What different types of credit cards are available?

There are many different types of credit card on the market. Here's everything you need to know about choosing the right card to suit your needs.

Used correctly, credit cards can give you an array of benefits and savings. However, it’s important to make sure you can pay off any debt you run up on them with timely, regular payments.

Although they appear to share some similarities, debit cards and credit cards are very different. Debit cards are linked to your bank account and withdraw money immediately when you use them. However, credit cards are a form of borrowing, resulting in a bill you will have to pay off. While you can use both cards to pay for many of the same things, credit cards give you added protection if things go wrong. If your item is faulty or not as advertised, or the retailer goes bust, the credit card company is jointly responsible along with the retailer for making sure you’re not out of pocket, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

This guide explains the key types of cards out there. Many card products offer a combination of different benefits, so it’s important to be aware these groupings aren’t mutually exclusive.

Remember that some factors, such as the credit limit, interest rate and the length of any introductory promotional periods can be tailored to the individual by the card issuer. In other words, if you have a poor or limited credit history, the issuer might offer you a different (higher) rate than the advertised APR, for example.

Beginners guide to credit cards

M&S Bank Shopping Plus Credit Card

M&S Bank Shopping Plus Credit Card

  • 0% on balance transfers for 15 months
  • 0% on purchases for 18 months
  • No annual fee

Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 23.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 23.9% APR (variable).


Cards for everyday or big purchases

If you’re planning to use your credit card for either everyday spending or to pay for a large purchase, consider a purchase card to spread the payments over time. There are many attractive deals offering long interest-free periods, sometimes as long as 32 months. Alternatively, you could get a card which offers the same, flat low-rate so there are no nasty surprises.

0% purchase credit cards are suitable for people who want to spread the cost of major expenses, but without having to pay any interest. They usually offer an interest-free period on all purchases made over a specified period of time, usually between 12-24 months or longer. However, you will still have to make the minimum monthly payment.
If you want to keep your interest rate down over a long period of time, consider a low interest card. These no-frills cards don’t usually offer headline-grabbing introductory fixed rates and rewards, but offer the advantage of ongoing simplicity.

Cards that earn rewards as you spend

If you want to be rewarded as you spend, consider a rewards credit card. Depending on what type you choose, you could be rewarded with a cashback or points as you spend. Points can be redeemed for a variety of different items and experiences.

Cashback cards return a percentage of your spending back to you. For example, if you spend £5,000 on your card and get 1% cash back, you’ll receive £50. A cashback can be paid to you into your account either monthly or yearly, depending on the provider.
    Rewards credit cards offer points based on the amount you spend. Points can be redeemed on a wide range of items and experiences (depending on the card type and provider) including travel, restaurants, cinemas and groceries. Examples of rewards points include Avios, Nectar and Tesco Clubcard points.
    If you’re a frequent flyer, you could be rewarded for your travel with points and other benefits, as well as avoid foreign transaction fees. You can enjoy upgrades and perks, such as airport lounge access, travel insurance, concierge services and even complimentary flights or hotel stays. Reward points can be redeemed on flights, hotels, cruises and even rental cars.
    Store cards offer you rewards for shopping with a particular brand or store group. These types of cards can be broken down into two groups: traditional store cards (which can only be used in-store) and store credit cards (which are usually on a card network, such as Mastercard or Visa, and can be used elsewhere). As well as offering you points that can be redeemed in-store, you can also enjoy other perks, such as free shipping, invites to cardholder events and exclusive sales.
    Platinum credit cards are a prestige product that offer impressive rewards to those who spend regularly. They usually require an excellent credit score and a high income. Often, you must be an existing banking customer with the provider to open a platinum credit card with them.

    Cards for bad credit

    If you have no or a bad credit history, you may struggle to be approved for finance. If you want to build or improve your credit score over time, a credit builder card could be a solution. Alternatively, if you are finding you can’t get a credit card at all, a prepaid card could be useful, especially when going abroad.

    Credit builder cards can be used for two types of customer – people with no credit history whatsoever and others who have a bad credit history they want to rehabilitate. These cards usually have a lower credit limit and high interest rates, so you are encouraged to pay off your balance in full every month.