How to use credit card comparison tables

If you’re looking for a credit card, then comparison websites can be helpful. But do you know the difference between a best buy table and a ‘whole of market’ search? Or that a best buy table might not show the best cards that are currently available?

Before you use a comparison website

  • Are you looking for a card to spend on and, if so, will you be able to clear your balance in full each month?
  • Maybe you’ve already got an outstanding debt and are looking to make a balance transfer, but do you want to spend on the card as well?
  • Can you afford to repay any balance before the 0% period ends?

These are all important questions, which will help identify the best credit card for your needs and whether a credit card is the best option for you.

Why you might want to use a comparison website

There are many different comparison websites using different terminology to describe what they do, but they can be very useful in providing a quick list of credit cards and helping you decide which is best for you.

Best buy tables

When you first arrive on a comparison website you’ll more than likely see what’s known as a ‘best buy table’.

A best buy table highlights the most competitive credit cards on the market, according to that particular website.

But these best buy tables might not reflect all products that might be available on the market.

It’s always a good idea to use more than one comparison table to help inform your decisions.

The information in a best buy table will usually include:

  • The name of the card.

  • Any 0% introductory offer on purchases made on the card.
  • Any 0% interest period offered on balances transferred onto the card.

  • The APR or annual percentage rate – this will be a single rate for the card but will usually be based just on purchases (ignoring any introductory period).

  • The fee charged for each balance transfer.
  • Any annual or monthly fee for having the card.
  • Any rewards associated with the card, such as cashback or loyalty points.
  • Any basic qualifying criteria for being accepted for the card – for example an annual salary of more than £15,000.

The information in the table should help you to work out which card most suits your needs.

But it might not contain all the information you need - for example, it might not make clear, what interest rates apply following an introductory period, or how much is charged on cash withdrawals or overseas transactions.

The website might provide an indication of likely eligibility for the card (which will be based on more than just income, but this isn’t a guarantee of acceptance.

Not all ‘best’ products appear in best buy tables

While a best buy table will show you a range of cards to choose from, it’s important to know that they might not always include the best available on the market.

That’s because most comparison websites make their money through people clicking and applying for cards via the site’s best buy tables.

Every time someone follows the link for a card from the site to the card provider and applies for it, the site is paid a fee.

Not all card providers are willing to pay comparison sites to appear in their best buy tables.

As a result they might not feature, and some cards are only available to current account holders anyway.

But most of the larger comparison sites include both providers that pay them a fee, as well as those that don’t.

Check whether they are ranked in order, for example by price. Sometimes firms can pay to appear on top of the list or more prominently.

Don’t just go for a card near the top of the list - check the details to see whether it’s right for you.

Some, but not all, comparison websites also offer what is known as a ‘whole of market’ search.

While a best buy table will show you a range of cards to choose from, it’s important to know that they might not always offer what is known as a ‘whole of market’ search.

This will allow you to look at pretty much all of the credit cards that are currently available, including the ones that aren’t on the best buy tables.

Some sites then offer you the chance to choose a category of cards to look at, e.g. those with a 0% balance transfer offers or rewards.

You can usually sort these by other criteria too, and rank cards (for example, by APR or interest-free period).

Exclusive credit cards

To make things even more complicated, some comparison websites will do exclusive deals with credit card providers.

This will mean that a particular credit card will only be available on that website, and it might be slightly different from the equivalent card on the provider’s own website.

Using comparison tables

Always look at two or three comparison websites and do a whole of a market search to be sure you’re getting the best deal, and the right product for you.

You might also want to check out the websites of individual card providers.

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