particularly if you suspect there may be issues that could stop you from being accepted for the financial products you want to apply for.
For more information, read our article "How to check your credit report in 5 minutes".
Using an eligibility checker
While it is a requirement for all credit card providers to run a so-called "hard" search on your credit file - a thorough search that is then also included in your credit history - there is also the option with most companies to run a "soft" search first. This is a search carried out by yourself or a lender that is not visible to other companies or lenders. If you are nervous of having to undertake a hard credit check when applying for a credit card because you think you won't be accepted, using an eligibility checker is a good way of seeing in advance how likely you are to be given the green light.
Eligibility checkers perform a soft search that won't have a negative impact on any credit scoring if you're rejected for a product, which is what would happen with a hard search. The majority of credit cards will have an eligibility checker on their website as a first step in the application process, alongside information on their standard eligibility requirements. There is information on the main types of credit cards and links to their eligibility checkers in our article "How to choose the best credit card for your needs".
Credit cards for people with bad credit
A key reason for many people not wanting to be credit checked is because they have events in the past they believe could negatively impact their chances of getting a credit card. This could be a minor issue, such as a one-off late payment, through to things like County Court Judgements, IVAs and bankruptcy. However, there are now a wide-range of cards specifically targeted at those with a less-than-perfect credit history.
So-called "credit-builder" credit cards generally have higher APRs to balance out the extra risk the card provider is taking on by extending credit to someone with a poor credit history. They also offer the opportunity for customers to improve their future creditworthiness by demonstrating they can use the card responsibly, making payments on time and not exceeding the agreed credit limit. However, it is worth noting that there are other ways to improve your credit score without taking out one of these - often expensive - cards. For suggestions, read our article "How to improve your credit score quickly".
The eligibility criteria for credit-builder cards can vary greatly, with some only accepting those with minor past financial issues while others are open to people with more severely impaired credit histories. To avoid being turned down for a card, which will have a further negative impact on your credit score, it is important to have a clear idea of what the eligibility criteria are for the card you wish to apply for and, ideally, to use an eligibility checker before completing the full application.
For suggestions of cards you may be accepted for if you have poor credit, read our articles "Compare the best credit cards if you have bad credit" and "Credit-builder cards - which is the best credit card if I have poor credit?".
Alternatives to credit cards without a credit check
Prepaid credit cards
There is a range of prepaid cards available for people who don't want to be subject to a credit check. They can be a good option for younger people without an established credit history, someone with impaired credit or for specialist use, such as travel. They work in much the same way as a debit or credit card but you preload the card with money in advance. As you can only spend what is already loaded on the card, there is no credit line and no potential to build up debt.
A prepaid card is a convenient way of managing money and can be helpful in budgeting, but it is worth keeping in mind there are likely to be fees and charges associated with using it. This could be an upfront fee to set up the card, charges to top it up or use it to withdraw cash from an ATM, as well as a transaction fee for purchases. This varies from card to card, so it pays to do your homework in advance to find the most cost-effective option for you.
For a more detailed explanation of prepaid cards and our recommendations for the best cards currently available in the UK, check out our article "A complete guide to prepaid cards - which is the best for you?".
Buy now, pay later
Buy now, pay later has been a major trend in retail over recent years, with figures showing 5 million people in the UK used it in 2020, with sales totalling £2.7bn. Klarna, Clearbuy, Laybuy and PayPal Pay in 3 are now commonly found across a large number of online retailers, with consumers attracted by the ease and convenience of being able to make purchases and have flexibility on how to pay for them. It also appeals to some customers because it doesn't require a credit check, with the providers typically undertaking their own assessments to see if someone is suitable to lend to and to determine the credit limit.
The sector has attracted criticism - and is soon going to be subject to greater regulation - because of accusations that it allows consumers to take on too much debt and get into financial difficulty. The lack of a proper credit check is seen by some commentators to lead to a greater risk of irresponsible lending, with an upsurge in the number of people reporting they are facing financial hardship due to using buy now, pay later services. For while the providers focus on the fact the service is free and doesn't affect the customers' credit scores, if a debt isn't paid off it will eventually be passed to a debt collection agency, in much the same way as any other form of borrowing. This has a highly detrimental impact on your credit file and your potential to borrow again in the future.
There is a full discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of buy now, pay later in our article "Everything you need to know about buy now, pay later".