Getting a credit card when you’re under 21

Typically, it’s much easier to apply for credit cards when you're 21 or over.

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Before that age, you may have a tougher time getting approved because of your lack of credit history. If you’re under 18, you can’t apply for a credit card. And if you’re between 18 and 21, card providers will be sticklers about checking your income.

Still, it’s possible to get a credit card as long as you know what you’re doing. Here’s what you should know about the different cards open to you and your best options by provider.

How to get a credit card if you’re between 18 and 21 years old

Once you turn 18, you can start to build your credit history. Your credit report is essentially your financial history and details how reliable you are when it comes to borrowing money. Whenever you open a credit card or store card or take out a loan or mortgage, the bank or provider will refer to your credit history to determine if you’re a good candidate to lend money to. Having a bad or low credit history can be caused by missed or late payments or a low income, and could have future implications on your finances.

As a young person starting to build your credit history, your options for credit cards are:

  • Student credit card. Available to adults 18 or over in part-time or full-time education. Student credit cards often require you have a student bank account with the same provider.
  • Any credit card. In theory, most UK credit cards on the market are open to UK residents aged 18 or over. However, your lack of credit history means you may find you aren’t eligible for many.
  • Credit builder credit card. This is a great option for those looking to start their credit history from scratch and, if used correctly, can be a stepping stone to mainstream credit cards in the future.
  • Additional cardholder. A good introduction for those nervous about having a credit card is being added as an additional cardholder to a family member or partner’s credit card. However, the primary cardholder will be the one liable for any missed payments and it’s their credit history at risk.

Beginner’s guide to credit cards

Try a student credit card

If you’re a college or university student aged 18 or over and in part-time or full-time education, you’re eligible for a student credit card. Many providers will only give you a credit card if you already have a student bank account with them.

Student credit cards tend to have low credit limits and no annual fees to help make them more affordable. They usually don’t offer many rewards with them, so it may be worth looking at a rewards debit card with cashback or points instead if that’s important to you.

All you need to know about student credit cards

Compare credit cards

If you’re between 18 and 21 years old, your main problem may be the lack of a credit history. Many card providers simply won’t let you borrow money until they can see how responsible you are.

Most mainstream credit cards are – in theory – available to all UK residents aged 18 or over. However, your eligibility is considered on a case-by-case basis, with providers looking at your credit report and income to determine whether or not you should be allowed credit.

Before applying for a mainstream credit card, always make sure to do the “eligibility check” on the bank or provider’s website first. This will give you an indication of how likely your chances of success are in being approved. This is considered a “soft search” and does not impact on your credit history. Any credit card applications, whether they are successful or not, are considered “hard searches” and can affect your credit history.

Compare cards by type

Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Updated March 29th, 2020
Name Product Purchases Annual/monthly fees Credit limits Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
AIB Student Mastercard
12.9%
£0
Min. limit £300, max. limit not specified.
12.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 12.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 12.9% APR (variable).
Bank of Ireland UK Student Mastercard
0% for 3 months reverting to 17.9%
£0
Min. limit not specified, max. limit £350.
17.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 17.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 17.9% APR (variable).
Ulster Bank Student Mastercard
18.94%
£0
Min. limit £350, max. limit £350.
18.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £350 at a purchase rate of 18.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
NatWest Student Credit Card Mastercard
18.95%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit £500.
18.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £500 at a purchase rate of 18.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
Royal Bank of Scotland Student Credit Card Mastercard
18.95%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit £500.
18.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £500 at a purchase rate of 18.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
HSBC Student Credit Card Visa
18.9%
£0
Min. limit not specified, max. limit £500.
18.9% (variable)
Discounts and exclusive offers for dining experiences, leisure activities and shopping available through HSBC Home and Away.
Representative example: When you spend £500 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
TSB Student Mastercard
19.95%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit £1,000.
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 19.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated March 29th, 2020
Name Product Annual/monthly fees Min credit limit Max credit limit Minimum income Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
Vanquis Bank Chrome Credit Card 24.7pc Visa
£0
£250
Subject to status: £1,000
Not specified
24.7%
Stay in control of your account with online servicing, a mobile app, SMS and email alerts.
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 24.7% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 24.7% APR (variable).
Tandem Bank Journey Credit Card Mastercard
£0
£500
Subject to status: £1,500
£15000
24.9%
No fees for making purchases or withdrawing cash abroad – currencies are converted at the standard Mastercard exchange rate.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 24.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 24.9% APR (variable).
Vanquis Bank Chrome Card 29.3pc Visa
£0
£250
Subject to status: £1,000
Not specified
29.3%
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 29.3% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 29.3% APR (variable).
Vanquis Bank Aquis Visa
£0
£250
Subject to status: £1,000
Not specified
29.8%
You could get a credit limit increase after your 5th statement and further increases every 5 months, up to £4,000.
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 29.84% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 29.8% APR (variable).
Vanquis Bank Visa
£0
£150
Subject to status: £1,000
Not specified
39.9%
Representative example: When you spend £1,000 at a purchase rate of 39.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 39.9% APR (variable).
TSB Classic Mastercard
£0
£500
Not specified
Not specified
26.9%
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 26.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 26.9% APR (variable).
Tesco Bank Foundation Clubcard Credit Card Mastercard
£0
£250
Subject to status: £1,500
£5000
27.5%
Collect 1 Tesco Clubcard point per £4 spent (£4 minimum) in Tesco and 1 Clubcard point per £8 spent (£8 minimum) outside Tesco in each purchase transaction.  Must have available credit to collect Clubcard points. Clubcard points are turned into Clubcard vouchers every 3 months or sooner using Faster Vouchers. Clubcard vouchers can be used in Tesco or with Clubcard Reward Partners to get even more value on dining out, hotel stays and travel.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 27.542% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 27.5% APR (variable).
Bank of Scotland Classic Mastercard
£0
£0
Not specified
Not specified
27.9%
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 27.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 27.9% APR (variable).

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated March 29th, 2020
Name Product Purchases Balance transfers Annual/monthly fees Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
Barclaycard Platinum All-Rounder Visa
0% for 27 months reverting to 21.9%
0% for 27 months reverting to 21.9%
£0
21.9% (variable)
Buy tickets for up to 3500 selected live events through Barclaycard entertainment and get 5% off tickets per year and exclusive pre-sale tickets on selected festivals with 10% off ticket prices.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 21.9% APR (variable).
Sainsbury's Bank Dual Offer Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 27 months reverting to 20.95%
0% for 27 months reverting to 20.95%
£0
20.9% (variable)
Earn 750 bonus Nectar points each time £35 or more spent on Sainsbury's shopping, up to ten times in your first 2 months, up to a total of 7,500 points, offer available for new customers. Earn 2 Nectar points per £1 spent on Sainsbury's shopping and fuel. Earn 1 Nectar point for every £5 spent elsewhere.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
Santander All in One Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 26 months reverting to 15.9%
0% for 26 months reverting to 15.9%
£3 per month
21.7% (variable)
0.5% after £1 of monthly spend. Cashback paid Monthly into Card Account. Maximum spend for cashback purposes is limited to credit limit.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 15.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 21.7% APR (variable).
MBNA 0% Transfer and Purchase Credit Card
0% for 26 months reverting to 20.93%
0% for 26 months reverting to 20.93%
£0
20.9% (variable)
Introductory 0% purchase offer only applies to purchases made within 60 days of opening.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.93% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
Bank of Ireland UK Matched Mastercard
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
Tesco Bank Clubcard Credit Card Purchases Mastercard
0% for 22 months reverting to 19.944%
0% for 3 months reverting to 21.814%
£0
19.9% (variable)
1 point per £4 spent (£4 minimum) in Tesco and 1 point per £8 spent (£8 minimum) outside Tesco. Must have available credit to earn points. Points are converted to Tesco vouchers or can be exchanged for Partner rewards to receive money off a variety of restaurants, entertainment or Avios points.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.944% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
Virgin Money 23 Month All Round Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 21.9%
0% for 23 months reverting to 21.9%
£0
21.9% (variable)
Earn cashback when you shop online with over 500 top brands with Virgin Money Back.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 21.9% APR (variable).
Bank of Scotland Platinum 0% Purchase and Balance Transfer Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.95%
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.95%
£0
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated March 29th, 2020
Name Product Purchases Annual/monthly fees Credit limits Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
American Express Rewards Credit Card
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
22.9% (variable)
Earn 5,000 bonus Membership Rewards points when you spend £2,000 in your first 3 months, and 1 point for virtually every £1 spent thereafter.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
British Airways American Express Card
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
22.9% (variable)
5,000 Avios when you spend £1,000 within 3 months of account opening. Earn 1 Avios for virtually every £1 spent. Get a Companion Voucher when you spend £20,000 each year. Earn up to 90,000 bonus Avios points per calendar year, 4,000 points per friend/family member that successfully applies for an American Express card (Excl. Basic card) and uses the Referral Programme.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Card
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
22.9% (variable)
5% on £1 to £2000 of yearly spend for introductory period of 3 months. 0.5% on £1 to £5000 of yearly spend. 1% after £5001 of yearly spend. Cashback paid Anniversary into Card Account. 5% intro cashback in the first 3 months (max £100). Must spend £3K annually to earn cashback.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
The American Express Nectar Credit Card
22.9%
Year 1 - £0, Year 2 onwards - £25 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
28.2% (variable)
20,000 Nectar points when you spend £2K within 3 months of account opening. Earn 2 Nectar points for virtually every £1 spent at Nectar partners and elsewhere.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of Year 1 - £0, Year 2 onwards - £25 per annum, your representative rate is 28.2% APR (variable).
American Express Platinum Cashback Card
22.9%
£25 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
28.2% (variable)
5% on £1 to £2500 of yearly spend for introductory period of 3 months. 1% on £1 to £10000 of yearly spend. 1.25% after £10001 of yearly spend. Cashback paid Anniversary into Card Account. 5% intro cashback (max £125).
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £25 per annum, your representative rate is 28.2% APR (variable).
The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
22.9%
£75 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
39.7% (variable)
Earn 20,000 points when you spend £3,000 within 3 months of account opening. Earn 6 points for every £1 spent at Marriott properties globally and 2 points for virtually every other £1 spent.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £75 per annum, your representative rate is 39.7% APR (variable).
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card
22.9%
Year 1 - £0, Year 2 onwards - £140 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
57.6% (variable)
New Cardmember offer: Earn 20,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend £3,000 in your first three months of Cardmembership. Offer ends 29 June 2020. Terms apply.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with an annual fee of £140 (£0 in first year), your representative APR is 57.6% APR (variable).
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
22.9%
£195 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
76% (variable)
25,000 Avios when you spend £3K within 3 months of account opening. Earn 3 Avios for virtually every £1 spent directly with BA, and 1.5 Avios for virtually every £1 spent everywhere else. Spend £10K in 12 months to redeem the Avios for a companion ticket on a BA flight. Earn up to 90,000 bonus Avios points per calendar year, 9,000 points per friends/family that uses Referral Programme and successfully apply for an American Express card (Excl. Basic card).
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £195 per annum, your representative rate is 76% APR (variable).

Compare up to 4 providers

Try a credit builder card

Credit builder cards are designed for those with no or bad credit history. These cards offer a simple way for you to build your credit history over time.

Generally, these types of cards have a low credit limit and a high interest rate to encourage you to pay off your bill in full every month. Your provider will regularly monitor your payment history and your credit limit may be raised over time if you prove you’re a responsible cardholder.

These cards rarely have many benefits or extras, but could pave the way for you to progress to a mainstream or low-rate credit card in the future if your credit score improves.

Full guide to credit building cards

How to become an additional cardholder

If you’re nervous about credit cards, it may be worth asking a family member or your partner to allow you to become an additional cardholder on their existing credit card. Most banks and providers usually require the person be 18 or over and live at the same UK address as the primary cardholder.

It’s simple to become an additional cardholder. Most banks or providers require you give details of the additional cardholder over the phone. They may also be able to add you online.

Be careful about becoming an additional cardholder

As an additional cardholder, you’re not responsible for making card payments. Though that’s a plus in some ways, it can also be a negative: your credit history will rise and fall with the primary cardholder’s payments. If the primary cardholder makes payments on time, you may see a boost in your credit score. But if they’re consistently late on payments, your score could drop.

How to get a credit card if you’re under 18 years old

If you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to get a credit card. Credit agencies only start building a person’s history from the age of 18, hence why you’re unable to get credit.

As an under 18 year old, your two options are:

  • Prepaid cards. Reloadable cards that act like a debit card.
  • Debit cards. Linked to your bank account.

Credit card options for teens under 18 years old

Pros and cons of credit cards

Pros
  • Build or rebuild your credit. A credit card isn’t the only way to build credit, but it’s an excellent choice. When you use your card and consistently pay your bills on time, your credit score will increase.
  • Safe and convenient. Instead of carrying a lot of cash, you can simply use your card. Most cards have contactless technology to pay for purchases of £30 or under which don’t require a PIN.
  • Payment protection. Credit cards give you more protection than debit cards when things go wrong, thanks to the section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. It states that on purchases of single items worth between £100 and £30,000, the provider is jointly liable with the retailer if you don’t get what you paid for.
  • Spreads the cost of a large purchase. Credit cards can buy you more time if you need a large sum to pay for an expensive item, holiday or repair. You usually have up to 56 days interest free on items purchased on your credit card, which gives you time to pay it off.
Cons

  • Encourages spending. If you’re prone to spending beyond your means, consider holding off on a credit card. You risk accruing huge amounts of debt that will be difficult to repay. Work on solving your spending problem, or stick to prepaid/debit cards.
  • Extra fees. While debit cards take the money straight out of your account, credit cards are borrowing. As well as interest rates, you could also have to stump up for annual fees, penalty charges for late payments, among other fees. Do your research before opening a credit card and aim to pay off your bill in full every month if possible to avoid high interest charges.
  • Don’t withdraw cash. Nearly every provider charges instant interest on any cash withdrawals or other cash advance transactions, along with hefty fees. It’s better to stick to your debit card and withdraw your actual money from your bank account. These charges rise even higher once you go abroad so if you travel often, it may be worth considering a no foreign transaction fees credit card.

Frequently asked questions

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