Advantages and disadvantages of a credit card

Decide if a credit card is right for you with our comprehensive list of pros and cons.

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Credit cards can be a convenient way to manage your finances, but they can also be expensive and risky. If you’re deciding whether or not a credit card is right for you, here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages you can weigh up to make your decision.

credit card advantages and disadvantages infographic

9 advantages of using a credit card

Some of the perks of paying with plastic include:

  1. Security. While there’s only a small chance of having lost or stolen cash returned, a credit card can quickly be cancelled if you lose your wallet. Most financial institutions also have security processes in place to protect you if your card has been lost or stolen or if you suspect your account has been used for a fraudulent transaction.
  2. Build your credit score. Your credit card account repayment history make up a key part of your credit file. If you keep your account in good standing, this information will help you build up a good credit score, which could increase your chances of approval for other products such as car loans or a mortgage.
  3. Interest-free days. If you pay your balance in full before the statement period ends, you can be rewarded with interest-free days on future purchases for a set period.
  4. Earn points. Rewards and frequent flyer credit cards allow you to earn reward points on every dollar you spend on eligible purchases, such as groceries and fuel. Rewards credit cards let you earn reward points to redeem with the bank’s rewards programs for perks including flights with partner airlines, products from the rewards store or cashback. Frequent flyer credit cards, on the other hand, let you earn points towards flights, upgrades and more with specific airline loyalty programs.
  5. You can request a chargeback if you’re unhappy with a product or service. You can request a chargeback through your credit card company if you have a dispute with a merchant, either in-store or online.
  6. Spend overseas. Although currency conversion fees usually apply, you can use your credit card overseas to make purchases in a foreign currency. There are even credit cards that charges $0 fees for international purchases, which could be useful if you often shop at international online stores or have an overseas holiday coming up.
  7. Emergency funds. Credit cards can be a financial safety net if you don’t have enough cash or savings to cover any unexpected costs that arise. Just remember that you have to repay everything you owe.
  8. Complimentary extras. Credit card features such as travel insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty insurance can save you money and give you peace of mind. Other value-adding features include complimentary flight offers, airline lounge passes and even free wine when you dine.
  9. Consolidate and pay off existing debts. Balance transfer credit cards allow you to move existing high-interest debts to a new account with a low or 0% promotional interest rate. This can save you money on interest charges and help you pay down debt faster.

7 Disadvantages of using a credit card

The downsides of spending with a credit card include:

  1. Interest rates. If you carry a balance from month-to-month, you’ll pay interest charges. Purchase and cash advance interest rates can be as high as 22% p.a., so you can end up paying hundreds or thousands more than you initially charged in interest if you’re unable to make repayments each month.
  2. Credit damage. Missed credit card repayments and ongoing debts are recorded on your credit file and can impact your chances of getting a loan down the track. See our guide on how to improve your credit file for some tips.
  3. Credit card fraud. There are a range of fraud schemes that target credit cards. While you can be compensated for illegal transactions on your account, dealing with credit card fraud can still be a time-consuming and stressful experience.
  4. Cash advance costs. Financial institutions make it very expensive to use your credit card to get cash out or make other “cash equivalent” transactions (such as buying foreign currency or gambling). Using a credit card for a cash withdrawal will attract a cash advance fee worth around 3% of the total transaction amount. It also typically attracts an interest rate of 19-22% right away.
  5. Annual fees. While you can often get debit cards without annual fees, most credit cards have them. These can cost as little as $25 per year, or as much as $1,200 depending on the card that you choose. Generally, the more perks you want, the higher the annual fee. If you want to avoid this charge, you can consider a no annual fee credit card – but make sure you look at all the other features to help find a card that works for you.
  6. Credit card surcharges. Businesses sometimes apply a surcharge when you pay with a credit card. For Mastercard and Visa products, this fee is usually 0.5-2% of the total transaction cost, while for Amex cards it could be closer to 3%. Whatever the case, this is an extra cost for the convenience of paying with plastic.
  7. Other fees. Depending on your card, you could be charged fees when you miss a payment, fees if you spend past your credit limit, fees for overseas transactions, balance transfer fees and even some rewards programs fees. If you carry a balance or don’t have access to interest-free days, there’s also a good chance interest will be applied to these charges.

Should I use a credit card?

Credit cards are suited to certain types of people, but not others. As well as considering the pros and cons, you may like to look at the following factors to help decide if a credit card is right for you.

A credit card may suit you if you

  • Are at least 18 years of age
  • Are an Australian citizen, permanent resident or hold an eligible temporary visa
  • Have a regular source of income
  • Regularly pay your bills on time
  • Want to keep certain transactions separate from your everyday bank account
  • Are keen to earn rewards for your spending
  • Need more flexible cash flow
  • Can afford to pay a little extra for the convenience

A credit card may not suit you if you

  • Don’t meet the age or residency requirements
  • Often struggle to pay bills on time
  • Don’t have a regular source of income
  • Can’t afford annual fees or interest charges
  • Have bad credit
  • Are happy to just use a debit card

If you’re thinking about getting a credit card, it’s important to consider the benefits and disadvantages they offer based on your own circumstances. As well as helping you decide whether a credit card is right for you, this process can narrow down the range of cards you compare so that you can find an option that works for you.

Pictures: Shutterstock

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Compare credit cards

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Purchase rate Balance transfer rate Annual fee
Citi Rewards Card
21.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 30 months
$49 annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
30-Month Balance Transfer & Annual Fee Discount
Save on interest with 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 30 months with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a $49 first-year annual fee.
Coles No Annual Fee Mastercard
0% p.a. for 12 months, reverts to 19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
$0
0% Purchase & Balance Transfer Offers
Save on new and existing interest charges with 0% p.a. on balance transfers and purchases for 12 months. Ends 31 January 2021.
Qantas Premier Platinum
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$199 annual fee for the first year ($299 p.a. thereafter)
Balance Transfer Offer & 100,000 Bonus Points
Get 100,000 bonus Qantas Points, 75 bonus Status Credits and a 0% p.a. balance transfer rate for 18 months (with a one-time 1% BT fee).
St.George Vertigo Classic
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Get 0% p.a. promotional balance transfer rate, with no balance transfer fee. Plus, save with a first-year annual fee waiver.
Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
20.74% p.a.
$450
100,000 bonus Qantas Points & $200 Statement Credit
Receive 100,000 bonus Qantas Points and $200 back on your card when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months. Plus, a yearly $450 Travel Credit.
ANZ Low Rate
12.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 25 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($58 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First Year Annual Fee
Save with 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 25 months (with a 1.5% BT fee) and $0 first-year annual fee. Plus a 12.49% p.a. purchase interest rate.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
$295 annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Up to 130,000 bonus Qantas Points & First-Year Annual Fee Discount
Up to 130,000 bonus Qantas Points (100k when you spend $3,000 in the first 60 days and 30k after 12 months). Plus, a reduced first year annual fee.
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$59
Long-Term Balance Transfer Offer & $200 Cashback
A low rate card offering 0% p.a. interest on balance transfers for the first 24 months and a $200 cashback offer.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Credit Card
0% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 11.99% p.a.
13.99% p.a.
$45
0% Interest Rate & $150 Woolworths Gift Card Offer
Get 0% p.a. on purchases for 15 months and a $150 Woolworths Supermarket gift card when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Ends 31 Jan 2021.
ANZ Frequent Flyer Black
20.24% p.a.
20.24% p.a.
$425
120,000 Bonus Points & $200 back
Collect 120,000 bonus Qantas Points and $200 back when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, complimentary lounge passes.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card - Balance Transfer Offer
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 26 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Enjoy a 26-month balance transfer offer, a first-year annual fee waiver and complimentary travel insurance.
Bankwest Breeze Classic Mastercard
10.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Save with 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 26 months (with a 2% BT fee) and $0 first-year annual fee. Plus, a 10.99% p.a. purchase interest rate.
Citi Simplicity Card
0% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 21.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months
$0
No Annual Fee & 0% Balance Transfer Offer
Get 0% p.a. interest for up to 6 months on purchases and balance transfers. Plus, a $0 annual fee for life.
Coles Rewards Mastercard
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
$100 off a Coles Supermarket Shop & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Enjoy $100 off a Coles Supermarket, a $0 first-year annual fee and a 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 18 months (1.5% fee applies). Ends 31 Jan 2021.
Westpac Altitude Platinum Qantas – Existing Customer Offer
20.49% p.a.
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
$50 annual fee for the first year ($200 p.a. thereafter)
Westpac customers only: Get 75,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days. Plus, $50 first-year annual fee.
Latitude Gem Visa
24.99% p.a.
$99
0% Purchase Rate Offer
Enjoy 0% p.a. interest on purchases over $250 for 6 months, optional shopper's protection insurance and the convenience of Samsung Pay.
Citi Clear Card
0.9% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 14.99% p.a.
0.9% p.a. for 15 months
$99
0.9% Purchase & Balance Transfer Offers
Save with 0.9% p.a. for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. Plus, complimentary purchase insurance cover.
Defence Bank Foundation Credit Card
3.99% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 8.99% p.a.
3.99% p.a. for 6 months
$45
3.99% Balance Transfer Offer
Offers 3.99% interest for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers and cash advances.
Qantas American Express Premium Card
20.74% p.a.
$249
80,000 Bonus Points and $200 Statement Credit
Enjoy 80,000 bonus Qantas Points, $200 back and 2 complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year.
Westpac Altitude Platinum Qantas
20.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$99 annual fee for the first year ($200 p.a. thereafter)
Balance Transfer Offer & 60,000 Bonus Points
Get 60,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days. Plus, a first-year annual fee discount and a long-term balance transfer offer.
American Express Business Explorer Credit Card - Exclusive Offer
3.99% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 19.99% p.a.
$149
120,000 Bonus Points Offer
Finder Exclusive. Ends 01 February 2021.
ABN holders w/ $75,000 revenue. Get 120,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, 2 airport lounge passes.
American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card
N/A
$450
150,000 Bonus Points Offer
ABN holders w/ $75,000 revenue. Get 150,000 bonus Qantas Points, 2 yearly Qantas Club lounge passes and 3x points on eligible Qantas flights.
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
12.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 20 months with 2% balance transfer fee
$59
0% Balance Transfer Offer
Get a 0% p.a. interest rate for 20 months on balance transfers, Visa Offers + Perks and a competitive $59 ongoing annual fee.
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Cashback Offer
12.99% p.a.
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
$99
$300 Cashback Offer
Get $300 cashback when you spend at least $900 in the first 90 days. Plus, platinum perks and a low variable interest rate on purchases.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Classic
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Save with a 0% p.a. interest for 24 months on balance transfers, with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a $0 first-year annual fee.
NAB Rewards Business Signature Card
18.5% p.a.
$175
Business Credit Card Offer
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on everyday business purchases in the first 60 days of account opening. ABN required.
BankSA Vertigo
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First-Year Annual Fee
Enjoy a 0% p.a. for 24 months on balance transfers, with no balance transfer fee. Plus, $0 first-year annual fee.
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*The credit card offers on this page are chosen from a range of credit cards available to us and are not representative of all the products available in the market. The use of the terms "best" and "top" are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. There is no perfect order or perfect ranking system for the products we list on our Site, so we provide you with the functionality to self-select, re-order and compare products. The initial display order is influenced by a range of factors including conversion rates, product costs and commercial arrangements, so please don't interpret the listing order as an endorsement or recommendation from us. We're happy to provide you with the tools you need to make better decisions, but we'd like you to make your own decisions and compare and assess products based on your own preferences, circumstances and needs.

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