What’s the difference between a personal loan and a credit card?

Credit card or a personal loan? The answer depends on what you’re buying and how you intend to pay it back.

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With Aussies currently in debt equal to about 150% of their household income, it’s no surprise that people are exploring different ways of paying it back. It usually comes down to two options; personal loans and credit cards. Both have pros, cons, penalties and fees, but choosing the way that best suits your financial situation could potentially save you thousands in interest repayments.

The main points of difference

Personal loans and credit cards are both types of credit provided by financial institutions. They can be for similar amounts, but personal loans are for a finite amount of time, whereas credit cards are a revolving line of credit.

Personal loans are usually available for terms of between one and seven years and you receive the entire loan amount at the beginning of the term. You then make ongoing payments to repay the loan in full.

Credit cards do not come with terms. You are offered a credit limit and required to make ongoing repayments to keep your account in good standing. You can continually draw up to and including that limit and spend however much you choose on your card. Whatever you spend each month, you will need to repay a percentage of.

Structurally, credit cards and personal loans are similar. They are both forms of credit and they both require a monthly repayment. What differs are the features and fees. Credit cards offer interest-free days, balance transfers and rewards but personal loans are more suitable for debt consolidation and have a maximum loan term so the debt is always repaid. While annual fees are popular with credit cards, personal loans favour application and monthly services fees.

Comparison of personal loans and credit cards

Symple Loans Personal Loan

Symple Loans Personal Loan

From

5.75 % p.a.

variable rate

From

6.47 % p.a.

comparison rate

  • Quick approvals
  • Flexible repayment options
  • Personalised interest rate
Security Logo

100% confidential application

Symple Loans Personal Loan

Get access to flexible repayment options and next-day funding with a Symple personal loan.

  • Interest rate: 5.75% p.a.
  • Comparison rate: 6.47% p.a.
  • Interest rate type: Variable
  • Establishment fee: from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
  • Minimum loan amount: $5,000
  • Maximum loan amount: $50,000
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Data indicated here is updated regularly
$
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Application Fee Monthly Service Fee Monthly Repayment
Symple Loans Personal Loan

From 5.75% (variable)
6.47%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
$10
You'll receive a personalised interest rate from 5.75% p.a. to 25.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow up to $50,000 to pay for what you need.
Plenti Fixed Rate Personal Loan

From 5.99% (fixed)
6.27%
$2,001
3 to 5 years
From $99 to $499
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 5.99% p.a. and 15.89% p.a. based on your risk profile
A flexible loan with amounts from $2,001 and terms starting from 3 years. Interest and comparison rates calculated for a loan term of 5 years.
Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan

From 6.99% (fixed)
7.79%
$2,000
3 to 5 years
$575 ($275 for loans of below $5,000)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 25.69% p.a. based on your risk profile.
Apply for a loan up to $50,000 and repay your loan over 3 or 5 years terms.
OurMoneyMarket Personal Loan

From 6.75% (fixed)
6.96%
$2,001
1 to 7 years
1.5–6% of your total loan amount
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate from 6.75% p.a. to 20.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A personalised loan from $2,001 to $75,000 that varies based on your credit history and financial situation.
ANZ Fixed Rate Personal Loan
10.50% (fixed)
11.38%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a fixed rate of 10.50% p.a. ( comparison rate 11.38% p.a. )
Apply for up to $50,000 to use for a variety of purposes without needing to add security. Available to self-employed applicants. Note: These rates are available until 2 February 2021. Credit, eligibility criteria and terms & conditions apply.
Alex Personal Loan

From 6.95% (fixed)
6.95%
$2,100
6 months to 5 years
$0 (waived $295)
$0
You'll receive a fixed interest rate from 6.95% p.a. to 19.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow between $2,100 and $30,000 from 6 months to 5 years. Benefit from no ongoing fees. Note: Waived $295 establishment fee for all applications submitted before 15 February 2021.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan (2-3 years)

From 6.99% (fixed)
6.99%
$5,000
2 to 3 years
from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 17.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 to use for a range of purposes. Benefit from no ongoing fees and no early repayment fee.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan (5 years)

From 7.99% (fixed)
7.99%
$5,000
5 years
from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.99% p.a. and 20.49% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 to use for a range of purposes. Benefit from no ongoing fees and no early repayment fee.
CUA Unsecured Fixed Rate Personal Loan
9.39% (fixed)
9.64%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$175
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate of 9.39% p.a.
An unsecured loan from $5,000 with flexible repayments and no monthly fee.
Latitude Personal Loan (Unsecured)

From 7.99% (fixed)
9.24%
$3,000
1 to 7 years
$250 (Loans under $5000 - $140)
$13
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.99% p.a. and 22.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Apply for what you need from $3,000 and use it for a range of purposes. Repay weekly, fortnightly or monthly. You can check your interest rate before applying with no impact to your credit score.
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed

From 9.99% (fixed)
10.88%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a fixed rate between 9.99% p.a. and 18.99% p.a. ( 10.88% p.a. to 19.83% p.a. comparison rate) based on your risk profile
An unsecured loan up to $55,000 you can use for a range of purposes and pay off over up to 7 years. Note: Majority of customers will get the headline rate of 12.69% p.a. (13.56% p.a. comparison rate) or less. See Comparison rate warning in (i) above.
ANZ Variable Rate Personal Loan
12.99% (variable)
13.86%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a variable rate of 12.99% p.a. ( comparison rate 13.86% p.a. )
A flexible loan with amounts starting $5,000 that offers flexible repayments and a redraw facility. Note: These rates are available until 2 February 2021. Credit, eligibility criteria and terms & conditions apply.
NOW Finance No Fee Unsecured Personal Loan

From 6.95% (fixed)
6.95%
$5,000
18 months to 7 years
$0
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.95% p.a. and 17.95% p.a. based on your risk profile
Apply for loans from $5,000 and get a dedicated loan advisor. No security required.
Wisr Personal Loan

From 7.95% (fixed)
8.22%
$5,000
3 to 5 years
$195 (Establishment Fee)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.95% p.a. and 19.95% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 that charges no fees for extra or early repayments. Keep in mind security is required in some cases.
Pepper Money No Fee Personal Loan

From 6.95% (fixed)
6.95%
$5,000
18 months to 7 years
$0
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.95% p.a. and 17.95% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow from $5,000 to $40,000 and use for a range of purposes. Pay no upfront, early repayment or ongoing fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated regularly
$
% p.a.
Name Product Balance transfer rate Purchase rate Annual fee Amount saved
Citi Rewards Card
0% p.a. for 30 months
21.49% p.a.
$49 annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
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
0% p.a. for 12 months, reverts to 19.99% p.a.
$0
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
0% p.a. for 18 months with 1% balance transfer fee
19.99% p.a.
$199 annual fee for the first year ($299 p.a. thereafter)
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).
ANZ Low Rate
0% p.a. for 25 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
12.49% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($58 p.a. thereafter)
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.
St.George Vertigo Classic
0% p.a. for 24 months
13.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
Get 0% p.a. promotional balance transfer rate, with no balance transfer fee. Plus, save with a first-year annual fee waiver.
ANZ Frequent Flyer Black
20.24% p.a.
20.24% p.a.
$425
Collect 120,000 bonus Qantas Points and $200 back when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, complimentary lounge passes.
Westpac Low Rate Card
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1% balance transfer fee
13.74% p.a.
$59
A low rate card offering 0% p.a. interest on balance transfers for the first 24 months and a $200 cashback offer.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card - Balance Transfer Offer
0% p.a. for 26 months with 1% balance transfer fee
19.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Enjoy a 26-month balance transfer offer, a first-year annual fee waiver and complimentary travel insurance.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Credit Card
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 11.99% p.a.
$45
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.
Bankwest Breeze Classic Mastercard
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
10.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
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.
Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
20.74% p.a.
$450
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.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
19.99% p.a.
$295 annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
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.
Defence Bank Foundation Credit Card
3.99% p.a. for 6 months
3.99% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 8.99% p.a.
$45
Offers 3.99% interest for 6 months on purchases, balance transfers and cash advances.
Citi Simplicity Card
0% p.a. for 6 months
0% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 21.49% p.a.
$0
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
0% p.a. for 18 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
19.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
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.
Citi Clear Card
0.9% p.a. for 15 months
0.9% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 14.99% p.a.
$99
Save with 0.9% p.a. for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. Plus, complimentary purchase insurance cover.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
10.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($69 p.a. thereafter)
Get 0% interest on balance transfers for 26 months, a $0 first-year annual fee, complimentary travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
Coles Low Rate Mastercard
0% p.a. for 6 months
12.99% p.a.
$58
Enjoy $100 off a Coles Supermarket shop and a 0% balance transfer for 6 months. Plus, earn Flybuys points as you spend. Ends 31 January 2021.
American Express Business Explorer Credit Card - Exclusive Offer
3.99% p.a. for 6 months, reverts to 19.99% p.a.
$149
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.
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
0% p.a. for 20 months with 2% balance transfer fee
12.99% p.a.
$59
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
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
0% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 12.99% p.a.
$49 annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Features an introductory 0% p.a. purchase rate, $49 first year annual fee and complimentary travel insurance covers.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Classic
0% p.a. for 24 months
13.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
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.
BankSA Vertigo
0% p.a. for 24 months
13.99% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($55 p.a. thereafter)
Enjoy a 0% p.a. for 24 months on balance transfers, with no balance transfer fee. Plus, $0 first-year annual fee.
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Cashback Offer
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
12.99% p.a.
$99
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 Platinum - Cashback Offer
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
12.99% p.a.
$99
Enjoy $300 cashback when you spend at least $900 in the first 90 days. Plus, a low ongoing 12.99% p.a. purchase interest rate.
NAB Low Fee Card
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
19.74% p.a.
$30
Receive complimentary purchase protection insurance and 0% p.a. for 6 months on balance transfers.
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Compare a range of personal loans

What to consider with a personal loan

ProsConsSuitable for
  • Lower interest rates than credit cards
  • Repayment schedule means your debt comes with an end date
  • Cheaper in the long term
  • Not tempted to spend
  • Minimum loan term means that you'll carry the debt for more than a year
  • Can be inflexible (may charge for redraw options or not offer early repayments)
  • Can take longer to apply for
  • Large one-off purchases more than approximately $5,000 like renovations, holidays and cars
  • Large debt consolidations
  • Borrowing over a long period of time

Credit card points of consideration

ProsConsSuitable for
  • Immediate spending
  • Can come with rewards
  • Great option if you need a constant cash flow
  • Balance transfer for debt consolidation
  • Interest-free days
  • Usually carry higher interest rates
  • Only require a minimum repayment each statement period which means your debt can roll on and on
  • Balance transfer rate reverts to the cash advance rate
  • Smaller purchases less than approximately $5,000
  • Small debt consolidations
  • Short-term debts
  • Everyday shopping or retail purchases to earn reward points
  • Spending amounts that you can pay back within the introductory period

personal-loan-vs-credit-card2Personal loans vs. credit cards: What's the right product for you?

There is no single answer to this question. While a credit card might be the right choice in one situation, a personal loan might be more suitable in another, and in a third situation, neither might be appropriate. Here's how to decide what credit product will best meet your needs:

  • What are you applying for the funds for?

    If you need money for an immediate, one-off expense, such as a large purchase, then a personal loan may be suitable. If you want continued access to credit, then a credit card may be more suitable. However, keep in mind that there are flexible personal loan and credit card products. For example, you can top-up some personal loans with additional funds, and you can also use credit cards to pay for one-off purchases, but as the loan term is ongoing you may be tempted to keep the repayments rolling over instead of paying it back in full.

  • How do you manage your repayments?

    As mentioned in the point above, credit cards are an ongoing form of credit, while personal loans have an end-date. If either a personal loan or credit card will work for your needs, you may want to consider how disciplined you are with repayments. If you think you may be tempted with the credit line sitting there, then a more structured repayment schedule, such as that offered by a personal loan, may be worth considering.

  • Are you consolidating debt?

    It's important to consider your options carefully. How much debt do you have and does it include loans and credit card accounts? Make sure you will be able to bring across all your accounts to consolidate – for instance, only certain providers allow you to balance transfer loans to a credit card. You also have the option of consolidating your credit card to a personal loan, which can help you save.

  • How much are you looking to borrow?

    Credit card limits differ, as do personal loan limits. Generally, for an unsecured personal loan you cannot apply for more than $55,000. Secured personal loans are different but you will not be able to be approved for more than the asset you are using as security. You may be able to access a higher credit limit with a credit card but you will generally need to meet stricter eligibility criteria.

Things to consider when deciding between personal loans and credit cards

  • Interest and comparison rates. If you compare interest rates, generally personal loans are cheaper. The true cost is reflected in the comparison rate as you need to consider any application or service fees. Since credit cards never display the comparison rate, it’s important to remember that you take into account the annual fee of the credit card.
  • Fees. Personal loans usually have an application and service fee. Credit cards however usually just have an annual fee, though you can find credit cards without annual fees.
  • Your financial situation. If you have good control over your spending and you regularly follow your budget then a credit card could be suitable. Personal loans also can charge you early repayment fees, you will need to confirm whether this is the case with your lender. On the other hand, if you are slow at repaying debts, dragging it over the introductory period could incur high interest.

Matthew knows his financial situation

2000 Mitsubishi lancer

Matthew is looking to buy his first car and has found a 2000 model Mitsubishi Lancer selling at $5,000 at his local dealership. As this is not a private sale, he has a few different payment options. He wants to know if it's cheaper to pay for the car on his credit card and make extra repayments or apply for a personal loan with the same provider. As you can see from the table below, in the end it’s probably cheaper for him to purchase the car on his credit card, saving him up to $403.

FeaturePersonal loanCredit card
Loan amount$5,000$5,000
Loan term2.5 years2.5 years
Interest rate14.09% p.a.12.99% p.a.
Application fee$150$0
Annual fee$0$58
Monthly fees$10$0
Monthly repayments$200$200
Interest repaid$961$862.11
Interest plus fees$1411$1007.11

Rates and figures correct as of 16/08/2013

Regardless of which you choose, you need to be disciplined in the way you use your credit card or personal loan and make regular repayments. With a credit card, always aim to pay back more than the minimum repayment to save on interest and if you have a personal loan, try to make extra repayments if you’re not penalised for it.

Picture: Shutterstock

More guides on Finder

Personal Loan Offers

Important Information*
Logo for Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan
Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 25.69% p.a. based on your risk profile.
Apply for a loan up to $50,000 and repay your loan over 3 or 5 years terms.

Logo for ANZ Fixed Rate Personal Loan
ANZ Fixed Rate Personal Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate of 10.5% p.a.
Apply for up to $50,000 to use for a variety of purposes without needing to add security. Available to self-employed applicants. Note: These rates are available until 2 February 2021. Credit, eligibility criteria and terms & conditions apply.

Logo for NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed

You'll receive a fixed rate between 9.99% p.a. and 18.99% p.a. ( 10.88% p.a. to 19.83% p.a. comparison rate) based on your risk profile
An unsecured loan up to $55,000 you can use for a range of purposes and pay off over up to 7 years. Note: Majority of customers will get the headline rate of 12.69% p.a. (13.56% p.a. comparison rate) or less. See Comparison rate warning in (i) above.

Logo for SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 20.49% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 to use for a range of purposes. Benefit from no ongoing fees and no early repayment fee.

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8 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    ChrisJune 24, 2015

    Hi

    I’m looking to consolidate some debt about $27k on 2 credit cards. Last year I had a difficult year of being out of work for a considerable period.

    One credit card with my main bank had a balance then of $10k from a previous credit card balance transfer I had to put into financial hardship for a while, so my main bank are unlikely to support me in getting a personal loan to restructure my debt.

    Personal loan or another credit card balance transfer?

    Will other credit card providers baulk at accepting a credit card application now given the financial hardship I went thru last year?
    Earning good money again now.

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ElizabethJune 24, 2015Staff

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your question.

      The first step might be ordering a free copy of your credit file to see what kind of state your credit is in. Once you know this you can get a better idea of the loans or credit cards you can apply for. You can take a look at our debt consolidation guide on this page to see the options you have available to you – keep in mind that this is a large debt you are trying to consolidate, so having a chat to the banks/lenders before you apply might be a good idea.

      You can also give the free financial counselling service a call on 1800 007 007 as they can provide you with some free personal advice – as we’re a financial comparison service we can only provide general information, so they may be able to steer you in a certain direction.

      I hope this information will be of use.

      Thanks,

      Elizabeth

    Default Gravatar
    JarrydSeptember 12, 2014

    I am looking to buy a few things for around $10,000 and am trying to decide wether it will be cheaper for me to get a personal loan or a credit card.
    The loan is about 14% p.a and the card is about 11% p.a on purchases. I can afford $200 a month and more on good months (work hours fluctuate).

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ShirleySeptember 15, 2014Staff

      Hi Jarryd,

      Thanks for your question.

      Unfortunately we don’t recommend specific products, services or providers. I’d recommend that you use our personal loan calculator and credit card interest calculator to see which option suits your financial and personal situation.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

    Default Gravatar
    ChinMay 5, 2014

    Hi Shirley,

    I believe your case study is some what misleading as in order for Matthew to buy the car on the credit card then it has to be from a dealer. If it’s a private sale then this case study is not right as you did not mention the facts about Paying via credit card as to who can receive that payment.

    Thanks

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ElizabethMay 6, 2014Staff

      Hi Chin,

      That’s a great suggestion. We love improving content for our readers, so we’ve updated the case study above.

      Thanks,

      Elizabeth

    Default Gravatar
    NickAugust 20, 2013

    Hi
    I am trying to find out if although having successfully completing a Part IX Debt Agreement earlier this year (and earlier than agreed) has that stuffed up my credit rating to the extent that credit cards are unobtainable.
    Could you please advise me

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ShirleyAugust 20, 2013Staff

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Unfortunately, this is likely to be the case. The filing of a debt agreement is equivalent to a debtor formally announcing that they are insolvent and unable to meet their financial obligations.

      Please see this page for more information.

      Hope this helps,
      Shirley

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