How to Get a Credit Card

The process of applying for a credit card can lead to many questions, especially for those looking for their first credit card or those with bad credit. Before hitting that “Apply Now” button, consumers should understand the different factors that can influence their ability to get approved for a new account. Aspects of your individual situation, such as credit score and income play, a huge role when banks process an application.

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How to Get a Credit Card

There are four main ways to apply for a credit card: online, over the phone, in branch, and through a targeted offer. In most cases, the credit card offers are quite consistent no matter how you apply. The only real exception to this is targeted offers you may receive by post or email.

Targeted offers have the potential to be the most or least rewarding, depending on what the issuer presents you with. For example, some individuals receive offers from certain rewards cards with extra welcome bonus points (or miles). When you get a targeted offer through the mail, it’s always a good idea to check whether better deals are available online.

The advantage of applying for a credit card at a bank’s brick and mortar location is that a banker may help push through your application. If you have a previous relationship with the bank, but have been denied, a banker may contact an appeals line on your behalf and make the case for why you should be approved for a card. This can especially make the difference for a consumer with bad credit or little credit history.

Pre-Approval Eligibility Checks

The risk of applying for a credit card is that all applications - whether successful or not - carry out a hard credit search which leaves a mark on your credit file. Too many credit card applications can be a sign that you are desperate for credit - a big red flag to potential lenders. Many banks now offer a pre-application eligibility check, that only uses a soft credit search. These soft searches will be visible to you when you check your own credit score, but they are not visible to potential lenders.

If you aren't sure of your chances of success - perhaps you are new to credit or have a low credit score - then credit cards from these issuers may be a great place to start. Use the eligibility checker - if they indicate you are likely to be accepted, then you can go ahead and apply. Keep in mind that eligibility checkers may not always get it right, and your application may still be declined. The Capital One QuickCheck system, used for the Capital One Classic credit-builder card, is the only one that virtually guarantees application acceptance if you get QuickCheck approval.

Credit Card Companies that Perform Soft Eligibility ChecksName of Soft Search System
Capital OneQuickCheck
OceanQuickCheck
MBNAEligibility Search
BarclaycardEligibility Checker
RBSCredit Card Eligibility Checker
NatWestCredit Card Eligibility Checker
MarblesFastCheck
Virgin MoneyCard Checker
HalifaxEligibility Checker
thinkmoneyCheck Now
Asda MoneyQuick Eligibility Check

What do you Need to get Approved for a Credit Card?

In order to apply for most credit cards, you are required to have a credit score, a source of income, monetary assets, or some combination of the three. Additionally, you need to show proof of address and identification (e.g., being on the electoral roll) and most applicants need to be above the age of 18. Your credit score is the chief factor in determining whether or not you qualify for a credit card. Before applying for a new card, it's a good idea to check your credit score to understand if you have a strong or weak rating.

Student and Credit-Builder Cards

Student and credit-builder credit cards have less stringent credit score and income requirements, and are generally the easiest to get. Both of these credit card types will come with low credit limits (e.g., £100 to £300) and quite high APRs (e.g., 35.9% or higher). Credit-builder cards are suitable to two demographics: those working to improve a bad credit history and those new to credit who haven't yet established a credit history. This last group includes both young people who haven't had their own bank accounts or credit cards yet and also those who have recently moved to the UK (even if they had an established credit history in their previous country of residence).

Pre-paid credit cards are another option as they don't generally perform a credit check or have income requirements, since the issuer isn't lending you any money. The bad news is that most pre-paid cards won't report back to the credit agencies, and as a result your credit report won't benefit from proper account management.

Secondary Credit Card

If you can't qualify for a card on your own, an option is to become a secondary user on another person's credit card account. As a secondary cardholder you will usually have access to all the benefits of the credit card. While becoming a secondary cardholder is useful for getting a working credit card in your wallet, being a secondary cardholder will not help your credit score. The primary cardholder is still the responsible party, liable for payments on the account. The credit card issuers will only report back to the credit agencies regarding this primary cardholder, which means that a secondary cardholder will not see any boost to their credit file, even if the account is managed well. Become a secondary cardholder if you need a card and can't get one on your own, but be aware that this method will not improve your ability to qualify for your own credit card account in the future.

What To Do When You Get Denied A Credit Card

Even if you are declined for a particular credit card, you can try to get the decision reversed. To do this, you must call the bank and ask for the reconsideration or appeals department. There you will speak with an agent and can find out why you were rejected for the card, and whether anything can be done to change the decision. In this situation, it can help if you already have a relationship with a bricks and mortar back, so that you can go into a branch and enquire in person. You may be advised to write an appeals letter, which you then post to the bank with any supporting or missing documentation.

Below is a table with some of the largest UK credit card issuers and their credit card phone numbers. If you have been denied a credit card application, call the issuer's number and ask to be transferred to the appeals department.

IssuerBilling Phone NumberOnline Login & Billing
AA0345 600 5606link on_current="true"
American Express0800 917 8047link on_current="true"
Asda Money0371 704 3369link on_current="true"
Aqua0333 220 2691link on_current="true"
Barclaycard0800 151 0900link on_current="true"
Creation0371 376 9214link on_current="true"
Halifax0345 944 4555link on_current="true"
Lloyds0345 300 0000link on_current="true"
Marbles0333 220 2692link on_current="true"
MBNA03456 062 062link on_current="true"
Nuba03456 062 062link on_current="true"
Sainsbury’s08085 40 50 60link on_current="true"
Santander0800 9 123 123link on_current="true"
Tesco Finance0345 300 4278link on_current="true"

Note - after you are rejected for a credit card, your credit score takes a temporary hit. And while other potential lenders won't see that you've been rejected, they will see that recent application, which may make them wary of a subsequent application from you. As a result, it's not a good idea to apply for credit cards one after another -- your odds of being approved are likely to decrease as you continue to do this.