Your credit score makes is one of the main factors that determines whether you get approved for credit and the terms you’re offered. Bad credit can reduce your chances of getting vital finance, like a mortgage, car finance or a credit card.
The good news is that there’s a whole growing niche of cards designed for those with less than perfect credit records, that help you build up or restore your credit history while you spend. Expect low, personalised opening credit limits and higher-than-average, personalised interest rates, in return for more lenient eligibility criteria.
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Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Updated January 29th, 2020
Approval for any credit card will depend on your status. The APR shown represents the interest rate offered to most successful applicants. Depending on your personal circumstances the APR you're offered may be higher, or you may not be offered credit at all. Fees and rates are subject to change without notice. It's always wise to check the terms of any deal before you borrow.
More about credit builder cards
What is a credit builder card?
A credit builder card is a credit card that’s specifically designed for people whose credit score is low, and who might struggle to get approval for finance through mainstream channels.
These cards are also seen as entry-level credit, and a stepping stone to credit products with better rates. If you’ve never borrowed or taken out a loan (perhaps if you’re young and new to the world of credit cards), your credit record is likely to be pretty non-existent, and it can be difficult to get the all-clear on a card or loan application. Lenders have no credit history to analyse and don’t know if they can take the risk in giving you credit. In this situation, a credit builder credit card will help you to build a credit history from scratch.
Some card issuers like Vanquis and aqua specialise in credit builders, and offer a whole range of cards for this market, while the big household names like Barclaycard or Tesco Bank are more likely to have just the one card in their range that would be considered a credit builder.
What is the easiest credit card to get with poor credit?
All card issuers have their own criteria for evaluating applications, but they’ll all consider more than just your credit score. Affordability is as important, if not more so, for example. The good news is that almost all card issuers now let you check your likelihood of approval before you submit an application – saving you time and protecting your credit score from further harm (full applications involve a “hard” credit search and have a slight negative effect on your score).
Used correctly, almost any credit card should build your credit, but “Credit builder” cards are designed with exactly this purpose in mind. These cards are usually easier to get approved for, but come with lower, personalised credit limits and higher, personalised interest rates.
How are credit builders different to other cards?
The features on a credit builder credit card will be similar to that of a standard credit card, but with some key differences:
Higher, personalised interest rates. All card issuers have to declare the “APR” (Annual Percentage Rate) of their cards. This can be a handy benchmark, but it’s crucial to understand that not everybody who’s offered the card will get this rate. In the vast majority of cases, rates are tailored to the applicant – i.e., the riskier a lender thinks you are, the higher the rate they’ll offer you. In fact, the advertised representative APR only has to be given to 51% of cardholders. The APR on credit builder cards (typically around 27% and up) is higher than on standard credit cards (typically around 18-22%), to compensate for the higher risks that card issuers are taking on.
Lower, personalised credit limits. Your credit limit is the maximum balance amount you’re allowed to be in debt on your credit card at any one time. This personalised limit will be offered by the card issuer and will be dependent on factors like your income, outgoings and credit score. To protect credit providers and reduce the consequences in case of a default (that’s a failure to repay), the credit limit on a credit builder card will usually start low – anywhere between £100 and £1,000. The good news is that it’s often possible to have your limit reviewed within a few months of careful card use (staying within your limit and making repayments on time).
Fewer account fees. While some credit cards come with a flat annual or monthly fee as well as charging interest, it’s very rare to see card issuers charging monthly or annual account fees in the credit builder space. 118 118 Money is the exception to this rule, however.
Fewer frills. Typically, a credit builder credit card won’t come with much in the way of bonuses or extras. Since the main purpose of these cards is to build up your credit score, they shouldn’t be complicated products (which, sadly, plenty of credit cards are). Some providers do offer a short 0% period or a basic rewards point scheme, but this isn’t common.
Tools to help you build your credit. Card issuers want you to make your payments on time, and, if they offer a range of cards, might expect you to move across to a different card as your credit score improves. To help you along this journey, your credit builder might come with features like access to your credit record (through companies like Noddle or Experian), text or email alerts when a payment is due or when you’re close to your limit, an app to manage your account on the move and/or specialised information and advice.
How should I compare credit builder credit cards?
Using a credit builder credit card to improve your credit score is a serious decision. To make sure you are choosing the right option for you, there are a few aspects to consider.
How much is it going to cost you? Credit card fee structures can be, well, a bit of a minefield. But crucially, if you pay off your balance in full each month and use your card responsibly (stay within your limit, don’t use the card to withdraw cash), you should be able to avoid paying any interest or fees at all, thanks to the grace period on purchases that almost all cards offer. The APR of cards is designed to act as a benchmark for comparison. all issuers have to calculate it in the same way, taking into account the default interest rate plus any mandatory annual/monthly fees.
Are you eligible? Check any minimum income requirements before you apply. The last thing you want to do is to keep applying for credit cards when you keep getting rejected. This will damage your credit score even further and make it more difficult to get credit in the future. Thankfully pretty much every issuer now offers an “eligibility checker” that you can use to get an indication of how likely you are to get approved before applying. This won’t affect your credit score and can help you compare credit cards by eliminating options that you’re not eligible for.
Will it help you stay on top of your finances? A good credit builder card should make it easy for you to track and manage your account and manage repayments. That might mean a decent mobile app, text alerts or even visibility of your credit record.
Are there any perks? Rewards on credit builder credit cards aren’t commonplace, but in some instances the issuer might include basic benefits such as loyalty points on purchases or fee-free spending overseas. Just be wary of building up debt through chasing points – you’ll almost certainly end up paying more in interest than you earn in rewards.
What is APR?
Credit card promotions have to include an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which all card issuers must calculate in the same way. Credit card fee structures can get fiddly, so the APR’s designed to benchmark the yearly cost to borrow, with a view to helping consumers compare cards against each other. It takes into consideration the default interest rate plus any mandatory, regular account fees.
There’s a big catch though: the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) states that this rate must be what 51% (or more) of people accepted for a card receive. That means that up to 49% of those accepted for a credit card may end up paying a higher rate. This is why it’s often called “Typical” or “Representative” APR. When you apply for a credit builder card, you stand a decent chance of getting the advertised rate even if your credit score isn’t great (that’s what they’re for, after all), but there’s no guarantee.
Ultimately the APR is a handy figure to keep in mind… but it isn’t everything. For example, with credit builder credit cards, the APR will be quite high because borrowing with these cards comes really expensive. However, your main focus when you get one should be building up your credit score by paying off your balance in full every month and avoiding borrowing for longer than that. If you stick to this resolution, the APR won’t really impact you.
Are credit builder credit cards a good idea?
It helps to look at both the positives and the negatives when deciding if a credit builder credit card is a good option for your current situation.
Build your credit score. The main benefit of this type of card is the ability to restore or build your credit score while making purchases with it.
Get access to credit. A credit builder credit card is an entry level option that will give you access to credit, especially when you’ve been refused elsewhere.
Get interest free days. Almost all credit cards come with up to 55 or 56 days of 0% interest on purchases, provided you clear your balance in full each month. That means that, although credit builders have relatively high rates, you could potentially avoid paying interest altogether. Crucially, cash advances (withdrawing cash) won’t benefit from this feature.
Enjoy other standard benefits of credit card ownership. Having a credit card when travelling is much safer than carrying around cash and is often required for certain services like hiring a car. It also provides protection when lost or stolen as you can easily cancel it to prevent fraudulent transactions.
Unfavourable terms. To protect card issuers against the risk of the loan, a credit builder credit card will often come with high interest rates and low credit limits.
Low limits. If you’re approved for a credit builder, you’re likely to start off with a low limit. These limits are tailored to the individual, but can be reviewed periodically.
Limited rewards. Although some providers do offer 0% purchase periods or rewards, you are unlikely to get more lucrative rewards like air miles or perks like complimentary travel insurance.
What should I watch out for?
Never miss your minimum repayments. This will result in additional fees and charges and damage your credit score even further. It’s always better to repay the full amount every month to prove to lenders you can effectively manage your debt.
Avoid withdrawing cash. Cash withdrawals on any credit card are expensive. The rates on credit builder credit cards are likely to be even higher. If you regularly withdraw cash it might signal to card providers that you are cash strapped and they could refuse you credit going forward.
If you are rejected, wait before applying for another card. Every time you get rejected for a credit card application, your credit score is impacted. It’s best to take a step back and find out why you were rejected before continuing.
Frequently asked questions
Along with your application form, lenders will look at any dealings you have had with them in the past. They will also look at information provided by UK credit reference agencies, such as Experian, which will include court records, electoral rolls and account data from banks and utility companies.
Ideally, yes. Having too many lines of credit open, even if they are unused, could affect your credit score and your eligibility for approval.
Your bank or building society is a good place to start. Having an existing relationship with credit providers can certainly help. However, don’t assume loyalty will automatically pay. Always shop around and compare, there are many independent credit card companies that might offer a better deal than your normal financial provider.
A late payment fee will apply and it will have a negative impact on your credit score. Any card benefits might also be revoked. If you keep within the restrictions of the lender, a credit builder credit card is a simple way to build your credit score and can be a gateway to more favourable terms on a wider variety of financing options.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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