It’s hard to imagine life without a credit card as these days you can use them almost anywhere, anytime. Perhaps you want to splash out in the sales, treat your family to a holiday or maybe indulge in some online shopping.
There’s no doubt that credit cards can be a quick and easy way to pay for a wide range of goods and services. Plus, you can spread the cost over several months, allowing you to budget. But picking the right credit card can be confusing as there are so many different deals on the market.
Our guide explains how credit cards work – and how to select the right card for you.
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 deals
There are various different types of credit card and the best deal depends to a large extent on the purpose of the card. For example, if you want to go on a shopping spree, 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.