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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
Coles No Annual Fee Mastercard - Exclusive Offer
0% for 12 months, reverts to 19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
$0
0% Purchase & Balance Transfer Offers
Finder Exclusive. Ends 29 October 2020
Save on new and existing interest charges with 0% interest on both balance transfers and purchases for the first 12 months.
Citi Rewards Card - Balance Transfer Offer
21.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 30 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
0% Balance Transfer Offer & $0 First Year Annual Fee
Save with 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 30 months (with a 1.5% BT fee) and a $0 annual fee for the first year.
Qantas American Express Premium Card
20.74% p.a.
$249
100,000 Bonus Points & 50 Status Credits
Enjoy 100,000 bonus Qantas Points, 50 bonus Status Credits and 2 complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year.
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 & 75 bonus Status Credits
Collect up to 130,000 bonus Qantas Points (100k when you spend $3,000 in the first 60 days and 30k after 12 months). Plus, 75 bonus Status Credits.
Citi Rewards Card - $500 Voucher Offer
21.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
$99 annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
$500 e-voucher and Discounted First Year Annual Fee Offer
Get a $500 e-voucher to spend at Myer, JB Hi-Fi or Coles when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. Plus, earn points with the Citi Rewards Program.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months
$64 annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
$129 Gift Voucher & Balance Transfer Offer
Get 0% p.a. for 22 months on balance transfers and a reduced first-year annual fee. Plus, earn up to 30,000 bonus Velocity Points.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card - Balance Transfer Offer
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months
$129
0% Balance Transfer Offer & Annual Fee Refund
Enjoy a 22-month balance transfer offer, travel insurance and an annual fee refund when you spend an eligible $6k/year.
ANZ Platinum Credit Card
0% for 17 months, reverts to 20.24% p.a.
20.24% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($87 p.a. thereafter)
0% Purchase Offer & $0 First Year Annual Fee
Receive a 0% purchase rate offer for 17 months and a $0 first-year annual fee. Plus, complimentary overseas travel and medical insurance.
Citi Rewards Card - Flybuys Offer
21.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$49 annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
75,000 Bonus Points & $100 Kmart eGift Card
Receive 75,000 bonus Flybuys points and a $100 Kmart eGift Card when you meet the spend requirement. Plus, a reduced first-year annual fee.
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 20 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 20 months and a $200 cashback offer.
Bankwest Breeze Classic Mastercard
0% for 15 months, reverts to 10.99% p.a.
2.99% p.a. for 9 months
$49
0% Purchase Rate Offer
Save with an introductory rate of 0% p.a on purchases for 15 months and 2.99% p.a. on balance transfers for 9 months.
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).
Citi Clear Card
0.9% 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.
St.George Amplify Platinum - Qantas
19.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$99
Balance Transfer Offer & 70,000 Bonus Points
Earn 70,000 bonus Qantas Points, plus enjoy 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months and complimentary insurance covers.
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
17.99% p.a.
2.99% p.a. for 9 months
$0
No Annual Fee & 0% Foreign Transaction Fees
Offers a $0 annual fee, 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary international travel insurance and a balance transfer offer.
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.
Coles Rewards Mastercard - Exclusive Offer
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)
$0 First Year Annual Fee & $100 off a Coles Supermarket shop
Finder Exclusive. Ends 29 October 2020
Save with $100 off a Coles Supermarket shop and a $0 first-year annual fee. Plus, 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 18 months (1.5% fee applies).
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.
St.George Vertigo Classic
0% for 7 months, reverts to 13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Purchase Rate & 0% Balance Transfer Offers
Get 0% p.a. promotional purchase and balance transfer rates and save with a first-year annual fee waiver.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
0% for 14 months, reverts to 20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months
$64 annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
0% for 14 months Purchase Offer with Virgin Australia Gift Voucher
Enjoy 0% p.a. interest on purchases for 14 months, a reduced first-year annual fee and Velocity Points per $1 spent.
American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card
N/A
$450
120,000 Bonus Points Offer
ABN holders w/ $75,000 revenue. Get 120,000 bonus points, 3x points on eligible Qantas flights & 2 lounge passes per year.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Credit Card
0% 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. interest on purchases for 15 months and a $150 Woolworths Supermarket gift card when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
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.
Virgin Money No Annual Fee Credit Card
18.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
$0
No Annual Fee & 0% Balance Transfer Offer
Offers 0% p.a. for 12 months on balance transfers and up to 55 days interest-free on purchases, all for a $0 annual fee.
HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
$99
0% Balance Transfer Offer
Receive 20,000 bonus Qantas Points and a long-term balance transfer offer. Plus, complimentary travel insurance.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Classic
0% for 7 months, reverts to 13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Purchase Rate & 0% Balance Transfer Offers
Save with 0% p.a. for 7 months on purchases, 0% p.a. interest for 22 months on balance transfers and a $0 first-year annual fee.
St.George Vertigo Platinum
0% for 15 months, reverts to 12.99% p.a.
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
$49 annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
0% Purchase Rate Offer & First Year Annual Fee Discount
Features an introductory 0% p.a. purchase rate, $49 first year annual fee and complimentary travel insurance covers.
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
0% for 7 months, reverts to 13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
0% Purchase Rate & 0% Balance Transfer Offers
Enjoy a 0% p.a. for up to 22 months on balance transfers and up to 7 months on purchases. 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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