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How to apply for a credit card

By  , last updated

There’s a huge array of credit card options on the market. Whether it’s a credit card that offers cashback or one that offers 0% on purchases, it’s crucial to know what to look out for when applying for credit.

Here are five steps on how to apply for a credit card, along with tips on what to bear in mind at each stage:

1. Work out which card best suits your needs

First of all, it’s vital to assess what you need a credit card for.

You might be trying to clear an existing debt and therefore require a 0% balance transfer card, or you might want to receive something back on your spending through a cashback or reward card.

If you’re unsure what type of card you need, our handy credit card decision tree can help guide you.

2. Check your credit score

When you apply for a credit card all providers run a search on your credit history to see if you’re a suitable candidate. The better it is, the more likely you are to be accepted for the best deals.

It’s therefore a good idea to check your credit history with a credit reference agency such as Experian or Equifax before you apply for a credit card.

This will help avoid any surprises and also give you a chance to correct any mistakes. You can also take steps to improve your credit score should you need to - you can find some top tips on how to do this here.

If you’re unsure what type of card you need, our handy credit card decision tree can help you make your mind up.

3. Use an eligibility checker

Be wary of simply ploughing ahead and applying for a credit card as this will leave a print on your credit file, and if the provider rejects your application you may find it harder to get accepted by others.

Using an eligibility tool such as MoneySuperMarket’s Smart Search before you make your application allows you to compare credit cards and shows you which ones you’re most likely to be accepted for, so you can make your full application more confidently. 

Importantly, it won’t leave a mark on your credit file. 

4. Be aware you might not get the rate/deal advertised

Credit cards are becoming more and more competitive. However, by law, only 51% of applicants need to qualify for the rates or deals on offer in order for providers to advertise them. That means a large chunk of applicants won’t qualify.

Instead, you might be offered a shorter 0% purchase or balance transfer deal or a higher rate of interest – or annual percentage rate (APR). This is the official rate used for borrowing and takes into account the interest on the amount lent as well as other charges (such as annual fees). 

If you are offered a higher interest rate or shorter 0% deal, you are not obliged to accept it and it’s always worth shopping around to see what other rates and deals are being offered by other providers. 

5. Fill in your application form 

Once you’ve found the card you want to apply for, it’s time to fill in the application form. This is easy to do online through our comparison tables on MoneySuperMarket. 

Be sure to complete your details as honestly and thoroughly as possible. 

If you don’t want to apply online, you can often apply using a direct mail pack, over the phone or by popping in to your local bank branch. Just be aware some of the best deals are only offered online.

If your application is declined, it could be worth getting a copy of your credit file to find out why, and consider alternative options.

Alternatively, if it’s good news, simply sit back and wait for your card to arrive – typically, this takes between 10 and 14 days, although it can be longer.

Where to next?

What is a good credit score?

Compare credit cards with MoneySuperMarket’s Smart Search  

How long will it take to apply for a credit card?

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