We look at how credit cards can help to build and rebuild a credit profile in this guide. Read more »
|Credit Limit||Rewards|| Purchase
|Barclaycard Freedom Reward|
|People with limited credit history||
At least £250
Freedom rewards: up to 3 points each £1
|Poor credit history or new to credit. (Previous CCJ's accepted, low incomes, recently moved or not on electoral roll, or new to UK).||
Free aqua credit checker
|Bad credit problems or no credit history. Not currently declared bankrupt.||
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There's no short cut to building a good credit report: lenders like to see a long history of reliable borrowing behaviour.
But that doesn't mean the long route can't get a boost: taking out a credit card and using it sensibly (that is, without missing payments or exceeding the credit limit) is one good way to start improving a credit score.
'Credit building' is a bit of a misnomer. Your credit report isn't a mountain you have to climb with a 'perfect' score waiting somewhere up in the clouds. There are two reasons for this.
First, everyone's using different methods to see your credit history. Your long-term bank will have access to more information than a new lender and even they might use different credit reference agencies to another completely new lender.
Second, lenders accept and reject applications based on profit as well as risk. So even those we might regard as 'perfect' (long history, never paid interest) can be rejected because they're not what a lender is looking for.
But all that doesn't mean there's no point trying to improve a credit profile, there are still better and worse histories and things you can do to get them - just no definite answers.
In general, though, a stable history of borrowing is key.
Having a current account overdraft, paying 'contract' bills like pay monthly mobiles and, of course, other borrowing such as personal loans can all be taken into account as part of a credit history so why build up a credit history with cards in particular?
There are three reasons.
1. Regular borrowing
A credit card is a form of regular borrowing that doesn't have to cost anything.
You could have one for years and, as long as you paid the balance in full every statement period, never pay a penny.
In contrast, having an arranged overdraft is, these days, no guarantee that you won't be charged interest and/or fees for borrowing and is, in any case, a less clear-cut form of borrowing.
2. Easy(ish) to increase and decrease credit limits
As long as it doesn't tempt you into expensive borrowing, having a large credit limit can be useful in credit score terms: it looks good to have a prior acceptance and a proportionally small amount of borrowing, as opposed to being maxed out.
On the other hand, some people worry that having too much available credit can actually be harmful when they're looking to borrow elsewhere since lenders get nervous about all the borrowing potential at the applicant's disposal already.
Since most credit cards are easier to close or ask for a credit limit reduction on than almost all other financial products, they're useful in this respect too.
3. First step for poor histories
Most 'poor history' and, increasingly, 'no history' borrowing options are expensive.
However, as we noted above, credit cards can be used for free and, as we'll see below, lenders are increasingly specifically targeting those looking to rebuild a damaged credit history.
Some lenders even accept those who have had serious debt problems such as County Court Judgements for non-repayal of debt (CCJs) or bankruptcy in the past, for more on this have a look at this article.
As we've seen, there are rarely specific credit card features which make deals good for credit building: just using the card responsibly over a long period of time is enough.
Nevertheless, even those with good histories - and especially those with only no bad history - should pay close attention to the application criteria before submitting their details.
If a credit application is rejected, the rejection is recorded as an application search on credit reports and can be seen by other lenders so making another application straight away is ill-advised.
Our full guide has more information on the right to information and what next steps to take when a credit card is rejected.
First time credit card users should be particularly careful. See our guide for first time applicants here for more.
As we noted above, there are also select number of credit cards in the market designed especially for those new to credit - those with no, or hardly any, credit profile - as well as those with past credit problems who may have difficulty obtaining mainstream credit.
These cards are generally what we think about when we talk about rebuilding credit using a credit card and that's why we've collected them in the table above.
Looking at that table you'll notice that these cards carry very high rates of interest, typically double that of mainstream credit cards.
The credit limits on these cards are often only small but with interest rates this high it's worthwhile ensuring that only purchases which would otherwise be made in cash or a debit card are put on the account so there is always money to clear the balance in full.
Over the past few months, we've noticed that credit rebuilding cards are more likely than ever to offer rewards and even 0% periods on purchases for new accounts.
This is a new and somewhat surprising development, something we've speculated about elsewhere.
All that's worth noting here is that some of these rewards are offering a good value return on everyday purchases. However, their inducement to spend makes the point we made above all the more urgent: interest rates are high, repaying in full is preferable.
This is doubly the case where these cards are offering 0% purchase deals. The periods are particularly short, often only 3 months, and the standard 'go to' interest rate incredibly high.
While there is an argument these deals are offering free and accessible short term borrowing, that carefully repaid could be really useful, we also can't help but see the potential problems this kind of promotion could cause.
Poor history card providers
You might notice that some providers recur in the table above.
Providers like Capital One, Barclaycard and aqua offer some of the best 'poor credit' cards in terms of offering the nearest services to mainstream deals.
Vanquis are also very well known for offering credit builder cards.
While their cards are much more basic they still offer the benefits extended under law - such as Section 75 purchase protection - and, of course, that vital, vague and often unadvertised benefit: the opportunity to rebuild credit history.
Note, however, that Vanquis doesn't subscribe to the Lending Code, which offers guidelines against fraud liability.
For people who've had really serious debt problems a credit card may not be the best way to rebuild credit or, more accurately, a credit card can't be the best way to rebuild credit because they're hard to get hold of.
If that sounds like you there are alternatives.
The CashPlus Prepaid card with creditbuilder is one such alternative.
There's no credit check, creditbuilder customers just need to supply proof of UK residence and proof that they're over 18.
They then make twelve monthly payments to hold the card which appears as a fully repaid loan on an Experian credit report.
Most banks and utility companies do an Experian check so it's a good way to build a history of using credit even without a credit card.
For more information on this option see our full review.
It's also worth noting - and this is something we talk about more fully in our credit history 'diet' article - that any form of financial rebuilding, even managing a current account well - can do the work of slowly rebuilding into a better history.
Those with very poor history and especially discharged or undischarged bankrupts can find it hard to get even these accounts this article can help with that.
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