Use our Smart Search tool – and find top loans and credit cards

Use our super Smart Search tool – and find best-ever loan and credit card deals

Fierce competition among credit providers has resulted in tumbling personal loan rates and lengthier interest-free credit card offers.

But there’s a catch. To be accepted for these ever-keener deals on borrowing, you’ll need an excellent credit score.

If you don’t know the shape your credit score is in and your application is rejected, you can damage it even further. That’s why it pays to know about Smart Search – a nifty tool which is completely free to use and keeps your credit score intact.

Here we explain what Smart Search is, how to use it – and set out the raft of ever-improving deals it could help you get your hands on.

Great deals

First off, what’s been happening on borrowing?

Personal loan rates are continuing to drop, and you can now enjoy rates just above the 3% APR representative mark on borrowing between £7,500 and £15,000.

For smaller borrowing, say between £1,000 and £2,000, a 0% purchase credit card should do the trick as you won’t be charged interest during the promotional period. And the top deals at the moment offer interest-free purchases for more than two years.

If you have existing card debt that you want to shift, you’ll need a 0% balance transfer credit card – and terms have improved on these too. They now offer up to three years or more to clear your debt before interest kicks in, while transfer fees have been coming down.

Just be sure to clear your balance before the 0% window ends.

If you don’t know the shape your credit score is in and your application is rejected, you can damage it even further

Will you get accepted?

There’s nothing to stop you applying for great deals like these – but the reality is, only 51% of successful applicants need to qualify for the rates in order for providers to advertise them. That means an awful lot of people are turned down.

Using the MoneySuperMarket Smart Search tool will tell you how likely you are to be accepted for a form of credit without leaving a mark on your credit file. How Smart Search works will depend on whether you are applying for a loan or a credit card. If you’re applying for a loan follow these steps:

-From the loans homepage, click on the green ‘Find a loan’ button

-Enter details such as how much you need to borrow, how long you want to borrow it and your annual income – this will take less than two minutes

-This will trigger the credit reference agency Experian to carry out a ‘soft search’ of your credit score. BUT unlike a regular search, it won’t be visible to lenders. In fact, only you will be able to see it on your credit file

-A list of loans will spring up in a matter of seconds and tell you how likely you are to be accepted for each. Likelihood is expressed as a simple percentage on a dial and is colour-coded red, amber and green

-Results will be ordered by eligibility, so those closest to 100% (furthest into the ‘green’) will be at the top. If you prefer, you can re-order them from the lowest to highest APR

-The rest is up to you. You might decide to go for the loan with the highest chance of acceptance (90% for example), instead of a cheaper loan that you’ve a lower chance of being accepted for (say, 50%)

If you’re applying for a credit card:

-From our credit card homepage, click on the ‘Find a card’ button on our comparison tables

-Enter details such as your name, your annual income and the name of your main bank

-A list of credit cards will spring up and tell you how likely you are to be accepted for each. This is expressed as a score out of 10 and is colour-coded red, amber and green

-Results will be ordered by eligibility, so those closest to 10 will be at the top. But, if you prefer, you can change this to the longest 0% deal, for example

-Again, you can use this information to assess the benefits of the credit card versus your chances of getting it

A final word…

Smart Search is a really useful tool – but it’s only an indication of acceptance and NOT a steadfast guarantee.

We’re working hard on it, not all providers have agreed to take part in Smart Search yet. This means the list returned to you won’t feature the whole market.

But, so long as you keep this in mind, Smart Search could still help you to find the right loan or credit card, without damaging your credit score.

Loans versus credit cards

Loans versus credit cards: Which is right for you?

Loans and credit cards can both provide you with the funds you need – whether that’s to pay for a new car or home improvements – but they work in very different ways.

Here’s our rundown of the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is right for you.

Credit cards

Pros

Lengthy 0% deals – One of the big advantages of many credit cards is they offer lengthy 0% introductory rates on purchases.

Provided you pay off what you owe during the introductory period, this means you won’t have to pay interest on your borrowing.

The most competitive credit cards currently offer 0% on purchases for more than two years. Just be sure to clear your debt before the interest-free window ends.

Money transfers – Several credit cards also allow you to make money transfers directly into your current account, which can be useful if you need a cash injection, and rates are often much lower than if you were to take out a personal loan.

In some cases, you won’t have to pay any interest on this borrowing for three years or more. But be aware transfer fees can be high – often around 4% – and you should try to pay off your balance in full before the 0% deal ends and interest kicks in.

Consumer protection – Thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, when you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card, the card provider is jointly liable with the retailer if something goes wrong.

So, for example, if you ordered a chair costing £150 and the shop you bought it from goes bankrupt before it is delivered, the credit card provider should provide you with a full refund.

Cons

Interest charges – You need to be disciplined about paying off what you owe on a credit card as soon as possible (and definitely before a 0% offer ends), or interest charges can soon mount up. Unlike loans, credit cards don’t require you to clear your balance within a certain timeframe.

Low minimum payments – Minimum monthly payments on cards are often set at very low levels. If you only pay this amount each month, not only will it take you longer to clear your debt, you’ll pay out far more in interest. So try to pay off more than the minimum if you can.

Low credit limits – Another downside is that credit cards usually don’t offer particularly high credit limits, so if you need to make a big purchase, you may not be able to borrow the sum you need.

Loans

Pros

Larger borrowing at great rates – You can usually borrow more using a loan than a credit card.

And the good news is if you’re looking to borrow between £7,500 and £15,000, rates are more competitive than ever. In fact, the most competitive rates now hover just above the 3% APR representative mark.

Greater flexibility – Another advantage of a loan is that you can decide how long you need to repay what you owe. If you’re borrowing a large lump sum, you can therefore choose to spread your monthly repayments over a number of years.

You’ll have peace of mind that you know exactly how much you’re repaying each month, and that at the end of the term there will be nothing left to pay.

Cons

Higher rates for smaller sums – One of the biggest downsides of loans is that rates are often more expensive if you are only borrowing a small amount.

If you take out a loan of around £3,000, for example, you’ll currently be charged more than 7% APR representative.

Fees – If you want to pay off your loan early, there may be a penalty charge to do this, which is usually equivalent to two or three months’ interest.

Some lenders also charge arrangement fees, which can increase the overall cost of credit.

Use our Smart Search tool

Whether you choose a loan or a credit card, you’ll probably want to get accepted quickly. And that’s where our Smart Search tool comes in.

It gives you an idea of how likely you are to be accepted before you apply, and it won’t leave a mark on your credit file. This can save you a lot of time when you come to actually apply for the card or loan you’ve chosen.

All you need to do is click on the ‘Find a loan’ or ‘Find a card’ button on our comparison tables, enter details such as your name, income and how much you need to borrow, and you’ll then be shown a list of credit cards or loans along with how likely you are to be accepted for each.

You can read more about this here.

All credit cards and loans are subject to status and terms and conditions. Over 18s, UK residents only. Terms and conditions apply. See MoneySuperMarket.com for further information.