What is a credit card?
A credit card is basically a loan, but if you clear your balance in full when you receive your monthly statement, the loan is interest free. If you can’t afford to pay off the outstanding debt, you can make monthly payments, but you will normally be charged interest. The rates vary, but 19% is typical.
Credit card comparison
For credit card comparisons, finding the best deal depends largely on the purpose of the card.
- 0% purchase cards: enable you to buy items upfront, while paying off the amount you’ve spent over a stated period without incurring any interest charges.
- Balance transfer cards: enable you to transfer an existing credit card balance to a new card that charges less interest
- Reward cards: these cards offer cashback or loyalty points.
If you want to use a card for shopping, there’s little point in applying for a 0% balance transfer rate. Shoppers should search for a deal that offers a low rate on purchases. Some cards, for example, charge 0% on purchases for a number of months, and they can be a cost effective way to pay for a big ticket item, such as a washing machine or sofa. If you clear the debt before the 0% deal expires, you will pay no interest whatsoever.
Low rate cards are better suited to people who are not able to pay their balance in full each month. There is no introductory interest rate offer. Instead, you will pay a relatively low rate of interest for as long as it takes to clear your debt.
People who have run up debts on another card or cards at a high rate of interest can save money with a balance transfer deal. Let’s say you have accumulated debts of £3000 on a card that charges interest at 19%. If you switch the outstanding balance to a card that charges 0% interest for 24 months, you can instantly cut the cost of your debt.
Reward cards are ideal if you pay off your balance every month as the interest rate is irrelevant. You can therefore look out for a card that offers cashback or loyalty points.
There are also various deals available for people who take their credit card abroad and for those who have a poor credit history.
Pros and cons of credit cards
Credit cards can be a great way to pay for goods and services without having to stump up the money upfront. You can even use your credit card like an interest-free loan, allowing you to borrow money for free. You also get some protection under the Consumer Credit Act if you buy something with a credit card.
But let’s not forget that it’s easy to run up expensive debts with a credit card, especially if you pay off only the minimum balance each month. You can also get into financial difficulty if you don’t stick to the rules. For example, most companies charge a penalty if you miss a payment, make a late payment or breach your credit limit. Bear in mind, too, that most issuers reserve their best deals for people with a spotless credit record, so your application could be turned down.
Find the right credit card
There are hundreds of different credit card deals but you can compare all the leading offers quickly and easily with Moneysupermarket’s online service. So, whether you want to switch a balance or you are looking for a 0% deal on purchases, we have all the information you need at the click of a mouse.