Best Credit Cards for 2019

Updated: 6th February, 2019.

Our team has compared piles of credit cards to figure out which are the best credit cards in the UK... and which are "the rest". Below you'll find our shortlist of the top deals currently out there.

Great for: Big points at M&S plus sign-up bonus
5 stars question mark

For M&S shoppers, the M&S Reward Plus card may look like an outstanding option. Over the first year, users get 2 M&S points for every £1 spent at M&S, along with 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. You get a nice boost from the beginning too, as M&S will send you a 500-point voucher with the card, and another 2,000-point bonus just for using the card in the first 90 days.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

Good/Excellent

  • Poor/No credit
  • Fair/Average
  • Good/Excellent

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2 M&S points for every £1 spent at M&S in first year (1 points per £1 spent after that)
  • 1 M&S point for ever £5 spent elsewhere
  • 500 point M&S voucher (worth £5) sent with card
  • 2,000 point bonus if the card is used in the first 90 days
  • 0% interest for 6 months on purchases
  • 0% interest for 6 months on balances transferred in the first 90 days (2.9% fee applies)
  • No annual fee

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Purchase rate p.a. 19.9% (variable)
Representative APR 19.9% (variable)
Assumed credit limit £1,200

what we like

  • Double M&S points for M&S shopping in first year (2 points per £1 spent)
  • 1 M&S point for ever £5 spent elsewhere
  • 0% interest for 6 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    19.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    Double points at M&S for first year
    2,000 bonus points for using card in first 90 days

KEY SCORES:

  • 5/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 3/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2 M&S points for every £1 spent at M&S in first year (1 points per £1 spent after that)
  • 1 M&S point for ever £5 spent elsewhere
  • 500 point M&S voucher (worth £5) sent with card
  • 2,000 point bonus if the card is used in the first 90 days
  • 0% interest for 6 months on purchases
  • 0% interest for 6 months on balances transferred in the first 90 days (2.9% fee applies)
  • No annual fee

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Purchase rate p.a. 19.9% (variable)
Representative APR 19.9% (variable)
Assumed credit limit £1,200
Great for: Balance transfers with no fee
5 stars question mark

Santander’s Everyday Card stacks up really well against the competition. 27 months of 0% interest on balance transfers is on the longer end of the scale, especially without a fee on balance transfers. The three months of 0% interest on purchases is a bit shorter than some competing cards, but it’s still nice to get that 0% purchase period. As a sweetener, there are cashback awards available from companies like Costa Coffee, Subway, and Morrisons through Santander’s “Retailer Offers”.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

Good/Excellent

  • Poor/No credit
  • Fair/Average
  • Good/Excellent

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 0% interest for 27 months on balance transfers
  • No fee for balance transfers
  • 0% interest for the first 3 months on purchases
  • Special retailer cashback offers

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

18.9% p.a. (variable) on card purchases. This is equivalent to 18.9% APR representative (variable) based on an assumed credit limit of £1,200.

what we like

  • 0% interest for 27 months on balance transfers
  • No fee for balance transfers
  • 0% interest for the first 3 months on purchases
  • Special retailer cashback offers
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    18.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    0% on Balance Transfers for 27 months
    0% on Purchases for 3 months

KEY SCORES:

  • 1/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 5/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 0% interest for 27 months on balance transfers
  • No fee for balance transfers
  • 0% interest for the first 3 months on purchases
  • Special retailer cashback offers

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

18.9% p.a. (variable) on card purchases. This is equivalent to 18.9% APR representative (variable) based on an assumed credit limit of £1,200.
Great for: Everyday cash back with no fee
5 stars question mark

Cashback rewards are hard to come by these days, but if that’s what you’re looking for, the American Express Cashback Everyday Card may be a good bet. The standard cashback yield is 0.5%, but for those that spend more than £5,000, that bumps up to 1%. New cardholders also get a bonus of 5% cashback over the first three months, which maxes out at £100. Its sister card offers a bigger welcome bonus and higher cashback, but the Everyday Card has the advantage of no fee.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

Good/Excellent

  • Poor/No credit
  • Fair/Average
  • Good/Excellent

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 5% cashback for first 3 months (up to £100)
  • 0.5% cashback after first 3 months
  • Up to 1% cashback after first 3 months with spending above £5,000

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative APR 22.9% APR variable
Annual fee Based on £0
Credit Limit Assumed credit limit of £1,200
Purchase Rate 22.9% variable for purchases

what we like

  • 5% cashback for first 3 months (up to £100)
  • 0.5% cashback after first 3 months
  • Up to 1% cashback after first 3 months with spending above £5,000
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    22.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    5% cashback for first 3 months (up to £100)

KEY SCORES:

  • 4/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 3/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 5% cashback for first 3 months (up to £100)
  • 0.5% cashback after first 3 months
  • Up to 1% cashback after first 3 months with spending above £5,000

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative APR 22.9% APR variable
Annual fee Based on £0
Credit Limit Assumed credit limit of £1,200
Purchase Rate 22.9% variable for purchases
Great for: Long 0% interest on purchases and travel
5 stars question mark

There’s a lot to like with the Post Office Platinum Card. The 28 months of 0% APR that you get on purchases is a nice, long duration. Plus you get the option of 0% for 18 months on balance transfers (though you will have to cough up a 2.89% fee for that). This is also a great card for travelers, since you don’t pay fees on purchases made overseas and can buy Post Office Travel Money with no fee.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

Good/Excellent

  • Poor/No credit
  • Fair/Average
  • Good/Excellent

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 0% interest on purchases made over the first 28 months
  • 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 18 months (but a 2.89% fee applies)
  • No fee travel money from the Post Office

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Assumed credit limit £1,200
Representative APR (variable) 18.9%
Purchase rate p.a. (variable) 18.9%
Annual fee £0

what we like

  • 0% interest on purchases made over the first 28 months
  • 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 18 months (but a 2.89% fee applies)
  • No fee travel money from the Post Office
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    18.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    0% on purchases for 28 months
    0% on balance transfers for 18 months

KEY SCORES:

  • 4/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 5/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 0% interest on purchases made over the first 28 months
  • 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 18 months (but a 2.89% fee applies)
  • No fee travel money from the Post Office

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Assumed credit limit £1,200
Representative APR (variable) 18.9%
Purchase rate p.a. (variable) 18.9%
Annual fee £0
Great for: Building and rebuilding credit
5 stars question mark

If you are looking for a credit rebuilder card that offers you more than just access to credit, the Tesco Bank Foundation Card does just that. It offers free access to Noddle Premium services and Tesco Clubcard benefits, as well as a comparatively low APR and manageable credit limits.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

Poor/No credit

  • Poor/No credit
  • Fair/Average
  • Good/Excellent

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Free service to help manage credit rating
  • Collect Tesco Clubcard points

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 27.5% APR (variable)
Interest rate on purchases 27.5% p.a. (variable)
Assumed credit limit £1,200

what we like

  • No annual fee
  • Free service to help manage credit rating
  • Collect Tesco Clubcard points
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    27.5%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    N/A

KEY SCORES:

  • 4/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 5/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Free service to help manage credit rating
  • Collect Tesco Clubcard points

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 27.5% APR (variable)
Interest rate on purchases 27.5% p.a. (variable)
Assumed credit limit £1,200

How we picked the 2019 credit card winners

We’re here to help you make the most of your money and crush the financial roadblocks in your way. As we review credit cards, we keep this in mind, and look for cards that offer the best combination of as many benefits as possible. Specifically, our ratings reflect:

  • Annual Fees. When there’s an annual fee, that comes directly out of your pocket. If there are great features in exchange for that fee, great. Otherwise, our favorite annual fee is £0.
  • Introductory offers that give you 0% interest on purchases or balance transfers – these could help you get out of debt faster or allow you to spread the cost of large purchases.
  • Representative APRs that are as low as possible.
  • Rewards that allow you to rack up points or cashback for just swiping your credit card.
  • Sign-up bonuses to give you an extra boost!
  • Tools and credit-card features (like credit ratings, fee-free Travel Money, and no non-sterling transaction fees) that help you manage your finances better.

WHY YOU CAN TRUST US

Call us crazy, but we love this stuff. We love sniffing out the best credit card deals on the market and bringing them to our readers. For more than two decades, our parent company, The Motley Fool, has been helping people around the world improve their financial lives. And that’s exactly what MyWalletHero aims to further. Together with our colleagues in the US, we’ve collectively analyzed hundreds of card offers on more than 6,000 data points, reading through the small print to find the very best credit cards the market has to offer.

Types of credit cards

You may see credit cards talked about in many different ways. It can get a bit confusing after a while. But at the end of the day, what we’re really talking about are five primary categories of credit cards. In fact, when you’re looking for a new credit card, it’s usually smart to step back and start by considering which feature is most important for you.

Let’s take a look at those five main types of credit cards:

  • 0% credit cards -- These cards come in two main flavors: balance transfer cards and 0% purchase cards. But the basic selling point is the same. Namely, an extended period of time where you pay 0% interest on a carried credit-card balance. With a balance transfer card, you’re able to transfer debt from another credit card to the new one, and then benefit from an extended period of 0% interest on that balance. With a 0% purchase card, you get an extended period of time where you pay 0% on new debt that you accrue through purchases on the card. The best cards in this category can give you more than two years of 0%. The benefit can be great in terms of savings on interest.
  • Cashback cards -- With a cashback card you get exactly what the name implies: cash… back. Most of these cards are structured to give you a certain percentage of your spending back in cold, hard cash. Right now in the UK market, getting a 1% or higher cashback rate is good, and lower than 1% is very common, and although not great, can still add up. Cashback card offers sometimes get a boost from introductory offers that put near-immediate cash in your pocket. Be aware that some cards that call themselves “cashback” don’t truly give you cash, but rather vouchers that often have to be spent in certain stores. If you already shop at those stores that can be fine, but otherwise it puts a dent in the value of the card.
  • Rewards cards -- Rewards cards typically accrue rewards in terms of points or miles for every £1 you spend and can be redeemed for spending vouchers, flights, hotels, and more. Points-based rewards credit cards are often tied to specific retailers, making them a great choice for shoppers who frequent that retailer. Travel-focused rewards cards also often have other benefits (such as no foreign transaction fees when used abroad or access to no-fee Travel Money) that 0% APR cards and cashback cards are less likely to have. Frequent travelers, especially international travelers, would be wise to have a travel credit card, even if only for the benefit of avoiding foreign transaction fees.
  • Credit-building cards -- There are two primary circumstances that might have you looking at credit-building cards. You may be brand new to credit and not have a credit history. Or you may have hit a pothole on the great financial highway and are trying to rebuild your credit. In either case, issuers that offer credit-building cards are willing to offer cards to individuals that have low credit scores or very little credit history to speak of. That comes with a significant tradeoff, as these cards almost always have an APR that’s far higher than cards aimed at individuals with good credit. Credit-building cards also usually don’t come bundled with benefits like 0% intro APRs or rewards. However, that’s not always the case, and if you do your research, it’s possible to find credit-building cards that have nice benefits. The biggest benefit of all with these cards is right in the name: credit building. For those that use these cards responsibly, the result could be an increased credit score that can help them score a great 0% credit card or a fun rewards card. Student cards could be considered part of this category, since students typically have little to no credit history.
  • Business cards -- No surprise that these cards are aimed at business owners. Generally, they have higher credit limits to support usage in high-spending business contexts. For business owners that want to draw a clear line between their business and personal spending, these cards can be a good choice. They can likewise be helpful when you want to be able to give cards to multiple people within your company. Business credit cards can also be a way for businesses to start a financial relationship with a bank that may be able to help the business with other financing needs as the business grows.

Here’s why credit card can be so useful

If you’re wondering why you might want a credit card in your wallet, consider that this is more than just a (quick) way to pay for things at the grocer (though that’s pretty useful already!). Nor is it just a way to easily borrow money. In fact, thanks to the APRs on most credit cards, if borrowing money is what you’re after, you’re usually best off looking elsewhere.

Indeed, beyond these two obvious aspects of credit cards -- payment and borrowing -- there are quite a few ways that they can benefit you:

  • They can benefit your credit score -- There are myriad ways your credit score can come into play. Obviously, when you want to apply for a credit card. But also when you’d like to borrow money for a new car, a house, or basically any other large purchase. It helps to have a rock-solid credit score so that when the time comes that you need to borrow, banks will see you as a worthy lender. When you use credit cards responsibly, that good behavior gets reported to the credit rating agencies by the card issuer and can help increase your credit score. This can be the case whether you already have a good credit score and would like to make it a great credit score, or if you have a poor credit score or little credit history, and would like to build to a better score.
  • Protection against fraud -- Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to worry about this? Maybe one day. Until then, using a credit card can protect you against the shady characters out there that have bad intentions for your money. In most cases of fraud, credit-card companies have your back and you won’t be on the hook for charges that fraudsters rack up. The same can’t always be said if someone gets hold of your debit card or bank account information.
  • You can get rewarded -- Rewarded for what? Rewarded for doing the spending that you would do anyway! Look, credit cards need to be used responsibly, so this isn’t an excuse to get crazy you’re your spending. But many cards offer rewards in the form of points or cashback that give a percentage of your spending back to you. And it’s hard to argue with getting handed cash or rewards.
  • And then… the “little things” -- Many cards offer perks including no-fee Travel Money, purchase protection (in case a new toy gets stolen or damaged), and travel accident insurance. These may seem like “little things”, but for savvy spenders that take full advantage of them, it could mean hundreds of pounds of savings. Try getting a wad of cash to do that for you!

The secret formula to find the best credit card

We’re kidding, of course. There’s no secret formula, and, to be frank, there’s not even one “best” credit card. The reason is that everyone has their own particular financial circumstances. So what may be a great card for you, may be terrible for someone else.

When we talk about “best” at MyWalletHero, what we’re talking about is best within the context of comparable cards. That is, we may call a credit-building card “best” and even give it a five-star rating. But if you’ve got a solid credit rating the high APR and lack of benefits that credit-building card sports likely makes it a pretty darn bad pick for you.

Figuring out “best” for yourself goes back to what we talked about earlier -- understanding the different types of cards, and deciding which type of card (which primary feature) best fits your circumstances. Here are a few quick examples of what we’re talking about:

  • If you have great credit and want to take advantage of the benefits of credit cards, then…You may want to consider rewards or cashback cards. You generally need a good credit score to qualify for worthwhile rewards and cashback cards, and if you clear that hurdle, you can start banking points, miles or cash, often for doing the spending you’d be doing anyway.
  • If you just got through a tough financial patch, but are trying to get back on track, then… There’s a very good chance that a credit-builder card would fit your needs. Issuers of credit-builder cards accept applicants with less-than-stellar credit (often, much less than stellar). In return, cardholders have the chance to showcase their financial responsibility and potentially see their credit score start to heal.
  • If you’re a frequent traveler, then… You may want to keep your eyes peeled for travel-oriented cards. Many credit cards on the market charge as much as 3% on non-sterling transactions. Ouch! Cards aimed at travelers don’t have this fee. You may also find special deals on Travel Money or rewards oriented towards travel -- like travel reward points.
  • If you still have good credit and are paying high interest on a credit-card balance, then… A balance transfer card might be right up your alley. For qualified applicants, balance transfer cards can offer multiple years of no interest payments. A pretty average APR these days is 19%, so you can imagine the savings can be steep when swapping that out for 0%!

Again, “best” lies in the context that it’s used. For someone ideally looking for a cashback credit card, even the “best” balance transfer card is unlikely to be a good match. And as great as the “best” traveler credit card might be, if someone has poor credit, getting approved would be unlikely.

Comparing credit cards made easy

We get it. There are a lot of credit cards out there, and trying to decide can be challenging. Here are a few things that you can consider when trying to choose between cards.

Should you pay an annual fee for a credit card?

All things held equal, the answer is incredibly simple: avoid an annual fee. An annual fee is money that comes out of your pocket, and whether the card is giving you points, rewards, or other benefits, paying an annual fee reduces your benefit.

But things aren’t always equal, and cards with an annual fee may give you more points or more cashback. By doing some easy math, you can figure out whether a higher-earning card with an annual fee may be a better deal for you.

Imagine two credit cards. One has no annual fee and earns £0.005 cashback for every £1 spent. The second card earns 1p for every £1 spent but has a £30 annual fee. What we can do here is divide card two’s annual fee (£30) by the amount that its rewards rate exceeds card one’s rate (that is, £0.005). Which comes to £6,000. So if you spend more than £6,000 on your card annually, the higher earning rate for card two is the better deal, even though you’d pay an annual fee. If you spend less than that, you’re better off not paying the annual fee and going with the lower rewards rate.

If your plan is to spend heavily on a particular card and really rack up points or cashback, then an annual fee may well be worth it. If you ask us though, rarely does it make sense to carry two cards that sport an annual fee.

Better bet: cashback or points?

The nice thing about cash is that it’s… well, cash. You can turn around and spend it on whatever you like. So if you’re looking for a safe choice between cashback and points, cashback will always be more flexible. But if you’re a frequent shopper at a particular retailer or retail group (like Tesco or Sainsbury’s), then earning and using points wisely could yield you even more than you could get with a cashback card. We just talked about annual fees above, but that’s worth noting here too. When comparing cashback or points cards be sure to deduct that annual fee from any rewards you’re expecting.

Cards for poor credit and credit-building cards

Let’s be honest here, when you’re in the process of building or rebuilding your credit there’s a better chance that you’re a bit skint. For that reason, we prefer credit-building cards and cards for those with poor credit that don’t carry extra fees. If you’re in a tough money spot, it’s better to avoid stacking extra fees on top of it all!

Expect that most credit cards available to those with poor or no credit will have much higher representative APRs than those for people with good or excellent credit. Even so, looking for the lowest APR that you can find is a good idea. Better still is to look for a card that offers a 0% introductory period for purchases or balance transfers. These aren’t common, but they are out there.

Bottom line: should you be using a credit card?

Though around 60% of adults in the UK have a credit card, they aren’t for everyone. As we’ve discussed here, there are some great benefits for using a credit card. It’s an easy way to pay for things. And you can rack up points or even get straight-up cash just for making purchases. But, if used irresponsibly, credit cards are also an easy way to get stuck under a big pile of debt.

Below is a checklist of sorts. Before taking out a credit card, you may want to tick down this list and make sure you can answer “yes” to all of these.

  • Can you use a credit card responsibly? -- This isn’t a trick question! For some people, the urge to spend can be overwhelming. Combine that with easy access to borrowed money and high interest rates, and you could very quickly end up with crushing debt. If you’re thinking about taking out a credit card, be sure you can trust yourself to stay within reasonable spending limits.
  • Do you keep up on your bills? -- Most credit-card companies don’t take kindly to being paid late. To be sure, there are grace periods for cardholders that pay on time most of the time. But if you have a habit of missing due dates on bills, then having a credit card could mean aggravating fees and extra interest. If you’re in a tough financial position, that can make it even though. But even if you’re in a good financial position, why put yourself in line to pay extra fees? Of course, if you’re typically on the ball and on time paying your bills, paying your credit card on time shouldn’t be any extra hassle.
  • Can you rely on your income source? -- One of the reasons that a lot of people end up falling into debt is that they experience big swings in their income. During a lull in money coming in, they end up putting too much onto their credit card. Combine that with the interest that starts piling up, and it can be hard to claw your way back. Having predictable sources of income makes it much easier to consistently pay off your credit card and stay out of trouble.
  • Are you free of big purchases on the horizon? -- While credit cards can be great for building your credit so that you can get approved for loans in the future, that doesn’t hold up if the loans you’re looking for are in the very near future. Applying for credit cards has the potential to ding your credit score, at least temporarily, so if you’re hoping to borrow to buy a car or finance a house in the near future, you may want to hold off on new credit cards.

The Motley Fool receives compensation from some advertisers who provide products and services that may be covered by our editorial team. It’s one way we make money. But know that our editorial integrity and transparency matters most and our ratings aren’t influenced by compensation. The statements above are The Motley Fool’s alone and have not been provided or endorsed by bank advertisers. The Motley Fool has recommended shares in Lloyds, Tesco and Barclays.

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