Benefits and disadvantages of a credit card

Weigh up whether a credit card is right for you with our comprehensive list of 15 pros and cons.

Jump to the benefits Pros
Jump to the disadvantages Cons

9 Benefits of using a credit card

The perks that come with paying on plastic include:

  • 1. A credit card is safer than carrying cash.
    While there’s only a small chance of having lost or stolen cash returned, a credit card can quickly be cancelled if you lose your wallet. Most financial institutions also have security processes in place to protect you if your card has been lost or stolen or if you suspect your account has been used for a fraudulent transaction. If you’re in any of these situations, make sure to contact your bank to report the issue as soon as possible.
  • 2. We’re living in an increasingly cashless society.
    We’re starting to reach that point in our financial history where people are choosing to pay with plastic over paper. More merchants are now accepting a wider variety of cards, such as Amex and business cards, and some are even ditching cash payments altogether.
  • 3. A credit card can build your credit rating.
    Your credit card account details and payment history make up a key part of your credit report. Provided you keep your account in good standing, this information will help you build up a good credit score, increasing your chances of approval for other products such as car loans or a mortgage.
  • 4. You can get interest-free days.
    Provided you pay the balance in full before the statement period ends, many credit cards will offer a set number of days where you won’t pay interest on purchases. That can make a credit card a much smarter prospect than regularly dipping into your overdraft. Other, specialised cards go further – offering 0% interest for a number of months, allowing you to spread the cost of significant purchases.
  • 5. Earn reward points when you spend.
    Rewards and frequent flyer credit cards allow you to earn reward points on every pound you spend on eligible purchases, such as groceries and petrol. Redeem the points with the lender’s rewards programs for perks including flights, products from the rewards store or cashback.
  • 6. You can request a refund if you’re unhappy with a product or service.
    Thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, 1974, you can request a chargeback through your credit card company if your purchase is faulty, not as described, or does not arrive, and the merchant refuses to refund the money or has gone bust.
  • 7. Credit cards work in any currency.
    Although currency conversion fees usually apply, it’s super-easy to use your Visa or Mastercard credit card abroad to make purchases in a foreign currency. There are even tailored credit cards that waive fees for international purchases – which could be useful if you often shop at overseas online stores or have an overseas holiday coming up.
  • 8. Credit cards give you an emergency line of credit.
    Credit cards can be a financial safety net if you don’t have enough cash or savings to cover any unexpected costs that arise. Remember that you have to repay everything you owe, though.
  • 9. Credit cards often have complimentary extras.
    Credit card features such as travel insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty insurance can save you money and give you peace of mind. Other value-adding features include complimentary flight offers, airline lounge passes and even free wine when you dine.
  • 10. You can consolidate debts and save money on existing balances.
    Balance transfer credit cards allow you to move existing high-interest debts to a new account with a low or 0% promotional interest rate. This can save you money on interest charges and help you clear debt faster.

It’s also worth noting that, until recently, businesses often applied a surcharge when you paid with a credit card. Thankfully this is no longer allowed, so you won’t be charged extra when using your card.

6 Disadvantages of using a credit card

The downsides of spending with a credit card include:

  • 1. Paying high rates of interest.
    If you carry a balance from month-to-month, then depending on the card you’ll be charged interest. The default interest rates can be painfully high, and can vary depending on the type of transaction (cash advances or transfers to other accounts, for example, are often charged at a higher rate than purchases) so you can end up paying hundreds or thousands more than you might have, if you only make the minimum required repayment each month. Like your home energy, mobile contract and mortgage, if you don’t keep your eye on the ball and compare and switch from time to time, you’re likely to spend much more than you need to.
  • 2. Credit damage.
    Missed credit card repayments and ongoing debts are recorded on your credit file and can impact your chances of getting a loan in the future.
  • 3. Credit card fraud.
    There are a range of fraud schemes that target credit cards. While you can be compensated for illegal transactions on your account, dealing with credit card fraud can still be a time-consuming and stressful experience.
  • 4. Cash advance fees and rates.
    Financial institutions make it very expensive to use your credit card to get cash out or make other “cash equivalent” transactions (such as buying foreign currency). Using a credit card for a cash withdrawal will attract a cash advance fee worth around 3% of the total transaction amount. It also typically attracts an interest rate of 18-22% right away.
  • 5. Annual fees.
    While you can often get cards without annual fees, many credit cards do have them. These can cost as little as £25 per year, or several hundred pounds, depending on the card that you choose. Generally, the more perks you want, the higher the cost of the annual fee. If you want to avoid this charge, you can consider a no annual fee credit card – but make sure you look at all the other features to help find a card that works for you.
  • 6. Other fees can quickly add up.
    Depending on your card, you could be charged fees when you miss a payment, fees if you spend past your credit limit, fees for overseas transactions, balance transfer fees and even some rewards programmes fees. If you carry a balance or don’t have access to interest-free days, there’s also a good chance interest will be applied to these charges.

Crucially, credit cards are a “revolving line of credit”. That means they can theoretically last a lifetime, because they don’t have an end date. Taking out a credit card is an ongoing commitment, so it’s worth doing a little homework before diving in.

Should I apply for a credit card?

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Credit cards are suited to certain types of people, and certain circumstances, but not others. As well as considering the pros and cons, you may like to look at the following factors to help decide if a credit card is right for you.

A credit card may suit you if you

  • Are at least 18 years of age
  • Are a UK resident
  • Have a regular source of income
  • Regularly pay your bills on time
  • Want to keep certain transactions separate from your everyday bank account
  • Want to build your credit history
  • Are keen to earn rewards for your spending
  • Need a more flexible cashflow
  • Can afford to pay a little extra for the convenience

A credit card may not suit you if you

  • Don’t meet the typical eligibility criteria
  • Often struggle to pay bills on time
  • Don’t have a regular source of income
  • Don’t want the hassle of having to compare and switch from time to time
  • Can’t afford annual fees or interest charges
  • Have bad credit
  • Are happy to just use a debit card
We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.

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