There are many advantages of using a credit card, but also important and potentially costly things to consider. Read this guide to learn more about credit cards, how they work and what to look out for.
A credit card is a form of short term borrowing that allows you to spend money and pay back later, in return for a charge called interest.
Most credit cards come with a credit limit, which can range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand. Your credit limit is the upper limit of what you can borrow on a particular card. Credit limits can vary and are typically determined by your personal and financial circumstances and requirements at the time of applying.
Keep in mind that if your credit card application is approved, you commit to an agreement with the credit card provider. This means that it is important that you manage your spending and make any payments that are due on time, as late repayments can have a negative impact on your credit rating.
Contact your credit card provider as soon as possible if you find yourself in financial difficulty. They may be able to support you with a repayment plan.
You can also get free help and advice from organisations such as Citizens Advice and StepChange.
When you spend on a credit card, interest is calculated on the overall balance and added as a cost of borrowing. In general, the longer it takes you to pay off your credit card, the more interest you will be charged.
However, if the total balance is paid off in full each month, no interest will be added for purchases. Managing your credit card in this way can make it an inexpensive form of short-term borrowing.
If the balance on your credit card is not paid off in full, your credit card provider will start to charge you for the money you have borrowed. How much you will be charged is determined by the rate of interest on your credit card.
Keep in mind that cash withdrawals are often charged at a higher interest rate and may attract additional fees.
Until the balance on your credit card is paid off, your credit card provider will send you a monthly statement. The statement should list your available balance, the minimum payment due and the payment due date.
There are many types of credit cards with different benefits, such as:
Read about our range of credit cards
Each credit card provider has different eligibility criteria. You should check all the eligibility criteria carefully to avoid your application being rejected, which could affect your credit score. You could run a free credit score check if you want to know your credit score.
For example, our eligibility criteria are that you must:
And you must not:
Credit card providers will charge interest (Annual Percentage Rate) if you carry a balance from one month to the next. This means that you will be charged interest for each month that you have an outstanding balance.
If you don’t pay off your credit card in full each month, credit card providers are likely to charge you interest from the date your transaction shows on your account. Any payments and/or refunds that have been received will also be taken into account.
Cash withdrawals however are treated differently. Unlike interest on credit card purchases, interest on cash withdrawals is usually charged as soon as you use the card to withdraw or obtain cash. This also means that cash withdrawals do not benefit from an interest free period in the way purchases may do.
Remember, if you only pay the minimum payment every month, it will take you longer to clear your balance. You will also pay more interest.
APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate. Credit card providers use this abbreviation to describe the cost, including any fees (total cost of credit), of borrowing money over a year.
You can use it to compare the cost of similar products from other lenders.
The APR will vary between different types of credit cards and providers. It is important that you are aware of this when comparing credit cards so that you can find the best one for your needs and personal circumstances.
As long as you are within your credit limit, you can use your credit card to make purchases, withdraw cash or make cash-related payments, although cash related use (also known as ‘credit card cash advances’) may be charged at a higher rate of interest.
What you use your credit card for is up to you, but it is important that you keep track of your spending.
Some people may use their credit cards for smaller, regular purchases, such as paying for fuel or weekly food shops, while others may prefer to use them for larger purchases such as flights or a holiday.
Some credit card purchases come with added legal protection. When buying items valued between £100 and £30,000, you will automatically be covered by ‘section 75’ of the Consumer Credit Act.
This means that if a company that you have bought products or services from goes into administration or if your purchase is faulty, you may be able to claim all or part of your money back from the credit card provider.
Yes, you can withdraw cash with a credit card, but it is likely to come with a higher interest charge and/or additional fees, which can make it expensive.
To avoid unnecessary charges, always check the cost of withdrawals with your credit card provider before withdrawing cash, both at home and abroad.
Paying a credit card off ‘in full’ is the same as paying the whole (or remaining) balance. Once you have paid your card off in full, your credit card no longer has any outstanding money to pay.
The minimum payment is set by your credit card provider and is the minimum monthly amount that you have to pay if you have an outstanding balance.
Keep in mind that if you only pay the minimum payment every month, a credit card can be an expensive way to borrow.
Late payments, or not paying at all, is likely to damage your credit score, as well as result in additional charges.
At the end of each month, your credit card provider will send you a statement.
Most credit cards will allow you to either:
Ways to pay vary between credit card providers, but often include paying through online banking, via their app, over the phone or by setting up a direct debit.
Tip: If you set up a direct debit, your credit card will be paid automatically. This reduces the risk of having to pay additional fees and charges if your payment ever happens to be late.
There are a few important things to consider when managing or applying for a credit card:
If you need help with your finances, there are many organisations that can help. MoneyHelper and The Citizens Advice Service offer free and confidential advice on money problems.
You can also visit our financial support page.
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