If you have never had a credit card or any other form of credit, it’s unlikely you’ll have much of a credit history. As a result, your credit score is likely to be low. This can make it much harder to get accepted for a credit card, particularly those with competitive interest rates or those that offer incentives such as cashback and other rewards. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get accepted for a credit card at all.
In this guide, we take a look at how to apply for your first-ever credit card and the best types of credit card available. Used with care, a credit card can help you manage your finances and build up a credit history which can be beneficial if you apply for other types of credit in the future.
Best first-time credit cards - June 2023
Below we have compared 5 of the top credit cards for first-timers, two of which are best suited to students.
|Card||Credit limit||Minimum annual income||Eligibility||Benefits||APR|
|Barclaycard Forward credit card||£50 - £1,200||£3,000||Must not have been bankrupt in past 6 years and cannot have more than one CCJ||0% on purchases for three months. 3% interest rate reduction if you make your payments on time and stay within your credit limit for the first year||33.90%|
|Capital One Classic credit card||£200 - £1,500||N/A||Must not have been bankrupt in last 12 months and may be considered if had previous CCJs||Up to two optional credit increases per year||34.94%|
|TSB Student credit card||£500-£1,000||N/A||Must have had a TSB Student Bank account for at least 3 months||Can be used with Apple Pay and Google Pay||21.95%|
|HSBC Student credit card||£250 - £500||N/A||You must have an HSBC Student current account||Up to 56 days interest-free on purchases providing your balance is cleared in full||18.90%|
- Credit limit between £50 and £1,200
- 0% interest on purchases for three months from account opening
- 3% interest rate reduction if you make all your repayments on time and stay within your credit limit for the first year. If you do the same for the second year, another 2% reduction will be applied
- Access to Barclaycard Entertainment, giving you discounts on tickets to gigs, comedy nights and family days out
- Free Apple subscriptions for up to 5 months
- Minimum annual income of £3,000 required
- Minimum monthly repayment of the greater of £5 or a % of your account balance plus interest (% amount varies depending on credit balance)
- 33.90% APR
- Credit limit between £200 and £1,500
- Up to two credit limit increases per year, subject to eligibility
- No annual fee
- Minimum monthly repayment of 3% of the outstanding balance plus interest or £5 (whichever is greater)
- 34.94% APR
- Credit limit between £500 and £1,000
- No annual fee
- Must not currently hold a TSB credit card
- Must have held a TSB student current account for at least 3 months
- Minimum monthly repayment of 1% of the balance plus interest or £5 (whichever is greater)
- 21.95% APR
- Credit limit between £250 - £500
- No annual fee
- Must hold an HSBC Student bank account to qualify
- Minimum monthly repayment of 1% of the balance plus interest, 2.5% of the full balance or £5 (whichever is greater)
- 18.90% APR
Find out which first-time credit card is best for you
Money to the Masses has teamed up with Go.Compare to help find the best first-time credit card for you. By entering a few simple details, you'll be provided with a tailored list of the best credit cards based on your own circumstances, including which credit cards you are most likely to be accepted for. To make things even easier, the credit cards that have been pre-approved will be highlighted, meaning you can be confident that you'll be accepted should you apply. Your details will be used for a soft credit search meaning your credit score will not be impacted. Click on this link to get started.
Can I check if I will be accepted for a credit card?
Before you apply for a credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit score yourself. You can do this free of charge through services such as MSM Credit Monitor*, Credit Karma and Clearscore. Checking your credit score should give you a good idea of how likely you are to be accepted for a credit card, but these services will also tell you what you could improve on to help increase your credit score.
Simple steps to boost your credit score include registering on the electoral roll, paying bills on time and correcting any errors on your report. It can be worth making some of these changes and then waiting a little while to see if this helps your credit score. You can read more in our article ‘How to improve your credit score quickly’.
Many credit card providers also offer eligibility checkers which run a ‘soft’ search on your credit file and estimate the chances of you being accepted for a particular credit card. Soft searches do not leave a mark on your credit record like a ‘hard’ search would, so it won’t affect your chances of getting accepted for credit.
Using an eligibility checker means you are less likely to apply for credit cards you won’t be accepted for, which will help to protect your credit score.
What if my partner/spouse has bad credit?
If your partner or spouse has bad credit, this won’t automatically affect your credit report. However, if you have a financial connection, such as a joint mortgage, your partner’s low credit score can affect whether you’ll get accepted for credit - even though it won’t directly affect your own score. This is because lenders may have concerns that your financial association will affect your ability to repay debt.
Does my credit record matter?
When you apply for a credit card, the lender will check your credit record to see whether you’ve borrowed responsibly in the past and to decide whether it is happy to lend to you. The better your credit score, the more likely you are to be accepted.
Can I add an additional cardholder?
Yes, but bear in mind that if you are the primary cardholder you will be responsible for repaying the debt.
Parents can add children to their credit card as an additional cardholder as a first step to help them build up a credit history
What credit cards are available?
If you’ve never had a credit card and you don’t have much of a credit history, a credit-builder credit card can be a good place to start. This type of card is aimed at those with low credit scores and is designed to help you improve your credit score over time. Credit limits are usually lower than with standard credit cards, but, providing you make your repayments on time, your credit limit may increase after a number of months.
The main drawback is that credit builder credit cards often have high interest rates so it’s best to clear your balance each month if you can. A few offer interest-free periods for two to three months, but it’s important not to let this encourage you to spend more than you can afford to pay back. To find out more about this type of card, read 'Compare the best credit cards if you have bad credit'.
Alternatively, if you’re a student, you might want to consider a student credit card. Again, these tend to have low credit limits and higher interest rates, but they are designed for those in further education who won’t qualify for mainstream credit cards.
If you use your credit card sensibly, after several months you should notice an improvement in your credit score and you may then be able to consider applying for a more competitive credit card.
For example, if you’d like to earn something back as you spend, you could consider a credit card that offers rewards such as air miles, loyalty points in certain retailers, or cashback. This type of card is usually best suited to those who can afford to pay off their balance in full each month as they often charge high rates of interest. Read more in ‘Compare the best cashback and reward credit cards’.
Alternatively, if you want to be able to spread the cost of your spending over several months interest-free, a 0% purchase credit card could be a better option. Just remember that once the 0% deal ends, interest will kick in. Find out more in ‘Compare the best 0% purchase credit cards’.
If you are a frequent traveller, another option is a travel credit card that won’t charge foreign transaction fees when you are abroad. You can read more about these cards in our guide ‘Compare the best travel credit cards UK’.
Meanwhile, if you have built up debt on store cards or another credit card, a 0% balance transfer credit card will allow you to move your balances across and pay no interest for a number of months. Be aware there is usually a transfer fee to pay in the region of 3%, and once the 0% deal ends you’ll pay interest. Find out more in ‘Best 0% balance transfer credit card deals’.
Alternatively, a 0% money transfer credit card allows you to move funds from your credit card into your bank account and you can then use this to clear an expensive overdraft or personal loan, for example. Read more in ‘A complete guide to money transfer credit cards’.
Pros and cons of first-time credit cards
- You can build up a credit history which will improve your chances of getting accepted for other types of credit in the future, including a mortgage.
- You can buy items upfront without paying for them immediately.
- If you qualify, you may benefit from cashback and other rewards.
- All purchases costing more than £100 and less than £30,000 are protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means if your purchase is faulty or doesn’t turn up, or the company goes bust, your credit card provider is jointly liable with the retailer and you’ll be able to seek compensation.
- Many credit cards charge high rates of interest so it’s best to clear your balance in full each month.
- It can be easy to spend more than you can afford to pay back, meaning debt can rapidly build up.
- If you don’t make your repayments on time each month, or you exceed your credit limit, you will have to pay a fee and this can also affect your credit score.
- Withdrawing cash on your credit card can be very expensive.
Things you should know if you’ve never had a credit card
Before applying for a credit card, it’s important you are aware of the following:
Credit cards charge an array of fees so it’s important to check the small print carefully. For example, if you are late making a payment one month or miss it completely, or you go over your credit limit, you’ll often be charged around £12.
If you carry out a balance transfer or money transfer, you’ll usually have to pay a transfer fee, and many credit cards also charge a fee for cash withdrawals. You will also be charged interest from the date of the cash withdrawal, even if you clear your balance that month.
Your credit card provider will require you to repay a minimum amount each month. But be aware this is often set at a very low level - usually only around 1% to 2.5% of the balance. Only repaying this amount each month means it will take a long time to clear your debt and you’ll pay a lot in interest. To save you time and money, it’s always best to pay off as much as you can afford each month, ideally the full amount. Setting up a monthly direct debit is a good way to help ensure you remember to pay on time each month.
The APR is the annual percentage rate and it is used to compare credit cards and loans. It takes both the rate of interest you’ll pay and additional charges or fees into account. It’s best to always check the APR when comparing credit cards, but also be aware that lenders only have to offer the advertised APR to 51% of successful applicants. The remaining 49% may be offered a higher rate.
How to get your first credit card
To apply for your first credit card you will usually need to be aged 18 or over, although some credit cards have higher age restrictions. You will also usually need to live in the UK, be in employment (unless you are a student), and earn over a certain amount each year.
Once you have compared credit cards and made a decision, you can apply directly with the card provider. When filling in your application, you will usually need to provide your name and address, date of birth, nationality, employment status and your salary or income.
Many card providers offer instant approval if you have applied online, otherwise, you may have to wait 5 to 10 days before learning whether you have been accepted. Once accepted, your credit card should arrive within 10 working days. Once you’ve activated it, often by calling an automated number, and your PIN has arrived, you can use your card.
If a link has an * beside it this means that it is an affiliated link. If you go via the link, Money to the Masses may receive a small fee which helps keep Money to the Masses free to use. The following link can be used if you do not wish to help Money to the Masses or take advantage of any exclusive offers - MoneySuperMarket
Paying off your credit card with the highest APR first, and then moving on to the one with the next highest APR, allows you to reduce the amount of interest you will pay throughout the life of your credit cards.Which credit cards should I pay down first? ›
Paying off your credit card with the highest APR first, and then moving on to the one with the next highest APR, allows you to reduce the amount of interest you will pay throughout the life of your credit cards.What is the #1 rule of using credit cards? ›
The most important principle for using credit cards is to always pay your bill on time and in full. Following this simple rule can help you avoid interest charges, late fees and poor credit scores. By paying your bill in full, you'll avoid interest and build toward a high credit score.What credit card is the best one to get that gives you money or credit back for traveling? ›
|Credit card||NerdWallet rating|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Apply Now on Chase's website||5.0/5 Best for Flexibility + point transfers + big sign-up bonus|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Apply Now on Capital One's website Rates & Fees||4.7/5 Best for Flat-rate travel rewards|
The minimum payment mindset
Here's how most people get trapped in credit card debt: You use your card for a purchase you can't afford or want to defer payment, and then you make only the minimum payment that month.
American Express targets these affluent cardholders through a '“spend-centric” model that focuses on generating revenues primarily by driving spending on its cards. That's where rewards come in. In just 2022, Amex spent almost $17 billion providing services and rewards to its card members.