When can you start using your card?

You can use it as soon as it arrives. It can take up to ten working days for your card and PIN to reach you once your application has been accepted.

They should arrive separately by post to prevent fraud, but some providers do let you access your PIN online.

You can then activate your card and change your PIN using your online banking or at a cash machine. Choose a PIN that you will remember, and do not write it down.

How much should you repay?

Credit cards give you much more flexibility than most loans or mortgages, but there are still some rules you need to follow.

Always pay at least the minimum amount

Your provider will tell you a minimum amount you have to repay each month - if you pay any less or miss it, they will charge you a fee and could increase your interest rate.

The amount differs from lender to lender but is usually at least 1% of the total amount you owe plus charges and interest. They also set a sterling minimum amount too, which is usually at least 5 per month.

Pay more than the minimum if you can

The less you repay each month, the longer it will take and the more it will cost to pay it off.

You can avoid paying any interest on your card if you pay off your bill in full each month.

If you only pay back the minimum amount each month, the amount you owe will still go down with each payment - but it could take years to pay off your balance.

For example, if you paid off a credit card balance of 2,000 at an APR of 17.99% with just the minimum payments, it would take you more than 127 years at a cost of 19,728.82.

Paying 100 per month instead of around 30 would clear the balance in two years at a total cost of 2,321.08.

Which card should you pay off first?

If you have more than one, paying off the most expensive credit card first will save you money.

Make the minimum payment on each of your other credit cards to avoid fees. You can then put as much as you can afford towards paying off the card with the highest APR.

How do you pay your credit card bill?

You can set up a direct debit using either your online account or by phoning your provider.

Paying by direct debit is the easiest method because the money will come out of your account every month without the possibility of forgetting to pay.

You can set up your direct debit to pay the full balance, the minimum payment or a fixed amount.

How else can you pay your credit card bill?

  • Log into your online account and use your debit card to make a payment each time.

  • Send funds by bank transfer using internet banking or in a branch*.

  • Send a cheque when you get your bill. Allow plenty of time so you do not miss the payment deadline or end up being charged interest if it is delayed or lost.*

  • You can set up a standing order for a fixed amount to your credit card, but make sure it will at least cover the minimum payment*.

  • Pay in person with cash if your provider has a local branch.

*If you use a bank transfer, cheque or standing order, contact your provider for the payment details (if they are not specified on your statement). The reference will usually be your credit card number.

Will your interest rate go up later?

Plan ahead if you have a 0% or low introductory rate

If you have a card with an introductory APR, such as a 0% period on purchases or balance transfers, your interest rate will go up to the card's standard APR at the end of the promotional period.

The standard rate could be much higher than the APR you got when you took out the card.

Your provider could even ramp up your APR during the introductory period if you miss a payment, so always make at least the minimum payment each month.

If you still owe money on your card when its promotional rate ends, you could use a balance transfer to move it to a new 0% deal; this guide explains how.

Your APR can go up on any type of credit card

The Lending Code

Credit card lenders should not increase your APR during:

  • The first year you have the card

  • If you have asked for help from a debt agency

  • Without explaining why interest rates have gone up if you ask

  • More than once in a six month period

Credit cards without an introductory period come with a variable interest rate, so your provider can choose to increase your APR with 30 days' notice.

However, credit card lenders have agreed to a Lending Code that limits when they can put up your APR.

If you break any terms and conditions or miss a payment, your provider can increase your APR immediately, so make sure you stay on top of your repayments.

If your rate goes up and you cannot afford it, you have 60 days to ask your provider to close your account and let you repay the balance at the previous APR. You will need to continue making repayments each month.

Can you spend more than your credit limit?

Your card comes with a credit limit, which is the maximum unpaid balance that can build up on your card.

You can check your credit limit on your statement, the letter that came with your card, by logging into your online account or by asking your provider.

Make sure you do not go over this limit because you will be charged a fee for overspending.

What happens if you lose your credit card?

If your card is lost or stolen, it is important to let your provider know immediately because otherwise someone else could easily use it online, over the phone or for contactless purchases.

You should be refunded in full for any transactions that happen after you have reported that it is missing.

Most providers will refund you even for fraudulent spending made before you report it as missing. However, they could make you pay towards the stolen money if they can prove you have been negligent, such as if you fail to report it has been stolen.

Report your missing card and record the time you informed your provider and the last transaction you made yourself. You can contact your card issuer by:

  • Phoning your provider

  • Logging into your online account

  • Going into a branch

  • Using your mobile banking app

Your provider will then cancel your card and send you a new one by post.

What protection is there for your credit card?

Section 75

Your credit card comes with protection for purchases of between 100 and 30,000 under Section 75, as explained in this guide. This will cover you if the company you buy from goes under or they fail to supply what you ordered.

Chargeback protection

For purchases under 100 you can use the Chargeback scheme instead.

Purchase protection

Some credit cards also offer purchase protection, which will refund your purchase if it is lost or stolen within a specified number of days. Providers also include varying degrees of free identity fraud protection. You can check what protection your card offers by reading the terms and conditions or asking your provider.

Insurance

If you are worried about your job or want to be prepared for anything, you could also take out insurance to cover you against being unable to pay back your credit card if you lost your income; this guide explains how income protection works.

How do you cancel your credit card?

  1. 1.

    Check you can pay off the full balance left on the card with either your own money or a balance transfer.

  2. 2.

    Contact your credit card provider to close your account because simply cutting up your card will leave the account open. Most providers only accept cancellation requests by phone.

  3. 3.

    Your provider may try to convince you to stay. If you plan to get a card from a new company, compare its terms to any special offers your old provider gives you when you phone them.

  4. 4.

    Ask for written confirmation of the closure and check your final statement when it arrives.

  5. 5.

    Check your credit report to make sure the credit card shows as "settled".

How will cancelling a credit card affect your credit rating?

Your credit rating is likely be altered when you cancel a card but the exact effects are not clear cut because providers' have different ideas on what makes a perfect borrower. Both having too much credit or too little can put off lenders.

However, most see it as a positive if you have had a card for a long time, so closing it could hurt your credit rating.

FAQs

Q

Should you check your statement?

A

Yes, at least once a month. Make sure there are no transactions you do not recognise - if there are, contact your card provider immediately.

Q

Can you pay bills with a continuous payment authority?

A

Yes, you can use a continuous payment authority (CPA) to pay for memberships and subscriptions on your credit card.

Q

Can you pay a standing order or direct debit from your credit card?

A

No, they can only be made from bank accounts and some prepaid cards. However, you could use a continuous payment authority instead.