Benefits and disadvantages of a credit card

Credit cards can be a convenient way to manage your finances, but they can also be expensive and risky. Weigh up whether a credit card is right for you with our comprehensive list of 15 pros and cons.

Updated

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. 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.
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. 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.
  • 5. 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.
  • 6. 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.
  • 7. 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.
  • 8. 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.
  • 9. 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 you 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?

blondy-with-laptop-holding-a-creditcard copy

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

Different types of credit cards explained

Compare credit cards

Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Data indicated here is updated daily
Name Product Purchases Annual/monthly fees Credit limits Rep. APR Incentive Link
M&S Bank Shopping Plus Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
19.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
M&S Bank Reward Plus Mastercard
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
19.9% (variable)
Double points on spend in M&S for first 12 months (2 points per £1). Then earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
Maximiles Mastercard
0% for 3 months reverting to 17.9%
£0
Min. limit £100, max. limit not specified.
17.9% (variable)
Earn 1 Maximiles point for every £1 spent. 5000 bonus points when you make your first card purchase.
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).
The Co-operative Bank Members' Credit Card Visa
18.3%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
18.3% (variable)
1p earned for every £2 spent in The Co-operative Food stores (excluding in-store concessions) and 1p earned for every £3.33 spent anywhere else. Cashback will be added to your share of the Group profits and this will be paid to you twice a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.3% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.3% APR (variable).
John Lewis and Waitrose Partnership Mastercard
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit not specified.
18.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent in store or online at John Lewis, Waitrose and John Lewis Insurance. Earn 1 Point for every £2 spent elsewhere. Earn double points on selected insurances taken out through John Lewis Financial Services. Vouchers issued once customer reaches 500 points in Feb, Jun or Oct when vouchers are automatically issued to customers. Every 500 points is worth £5.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
HSBC Premier Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
£0
Min. limit £1,500, max. limit not specified.
18.9% (variable)
A selection of rewards from a range of partners. Earn 1 point for every £1 spent within the UK and earn 2 points for every £1 spent outside the UK. Points can be redeemed for shopping vouchers and frequent flyer miles.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
AIB Visa Option 1
18.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
18.9% (variable)
0.5% after £5000 of yearly spend. Minimum of 12 transactions per year required. Maximum of £250 cashback paid per year. Cashback paid Anniversary into Card Account. For initial £5K a £25 cashback is paid, plus an additional £1 for every further £200 spent.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
Bank of China (UK) Great Wall International Classic Credit Card Visa
17.1%
£10 per annum
Min. limit £250, max. limit £10,000.
19% (variable)
Earn 10 points per £1 spent on card; points can be redeemed for selected gifts or card annual fee waiver.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 17.1% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £10 per annum, your representative rate is 19% APR (variable).
smile Classic Credit Card Visa
19.9%
£0
Min. limit £200, max. limit not specified.
19.9% (variable)
0.25% after £1 of monthly spend. Cashback paid Monthly into Card Account.
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).
M&S Bank Transfer Plus Mastercard
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
19.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
loading

Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated daily
Name Product Purchases Balance transfers Annual/monthly fees Rep. APR Incentive Link
M&S Bank Shopping Plus Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 20 months
(2.9% fee)
£0
19.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
HSBC Purchase Plus Credit Card Visa
0% for 18 months reverting to 22.9%
0% for 18 months
(2.9% fee)
£0
22.9% (variable)
Discounts and exclusive offers for dining experiences, leisure activities and shopping available through HSBC Home and Away.
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).
M&S Bank Reward Plus Mastercard
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 6 months
(2.9% fee)
£0
19.9% (variable)
Double points on spend in M&S for first 12 months (2 points per £1). Then earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
Santander All in One Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 26 months reverting to 15.9%
0% for 26 months
(0% fee)
£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).
Tesco Bank Clubcard Plus Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.944%
21.814%
(3.99% fee)
£0
37.7% (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. Card can also be used as a Clubcard to collect standard points at 1 point per £1 spent on shopping and 1 point per £2 spent on fuel. Points are converted to Tesco vouchers which can be used towards shopping or exchanged for Partner Rewards.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.944% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 37.7% APR (variable).
Sainsbury's Bank Dual Offer Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 20.95%
0% for 20 months
(3% fee)
£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).
TSB Platinum Purchase Card
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.95%
0% for 20 months
(2.95% fee)
£0
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a rate of 19.95% (variable) per annum, your representative APR is 19.9% APR (variable).
MBNA 0% Transfer and Purchase Credit Card
0% for 18 months reverting to 20.93%
0% for 18 months
(2.99% fee)
£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).
Santander World Elite Mastercard
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
0% for 18 months
(0% fee)
£15 per month
49.8% (variable)
0.5% on £1 to £3000 of monthly spend. Maximum of £15 cashback paid per month. 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 18.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £15 per month, your representative rate is 49.8% APR (variable).
Barclaycard Platinum 18 Month 0% Purchase and Balance Transfer Visa
0% for 18 months reverting to 20.9%
0% for 18 months
(2.9% fee)
£0
20.9% (variable)
Buy tickets for up to 3500 selected live events through Barclaycard entertainment and get 5% off tickets per year and exclusive presale tickets on selected festivals with 10% off ticket prices.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
loading

Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated daily
Name Product Balance transfers Balance transfer fee Purchases Annual/monthly fees Rep. APR Incentive Link
The NatWest Balance Transfer Credit Card (eligibility criteria apply)
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%.
0%
Transfers must be made within 3 months of account opening
0% for 3 months reverting to 19.9% p.a. (variable)
£0
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable), your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
The Royal Bank Balance Transfer Credit Card (eligibility criteria apply)
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
0%
Transfers must be made within 3 months of account opening
0% for 3 months reverting to 19.9% p.a. (variable)
£0
19.9% (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable), your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
M&S Bank Shopping Plus Mastercard
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
2.9% (min. £5)
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
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).
HSBC Purchase Plus Credit Card Visa
0% for 18 months reverting to 22.9%
2.9% (min. £5) for transfers in first 60 days
0% for 18 months reverting to 22.9%
£0
22.9% (variable)
Discounts and exclusive offers for dining experiences, leisure activities and shopping available through HSBC Home and Away.
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).
first direct Credit Card Visa
0% for 27 months reverting to 18.9%
2.29% (min. £5) for 3 months reverting to 2.9% (min. £5)
18.9%
£0
18.9% (variable)
Earn cashback with selected retailers via Visa Offers, customers can register up to five separate first direct Visa cards.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
HSBC Premier Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
1.4% (min. £5)
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
£0
18.9% (variable)
A selection of rewards from a range of partners. Earn 1 point for every £1 spent within the UK and earn 2 points for every £1 spent outside the UK. Points can be redeemed for shopping vouchers and frequent flyer miles.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
John Lewis and Waitrose Partnership Mastercard
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
2.9% (min. £5)
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
£0
18.9% (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent in store or online at John Lewis, Waitrose and John Lewis Insurance. Earn 1 Point for every £2 spent elsewhere. Earn double points on selected insurances taken out through John Lewis Financial Services. Vouchers issued once customer reaches 500 points in Feb, Jun or Oct when vouchers are automatically issued to customers. Every 500 points is worth £5.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
Santander Everyday Credit Card Mastercard
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
0% for 18 months reverting to 3% (min. £5)
0% for 3 months reverting to 18.9%
£0
18.9% (variable)
Retailer offers - 5 Welcome offers of up to 25% cashback at well-known retailers (must switch on Retailer Offers within 60 days of activating card).
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
Nationwide Member Credit Card Balance Transfer Offer
0% for 18 months reverting to 19.9%
1.5% (min. £5) for 3 months reverting to 2.4% (min. £5)
0% for 3 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).
Bank of Scotland Platinum 0% Purchase and Balance Transfer Mastercard
0% for 17 months reverting to 19.95%
2.99% for 3 months reverting to 5%
0% for 17 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).
loading

Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated daily
Name Product Annual/monthly fees Min credit limit Max credit limit Minimum income Rep. APR Incentive Link
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).
TSB Classic Credit Card 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
£100
Subject to status
£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).
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).
Barclaycard Forward Credit Card Visa
£0
£50
Subject to status: £1,200
£3000
33.9%
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 33.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 33.9% APR (variable).
118 118 Money Guaranteed Rate Card
£0
£500
Not specified
£8400
34%
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34% APR (variable).
aqua Advance Mastercard
£0
£250
Not specified
Not specified
34.9%
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
Fluid Mastercard
£0
£300
Not specified
Not specified
34.9%
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.94% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
loading

Compare up to 4 providers

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.

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site