Credit cards. Clearly Explained.

Borrowing for everyday spending to one-off purchases. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a credit card and how do they work?

It’s simply a card that as you use it to spend or make a payment from, you’ll be borrowing the money from a lender, which you will later pay back.

It’s similar to a loan – you will be charged interest on how much you borrow. And you’ll also be given a set amount on how much you can spend, known as a credit limit.

Compare credit cards

As like most things in finance, there’s a range of different options and finding the right one for you can be difficult. To make it easy, use a comparison tool that matches your circumstances to the best card for you, and better yet, can show you your chances of being accepted. We like MoneySuperMarkets credit card search, but there are a few out there.

Find the right card

Types of credit cards

You can borrow money on a credit card for all sorts of reasons and in all different ways, the most commons ones are:

Purchase credit cards

Designed for shopping, purchase credit cards allow you to spread the cost of a purchase over a period of time rather than paying all at once, and typically offer 0% interest rates.

Rewards or cashback credit cards

Every time you spend on a rewards credit card you accumulate points which you can trade for a reward, such as store credit, air miles or cashback. These cards normally have an annual fee, and are designed to be repaid every month.

Balance transfer credit cards

These cards aren't designed for spending, rather they are designed for moving debt onto, such as from another credit card, normally at a lower interest rate.

Credit building cards

For those with a low or non-existent credit rating, credit builder cards give you the ability to build up your credit rating when using the card. They normally have a high interest rate and should be paid back each month.

How to manage a credit card

Pay off in full each month (or as much as you can)

To avoid interest all together, pay off your balance each month in full. You’ll also then not be rolling over any balance into the next month and building up debt, making it more manageable. If you can’t pay it off each month, you must at least make the minimum payments, but try to pay off as much as possible.

Never miss a payment

For two key reasons, you’ll be charged a fee for missing the payment, and you’ll be harming your credit score. Never do it!

Set up a direct debit

To avoid never missing a payment, set up a direct debit each month. This way you don’t have to worry about it ever again. Ideally you would set up the direct debit for the full amount each month, but if you can’t afford that, do it for at least the minimum amount and pay off extra each month manually.

Don’t take out cash

You’ll normally be charged a big fee for withdrawing money from an ATM. Plus, you’ll then be charged interest on the cash.

Be careful using it abroad

Most credit cards are not intended for holidays or for use abroad. Using it will result in foreign transaction fees, and exchange rate fees. It’s often better to use cash, or in the EU only, you can pay with a debit card in Euros. If you do need a credit card, you can find specialist travel cards.