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How to apply for a credit card

Steps to applying for a credit card

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


By Jo Thornhill

Published: 21 April 2021

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To apply for a credit card, you need to follow these five quick steps which should make the process easier.

  1. Pick a type of card
  2. Check your credit score
  3. Use our Eligibility Checker to check your eligibility
  4. Understand the interest rate
  5. Compare available cards and apply

Read about these five simple steps in more detail below, along with tips on what to bear in mind at each stage:

1. Work out which type of credit card best suits your needs

First of all, assess what you need a credit card for. Credit cards have a number of uses, with different cards specialising in different areas, such as:

  • Consolidating existing debt. If you already owe money, a 0% balance transfer card may be able to give you a window to repay it interest-free
  • Building your credit score. If you’ve a low credit score a credit builder card can help you increase your rating as you prove you can borrow responsibly
  • Being used overseas. If you’re planning to travel and worried about credit card charges, a specialist travel card can help with the best rate and no fees
  • Spreading the cost of purchases. A 0% purchase card can give you an interest-free grace period on purchases, so you don’t have to pay it all upfront
  • Getting rewards. Reward credit cards provide cashback or loyalty points every time you spend and these can add up over time

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, 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 MoneySuperMarket’s credit monitor you can check your score and report for free, and get notifications whenever somethings changes.

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 Eligibility Checker before you make your application allows you to compare credit cards from a range of providers. It 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.

To be eligible to get a credit card in the UK you’ll also need to be:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Live in the UK

To maximise your chances of being accepted you should also:

  • Register to vote
  • Have a regular income
  • Open a bank account
  • Pay bills on time

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. Compare deals and apply

Once you know the type of card you’re looking for and you’re confident you’ve put yourself in position to be accepted at the best possible rate, the next step is to compare available deals. This is easy to do with MoneySuperMarket.

Just provide a few brief details about yourself, and we’ll take you through a ‘soft search’ that won’t leave a mark on your credit rating but will show you the deals you’re most likely to be accepted for depending on the type of card you’re after.

You can then compare individual features – such as the length of interest-free periods – and decide which one is right for you before clicking through to apply. Once accepted, you can sit back and wait for your card to arrive. Typically, this takes between 10 and 14 days, although it can be longer.

MoneySuperMarket is a credit broker not a lender. You must be 18 or over and a UK resident.

Where to next?

What is a good credit score?

Compare credit cards with MoneySuperMarket’s Eligibility Checker  

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

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