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Compare Our Top-Rated Credit Cards for Bad Credit

Updated: 23rd April 2021

Getting a credit card can be challenging if you have bad credit or no credit, but it’s far from impossible. And using credit wisely has the potential to help build or rebuild your credit. To help save you time, we’ve compiled a list of our top-rated credit cards for bad credit to get you on the right track.

For each card below, we provide a rating, which takes into account features such as whether the card accepts people with low credit scores, the card’s APR and whether it offers rewards or 0% introductory periods.

Along with our list, you can also find more information about our ratings, how to compare cards, and how to improve your credit below.

Hero Tips: Must knows when using credit-builder cards

  1. Yes, you can still get a credit card

    Having poor credit doesn't necessarily mean you can't get a credit card. Credit-builder cards accept applicants that have lower credit scores.

  2. Be aware of high interest rates

    Credit-builder cards typically carry higher interest rates than standard credit cards. That means it's more important than ever to avoid carrying a balance on your card.

  3. Rebuilding credit is job no.1

    Rewards and perks are great, but few credit-builder cards include much in the way of perks. Instead, focus on using your card responsibly so you can repair your credit and qualify for a card that does include rewards and perks.

Here are MyWalletHero's top-rated credit cards for poor credit

Credit card offers from our affiliate partners appear first and are ordered from highest rating to lowest, followed by other top-rated offers. You can read more about our ratings and page sort here. Offers from affiliate partners are marked with a *.

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Great for: Lowering your APR while building credit
4.5 stars question mark

The Aqua Advance Credit Card includes many of the features that make other Aqua cards great for those looking to build or rebuild credit. As an added bonus though, users of the Advance Card that stay on time with their payments will see their APR go down by 5% per year. Over time, this could bring the APR down to 19.9%.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

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

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Stay on time with payments and APR reduces 5% per year
  • Keeping on time with payments could reduce APR to 19.9%
  • Free Aqua Credit Checker
  • No annual fee

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Interest rate for purchases 34.95% p.a. variable
Representative rate 34.9% APR variable
Based on borrowing £1,200 over 12 months

what we like

  • Stay on time with payments and APR reduces 5% per year
  • Keeping on time with payments could reduce APR to 19.9%
  • Free Aqua Credit Checker
  • No annual fee
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    34.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    N/A

KEY SCORES:

  • 4/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 4/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Stay on time with payments and APR reduces 5% per year
  • Keeping on time with payments could reduce APR to 19.9%
  • Free Aqua Credit Checker
  • No annual fee

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Interest rate for purchases 34.95% p.a. variable
Representative rate 34.9% APR variable
Based on borrowing £1,200 over 12 months
Great for: Just starting to build or re-build credit
3 stars question mark

Let’s face it: when you’re just starting to build or rebuild credit, getting approved for a credit card can be tough. The marbles Credit Card doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles. And the APRs start high and can be even higher for some applicants. But, it offers an opportunity to show good credit behaviour and could be a stepping stone to other cards.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

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

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Online eligibility checker
  • Spending alerts to help avoid missteps

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 34.9% APR (variable)

The APR applicable to your account will depend on assessment of your application.

what we like

  • No annual fee
  • Online eligibility checker
  • Spending alerts to help avoid missteps
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    34.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    N/A

KEY SCORES:

  • 1/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 3/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Online eligibility checker
  • Spending alerts to help avoid missteps

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 34.9% APR (variable)

The APR applicable to your account will depend on assessment of your application.

Great for: Building and rebuilding credit
3 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
  • 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:

  • 2/5 Perks
  • 2.5/5Fees
  • 4/5APR

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
Great for: Credit repair with a lower starting APR
3 stars question mark

Vanquis Bank’s Chrome Credit Card offers a comparably low representative APR of just 29.5% to those with a limited credit history or past problems. That can be a welcome sight, as APRs for most other credit cards for bad credit start at 35%. Credit limits start at a manageable level of up to £1,000, but can be built up to £4,000 over time.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

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

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Low APR compared to most other credit-building cards
  • Starting credit limit of £250 to £1,000
  • Possibility to build credit limit to £4,000
  • Managing your card well could lead to credit-rating improvements
  • Easy account management via online portal and mobile app

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 29.5% APR (variable)

Rates from 29.5% APR (variable) to 59.9% APR (variable) depending on individual circumstances.

what we like

  • Credit limit could increase to £4,000 over time
  • Comparably low starting APR
  • No annual fee
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    29.5%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    Starting credit limit of up to £1,000

KEY SCORES:

  • 2.5/5 Perks
  • 3/5Fees
  • 4/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Low APR compared to most other credit-building cards
  • Starting credit limit of £250 to £1,000
  • Possibility to build credit limit to £4,000
  • Managing your card well could lead to credit-rating improvements
  • Easy account management via online portal and mobile app

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative rate 29.5% APR (variable)

Rates from 29.5% APR (variable) to 59.9% APR (variable) depending on individual circumstances.

Great for: Building credit
2.5 stars question mark

The Aqua Classic credit card is one of the more straightforward credit cards for bad credit, open to those with a bad credit history, money problems in the past or on low incomes, as well as the self-employed. The maximum initial credit limit is £1,200, although if you handle your card sensibly Aqua may increase this pretty quickly. Extra features can also help you understand your credit score, and make every monthly payment.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

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

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Text reminders for payments

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Your interest rate for purchases is 37.95% p.a. variable
With a representative 37.9% APR variable
If you borrowed (over 12 months) £1,200

what we like

  • No annual fee
  • Text reminders for payments
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    37.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    N/A

KEY SCORES:

  • 1/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 2/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Text reminders for payments

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Your interest rate for purchases is 37.95% p.a. variable
With a representative 37.9% APR variable
If you borrowed (over 12 months) £1,200
Great for: Rebuilding credit
2.5 stars question mark

The Vanquis Classic Credit Card is a higher APR card without some of the features of other cards here. However, for those who qualify, this card can still be a great way to rebuild your credit score and use as a stepping stone to better cards in the future.

Read full review >

CREDIT RATING req:

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

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Manageable starting credit limit between £150 and £1,000
  • You could get a credit limit increase after your fifth statement, up to £4,000 if you manage your account well
  • Online and SMS account management

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative 39.9% APR (variable)
Based on borrowing £1,000
Annual rate of interest 39.9% APR (variable)

Rates from 39.9% APR (variable) to 69.9% APR (variable) depending on individual circumstances.

what we like

  • No annual fee
  • You could get a credit limit increase after your fifth statement
  • ANNUAL FEE:

    £0
  • REPRESENTATIVE APR:

    39.9%
  • INTRO OFFER:

    N/A

KEY SCORES:

  • 1.5/5 Perks
  • 5/5Fees
  • 1/5APR

HIGHLIGHTS

  • No annual fee
  • Manageable starting credit limit between £150 and £1,000
  • You could get a credit limit increase after your fifth statement, up to £4,000 if you manage your account well
  • Online and SMS account management

REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE

Representative 39.9% APR (variable)
Based on borrowing £1,000
Annual rate of interest 39.9% APR (variable)

Rates from 39.9% APR (variable) to 69.9% APR (variable) depending on individual circumstances.


Can you get a credit card with bad credit?

Yes, it’s definitely possible. There are some additional pitfalls, however, that you must watch for when securing a credit card if you have bad credit. 

While credit cards are often the source of a poor credit score, used properly a credit card can actually help repair a poor credit score. It can also help build credit if you have little or no credit history.

If you’re looking for a card that’s right for you, you’ve come to the right place. This page lists credit cards that we’ve confirmed accept applicants that have poor credit scores or a limited credit history. If your poor credit score is due to existing debt, check out our credit card repayment calculator to determine how much cash is needed to pay off your balance in full. 

What is a credit builder credit card?

Now that we’ve answered that it is often possible to get a credit card even if you have a poor credit score, let’s talk about the type of credit card you’re most likely to get.

Credit cards for bad credit are aimed at serving people with a limited credit history or lower credit scores. Credit builder cards typically offer lower, more manageable credit limits, have lower eligibility criteria for applicants and have a higher APR than most credit cards. Some of these cards will approve you even if you’ve had a CCJ, default or bankruptcy in the past.

These cards are designed to encourage good borrowing practices. Some cards even increase their credit limits or lower their APR if you display the desired borrowing behaviour like keeping within your credit limit and making your monthly payments on time.

Knowing which cards will give you the highest chance of approval is key and will help you make the first step towards improving your credit score. That’s why we’ve shortlisted top cards that are likely to accept you despite a lower credit score or a limited credit history.

Which banks offer credit cards for bad credit?

There are certain credit card issuers that focus more on offering solutions for people with lower credit scores. New Day, for instance, offers the aqua and marbles brand credit cards, both focused on helping people build credit. The same is true of Vanquis Bank and its credit cards.

However, High Street banks like Barclaycard and store brands like Tesco also can be found offering credit cards for those with less than perfect credit. Which means that it’s helpful to consult a price comparison site to find a card, rather than try to guess which bank might have a card that fits your situation.

How we picked our top credit-builder cards

You may feel pushed into a corner with not many options if you have no credit history or have a poor credit score, but you don’t have to feel that way. There is more variety than you would expect in the market.

Here are the criteria we used to sift through the cards for those with poor credit histories.

  • A high chance of approval – Cards that have lower eligibility criteria and for which your application is more likely to be considered, even if you have had financial issues in the past or are on a low income or a student. This may mean you’ll get accepted despite a lower credit score, but it may even mean getting accepted despite having a CCJ, bankruptcy or default in your credit history.
  • Potential to build credit over time – Cards that offer the chance to improve your credit score and potentially unlock further credit in the future. We gave extra points for cards that make this easier for you to do by providing you with your credit score on an ongoing basis, or using technology to help you monitor your spending.
  • No annual fees – You shouldn’t have to pay fees just to increase your credit score. And let’s be honest, nobody likes paying an annual fee, full stop!
  • Extra benefits – Make no mistake about it, you’re not going to find rich rewards, sign-up bonuses or long 0% interest periods on credit-builder cards. But some cards do offer some form of rewards or 0% period. Naturally we gave a ratings bump to cards that provide you the chance to build your credit and give you bonus features.

This certainly isn’t an exact science and a card will be right for you if it fits your personal circumstances well. But we believe that cards that have a good mix of the above could be a good match for many people who have less-than-stellar credit.

7 tips for applying for a credit-builder credit card

1. Don’t apply for cards that are out of your reach, or submit many applications

Since you’re reading this, you’re starting on the right foot. If you know you have a poor credit history, applying for credit cards that require good or even fair credit scores will lead to not only frustration, but will likely hurt your credit score further. Each credit card application that you make has the potential to lower your credit score. So applying for a card that’s out of reach may result in a rejection and make it even harder for you to get a card.

What follows from this, is that no matter what kind of card you applied for, if you apply for a credit card and get rejected… stop! Don’t rush to apply for another card, in hopes that the result that the outcome will be different. It may be different, and you may get approved for a different card (we hope you do!), but if you’re upset about being rejected and rush to submit another application, you may only risk damaging your credit score.

Instead, take a step back. First, consider whether you were applying for a card that required better credit than you currently have. On MyWalletHero, every credit card has a slider that shows what level of credit is typically required. If you have poor credit, but have applied for a card that requires good credit, that could be your problem. You can also contact the card issuer and ask them why you were rejected. They may not give you super-specific feedback, but it could help you better consider why your application was rejected.

Once you’ve taken some time to consider why your application was rejected, you can start to look through other credit cards on the market to consider what cards are more likely to accept you.

Once you’ve done that, be sure to…

2. Use eligibility checkers

It’s preferable that you do this from the very beginning, but if you’ve already applied for a card and been rejected, it’s not too late.

Almost every issuer provides an eligibility checker on their site. The eligibility checker performs a ‘soft check’ to determine with a reasonable degree of likelihood whether you’d be accepted for the card. The good news about a ‘soft check’ is that it doesn’t hurt your credit, even if it returns bad news.

If you’re weighing your options and trying to figure out which card is right for you and which will accept you, then running through an eligibility check can help with this. If you’ve applied for a card already and been rejected, using an eligibility check is definitely recommended, as it could help you find a card that will (likely) approve you without further hurting your credit.

3. Be aware of the APR

Typically, cards designed for those with no credit history or a poor credit history carry a higher APR that other credit cards. However, within the market itself, there will be cards that sell themselves on having a comparatively low APR.

If you are looking to pay off your balance in full in each month, then you shouldn’t be caught out by the high interest charges. Most cards come with a standard 45- to 56-day interest-free period on purchases, provided you pay your balance in full. However, if you are only able to make the minimum payment each month, do be aware of what APR the card carries and therefore what interest will be charged on your remaining balance. Please be careful here, as interest charges at these levels can add up very fast, and so carrying a balance should be a last option.

Also look for cards that offer the chance to reduce your APR over time if you display good borrowing practices. Similar to the idea of rewarding borrowers with increased credit limits, some cards will instead reduce your APR in stages provided you stay within your credit limit and pay your monthly balance.

Finally, be aware that the ‘Representative’ APRs that you see on MyWalletHero or elsewhere are the rates that 51% of applicants will get. You may think that the APRs on many credit-builder cards look sky high. But, believe it or not, the APRs can go higher. For a card with a Representative APR of 34.9%, for example, some applicants may be offered an APR of 59.9%. In this case, you may want to reconsider whether you really want that card, or at least be very very careful about carrying a balance on such a card.

4. Be careful of introductory 0% interest periods

If you are currently having financial or credit problems, then getting an introductory period of 0% interest, either for new purchases or for balance transfers, may sound great. The bad news is that credit-builder cards rarely offer long 0% periods. The good news, however, is that some do offer 0% interest periods. These 0% periods won’t be long, but even a few months without interest could provide breathing space.

Now let’s say you did get approved for a credit-builder card with a 0% interest period. Great news, right? Yes. But be aware of exactly how long the introductory period is. If you do not pay off your balance in full before the end of the period you will be charged the card’s standard APR, and it could impact your credit score. That could get costly in multiple ways.

So if you do get a card with a 0% period, be sure to mark the end of that 0% period on your calendar, and be sure to have your balance paid down by then.

5. Look for free credit reports and other credit-building services

One of the best ways to improve your credit score is to know what is going on with it. Therefore, take note of cards that offers a free credit checking service. This would help you know your credit score and keep you informed of any changes.

Beyond that, some card issuers have services like text alerts and apps that are designed to help you stay on top of your spending and payments. If you’re serious about improving your credit, don’t ignore these features. Going over your credit limit or missing payments can be costly in terms of fees, but they can also hurt your credit score. So getting some extra help staying on top of things can be a real benefit.

6. Don’t ignore cashback or rewards

Just because you need a card with which to rebuild your credit doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the perks that credit cards can offer. While they are unlikely to give the biggest rewards on the market, there are cards for those with bad credit histories that have cashback offers, reward points programmes or no fees for foreign transactions.

Treat these like the extra bonuses that they are though. Don’t choose a card that provides store rewards if another card will give you a few months of 0% interest and will save you a lot of interest. We get it, saving on interest may not be as fun as earning rewards, but when you’re trying to get your credit and finances in order, being practical can really pay.

And, of course, don’t use rewards or cashback as a reason to spend. Spend responsibly, pay down your balances and let the rewards take care of themselves. Besides, if you focus first on building or repairing your credit, you may soon stand the chance at qualifying for cards that offer much better rewards!

7. Be diligent

Your credit score is not going to improve overnight, but try to keep in mind that it will get better if you follow responsible financial habits going forwards.

After about 12–18 months of paying your bill on time and keeping within your credit limit, you should see an improvement in your score. This may mean that you then become eligible to apply for another credit card that offers better benefits.

And don’t get discouraged. This process can take time, and if you’re patient with it, and do take on better financial habits, those habits can serve you for the rest of your life.

How to build credit with credit cards

Let’s make no mistake, used irresponsibly, credit cards are great way to mangle your credit score and put yourself in a financial hole. But there are many benefits that come with having and using a credit card. One of them is that a credit card can actually help you improve your credit score.

That may seem surprising at first, but it’s true. Credit rating agencies look over your credit history to determine your credit score and when they see missed payments, defaults and exceeded credit limits, they give you a lower score. But the opposite is true as well. When they see increasingly good credit behaviour, like consistently making payments on time, paying your balance in full and staying well within your credit limit, those same rating agencies will start to raise your credit score.

Here are a few pointers to help this process along:

  • Keep your balance low – Yes, you have a new credit card, but don’t be tempted to go on an all-out spending spree. Use your card to demonstrate that you are borrowing responsibly: make sure not to exceed your credit limit and do keep your balance low. One thing that rating agencies look at is how much of your available credit you use. If you’re consistently using 95% of your possible credit, they don’t see that as a good sign.
  • Make your monthly payments – Try to pay at least the minimum payment each month. If possible, pay your balance in full, because anything left on the card will incur interest. But whether you’re paying in full or paying the minimum, do make your payment on time.
  • Be patient – We’re all dedicated to something at the start (just ask anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution!), but don’t be tempted to slip up and miss a payment or overspend a few months down the line. The more consistent you are with your borrowing behaviour, the more likely your credit score is to improve.

These steps may seem simple, but following them diligently can be surprisingly helpful when trying to improve your credit.

Is a credit-builder credit card right for you?

This is a question that you’ll for sure have to answer for yourself. It’s not fun to have credit issues, but by being honest with yourself, you give yourself the best chance of improving your situation.

With that in mind, being on a low income, being a student, having previously had an IVA (individual voluntary arrangement), a CCJ (county court judgement) or having been previously declared bankrupt could all affect your eligibility when applying for a credit card. Some card providers are also wary of other factors such as not having a permanent UK address or being self-employed. If these are true of you, or if you simply have been unable to get accepted for standard credit cards, then a credit card designed for those with bad credit may be the right choice.

Credit-builder cards are designed for those with bad credit histories and will often consider your application even if you fall into one of the above categories. If you have been declared bankrupt, though, you often need to wait for a certain period of time before applying for a credit card.

Of course it goes beyond simply whether you can get accepted for a credit card. You also need to assess whether you can responsibly manage a credit card. If you can answer yes to both of the following, a credit card may be a good option for you.

  • Will you always pay on time? – Falling behind on payments can have a huge impact not only on your budget (late payment fees are typically £12) but also on your credit score. Once you apply for a credit card, you will need to know that you can make the required payment by the card’s due date.
  • Will you not carry a balance? – You can easily get in financial distress if you don’t pay your balance in full and are therefore charged interest. This is especially true on credit-builder cards, since they typically have very high interest rates. It is best to be conscious of how much you are putting on your credit card and how much you can realistically pay off each month.

If you have a poor credit history, a credit card could be a useful tool to help you improve it. If you can answer ‘yes’ to the two questions above and are confident that you can display good borrowing behaviour, then a credit card could provide a launch pad to improve your credit score.

Remember when selecting a card to consider how much you can realistically pay off each month, what interest will be charged on any outstanding balances, any support services the card provider offers, any promotional periods, any chance to increase your credit limit or reduce your APR and any perks such as cashback or reward points. You may not achieve the best of all of these things in one card, but there are several options out there — it’s just a case of selecting which one will best meet your needs.

The content provided in these FAQs does not take into account the circumstances of any specific individual, and does not constitute personal advice or a personal recommendation for any individual; neither should it be relied upon by any individual when making any decisions. If you require any personal advice or personal recommendation, please speak to an appropriate qualified adviser.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you have a bad credit history?

There are three main credit rating agencies (CRAs) in the UK: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can apply to check your credit score with all three. Some sites, like Clearscore (which uses Equifax’s data) offer services such as free access to your credit report for life. Alternatively, you can get free 30-day trials of more comprehensive credit-checking services from Experian and Equifax, which will include your full credit report.

What exactly is a 'poor' credit score?

Each CRA has a different way of scoring consumers. Experian defines a score of anything below 720 as ‘poor’, for Equifax ‘poor’ is 379 or below, and TransUnion uses the grades of number 2 (‘poor’) or number 1 (‘very poor’).

How is your credit score determined?

Your credit score is calculated from the following information.

  • Your full name and date of birth
  • Electoral roll information to confirm your current address and previous addresses
  • All loans, credit cards and mortgage accounts
  • Current account overdraft
  • Previous application searches and footprints
  • Joint accounts
  • Any missed repayments and how frequent they are
  • History of debt
  • Information about whether your identity has been used for fraud.

Can I still get a credit card with poor credit?

Yes, it is often still possible. But you need to carefully consider which card is right for your situation, and, if you do get approved, you need to be careful about how you use your card, so you don't harm your credit score further.

Are too many credit cards bad for your credit score?

It can be. Having many credit cards can make new lenders worried about the level of debt you could rack up very quickly. It can also be a temptation for you to overspend and build too much debt. But don't rush to close out accounts because of this, because having long-running accounts (in good standing!) show good credit behaviour over time. The percentage of your total credit that you utilise is also important for your score, and if you start closing down lots of accounts, that could make your credit utilisation rise.

Is it bad to apply for multiple credit cards?

It's generally not ideal. And if we were chatting at the pub, I might ask you, 'Why are you applying for multiple credit cards?' The problem is that this may make it look to lenders like you're desperate for credit, which isn't a good look! In most cases, you'd be better off choosing a few cards that look like a good fit for you, using an eligibility checker to see which ones you'll likely be approved for and then applying for one.

How can I improve my chances of getting a card if I have bad credit?

If you have bad credit, there are two main options you have to improve your chances of getting a credit card: only apply for cards you’re eligible for, and improve your credit score. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Applying for credit and being declined can knock your credit score even lower. Avoid this by only applying for cards you’re eligible for. Many lenders offer an eligibility checker on their website, so check before you apply. Credit builder (or rebuilder) cards are an easy way to get a credit card with bad credit—they’re designed for it. Unfortunately, with low limits and high interest rates, they can be a trap, so think carefully. Can you make your payments easily and in full every month? If not, then this type of card could make your situation worse. At the very least, when you apply for credit, don’t make life harder for yourself—ask the lender to do a soft search first. Soft searches don’t leave a record on your credit file, so they won't harm your score.

By far, the best way to improve your chances of getting a credit card is to improve your credit score. A credit builder card can help with that, as long as you make all your payments on time and keep your balance below 30% of your limit. Improving your credit score comes down to proving that you’re responsible with money, and you are who you say you are. Register for the electoral roll, pay your bills on time and (if you can) close joint accounts with people who have bad credit. If you rent your accommodation, ask your landlord to report your rent payments to The Rental Exchange Initiative or CreditLadder. As long as you’re consistent, your score will improve.

Should I get a credit card if I already have a lot of debt?

Whether you should get a credit card if you already have a lot of debt depends on several factors that should all be considered when you make this decision. One factor is what you want the credit card for. If you’re already in debt, getting a credit card so you can continue spending will make your situation worse. However, if you want to consolidate your debts or transfer your existing balance to a card with a lower interest rate, a credit card may be a good choice.

Many credit cards offer a balance transfer. This means you can transfer your existing debts from other credit or store cards to the new card at a better interest rate—for a fee. The lower interest rate means more of your repayments go towards paying off your debt. However, the fee is usually a percentage of the debt transferred, so use a balance transfer calculator first to help you find a good deal.

How fast can I expect my score to improve if I make payments on time?

Making payments on time will improve your credit score, but it’ll take a while. Exactly how long it takes depends on your situation. Do you have a bad score because of bankruptcy or a court judgement? Did you miss a few bill payments? Max out your credit card? Or are you starting with a blank slate? In any case, it takes up to three months for companies to send information to the credit rating agencies. Until the agencies have the new information, your score definitely won’t change.

You can improve your credit score by adding positive information to your file, or waiting for negative information to expire. In general, most things stay on your file for up to 7 years. The good news is, unless you have something serious like bankruptcy on file, most lenders only look at the last 2 or 3 years. If you’re consistent with your payments, building a credit history from scratch or repairing it after a small mistake usually takes 3 to 6 months. The exact time depends on the credit agency.

Will closing accounts improve my credit score?

Closing bank accounts won’t make a difference to your credit score, but credit accounts might. When you close credit accounts, it looks to the credit rating agencies as if you’re using more of your available credit, so your credit score will probably take a short-term hit. However, if you do it right, it could improve your credit score in the medium-to-long term.

To come out of it stronger, plan ahead. Hold onto the accounts that help your credit score, and close the rest. Old accounts and accounts with high credit limits and low balances help, so hold onto them. But if you have lots of accounts of the same type, cut back on those—they can hurt your score. And make sure you keep the total balance across your remaining cards below 30% of your credit limit.

Once you’ve decided which accounts to keep, don’t close them all at once—spread it out over a few months. Before you close an account, make sure you cancel any direct debits or standing orders. Afterwards, don’t forget to check with your bank or lender that the account really is closed! If you do it right, your credit score will bounce back quickly.

Should I wait for my score to improve or get a credit card for bad credit now?

As always, it depends on your situation. If you already have some credit accounts and you’re paying your bills on time, it might be worth waiting a few months for your score to improve. Alternatively, if you don’t have any way to start building a good credit history, a credit builder card could help you—but only if you use it properly!

Credit builder cards have low credit limits and high interest rates. If you want to use one to improve your credit score, you’ll need to keep your balance below 30% of the credit limit and pay it off in full every month. Be honest with yourself about whether you can do that; if you can’t, you’ll end up with more debt and an even worse credit score than when you started.

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