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Problems with credit cards

This advice applies to England

This information tells you about some of the problems you may have with credit cards and what you can do. It includes information about the extra protection you get when you use a credit card to buy things as well as tips to help you avoid credit card fraud and help if you can't keep up with payments.

Effect of credit cards on your credit rating

Applying for too many cards or regularly switching cards can have an effect on your credit rating. Each time you make an application it is recorded on your credit file and if the application is refused it will also show on the file. When new providers check your credit file, it can look like you have lots of cards already or that no one else wants to lend to you.

For more information about your credit rating, see Being refused credit in Credit.

For more information about what to do if you are struggling to pay what you owe on a credit card or other type of borrowing, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland see Help with debt. In Scotland see Help with debt.

Extra protection when you buy on your credit card

You might be able to claim from the credit card company if you buy goods or services that go wrong. Find out how to get your money back when you've paid by credit card.

Credit card fraud

It’s your responsibility to protect your card and use it safely. If you think your card details have been copied or stolen tell your card provider straight away.

Follow these basic rules to help reduce the risk:

  • Don’t let anyone else know your PIN (personal identification number). Your PIN is the security number you get with your credit card. You will be asked to input your PIN when you buy something with your card or withdraw money from a cash machine (ATM). If you think someone knows your PIN tell your card provider straight away. If you don’t, and someone else uses it, you may have to repay the money owed.
  • Keep your card in sight. When you are paying for things in shops, restaurants or anywhere else, you should be able to see what is happening with your card at all times. If your card is taken away from you, it could be skimmed. This is where the information in the magnetic stripe on the back of your card is copied to be re-used illegally. If you think this has happened, contact your card provider straight away.
  • Check your statement each month. Make sure all the spending records are correct and talk to your card provider about any spending you don’t recognise
  • Shred your payment receipts. Your payment receipts show some details about your card. Shred them if you can or tear them into small pieces so that no-one can steal your details
  • Use secure websites for online purchases. Make sure that you are making payments over the internet to a secure website. Look for a padlock next to the website address at the top of the internet page
  • Use an online verification scheme. For extra security your card provider may suggest you use an online verification scheme, either Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode. You set up an additional password which you key in when shopping online. The password is then verified by your card provider before your payment is completed.
  • Report lost or stolen cards immediately. The contact number for reporting lost or stolen cards will be on your last credit card statement or on your provider’s website. If you have card protection insurance you should contact the insurance company as well.

Complaining about your credit card provider

If you are not happy with the service offered by your credit card provider you can make a complaint. Complain to the credit card company first to give them a chance to put things right. If you are still not happy, you can make a further complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.

For more information about the Financial Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman.

If you're struggling to pay your bill every month

Contact your card provider to discuss your problem as soon as you can. They might agree to let you pay a reduced amount for a while. Ask for interest to be frozen so that the debt doesn’t go up. It’s not a good idea to increase your credit limit at this stage, as this is likely to get you into more debt.

If you're making only minimum payments

It's worth paying more than the minimum amount shown on the credit card bill, if you can afford it. If you pay only the minimum amount, you can end up with an expensive, long-term debt because of the interest that's added.

If you've been in debt for a long time

You're in 'persistent credit card debt' if you've:

  • had your debt for at least 18 months
  • paid more in interest and charges than you've repaid of the amount you spent on your card

Your credit card company will usually write to you at 18, 27 and 36 months to tell you how you can clear your debt.

It's a good idea to get in touch with your credit card company when they write to you. You should tell the credit card company how much you can afford to pay. You can also ask them to reduce the interest and charges.

As long as you pay the minimum amount shown on the bill each month, your credit company can't take you to court to get their money back. But it's a good idea to pay more if you can afford it - that way you can pay off your debt quicker and avoid paying more.

At 36 months, your credit card company should offer you a repayment plan - you'll be able to make regular payments to clear your debt in under 4 years. If you don't accept the plan, your card could be stopped.

Don't agree to the payment plan if you can't afford it or you're struggling with other debts. You should find out how to sort out your debts.

Your credit company must be reasonable in helping you to get rid of your debt. This might mean, for example, that they don't charge you any more interest.

If you think your credit card company is being unreasonable, you can write to them. Explain why you think they're being unreasonable and ask them to stick to Financial Conduct Authority rules. If you send a letter, keep a copy.

If you're unhappy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman.

Get more information

For more information about how to deal with credit cards, see Credit cards.

The Money Advice Service

The Money Advice Service website has lots of useful information about borrowing and managing your money.

Credit reference agencies

Callcredit - www.callcredit.co.uk

Equifax - www.equifax.co.uk

Experian - www.experian.co.uk

Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)

www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk

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