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.

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; credit cards and personal loans. 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. You need to repay a percentage of whatever you spend each month.

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

HSBC Personal Loan Offer

HSBC Personal Loan


9.50 % p.a.

fixed rate


10.06 % p.a.

comparison rate

  • Competitive interest rate
  • Additional payments OK
  • Borrow up to $50,000
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100% confidential application

HSBC Personal Loan Offer

A flexible personal loan from HSBC with a tailored interest rate between 9.5% p.a. and 15.99% p.a. based on your risk profile. Early and additional repayments allowed.

  • Interest rate from: 9.50% p.a.
  • Comparison rate: 10.06% p.a.
  • Interest rate type: Fixed
  • Application fee: $150
  • Minimum loan amount: $5,000
  • Maximum loan amount: $50,000
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Rates last updated August 16th, 2018
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Monthly Service Fee Application Fee Product Description Monthly Repayment
HSBC Personal Loan
From 9.5% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
A competitive fixed interest rate loan with the option to make extra repayments. Rates range from 9.5% p.a. to 15.99% p.a. based on your credit history.
ING Personal Loan
8.99% (fixed)
2 to 5 years
Benefit from no ongoing fees, no early repayment fees and flexible loan terms on amounts up to $30,000.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan
From 7.5% (fixed)
2 to 5 years
3% (of loan amount)
Based on your risk profile, you will receive a tailored rate between 7.5% and 20.49% with a SocietyOne personal loan.
Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan
From 6.99% (fixed)
3 to 5 years
$500 (Upfront fee)
Interest rates are tailored to each applicant individually, and start from as low as 6.99% p.a. to 26.95% p.a.. based on your credit history.
Latitude Personal Loan (Unsecured)
From 13.99% (fixed)
2 to 7 years
$250 (Loans under $4000 - $140)
An unsecured loan with a tailored rate from 13.99% p.a. to 29.99% p.a. designed for multiple purposes including renovating, buying a car or travelling.
Citi Personal Loan Plus
From 8.99% (variable)
3 to 5 years
Borrow up to $75,000 to use for a range of purposes. You’ll receive a rate of between 8.99% p.a. and 17.99% p.a. depending on your risk profile. (Comparison Rate of 9.96% p.a. to 18.91% p.a.)
RateSetter 3-Years Personal Loan
From 7.17% (fixed)
0.5 to 5 years
RateSetter offers loans with terms ranging from 6 months to 5 years and comparison rates from 6.39% p.a. - 11.08% p.a. based on your risk profile.

Interest and comparison rates calculated for a 3-year loan term.
CUA Unsecured Fixed Rate Personal Loan
11.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Apply for a loan up to $60,000 and keep repayments manageable with a competitive fixed rate.
MyState Unsecured Personal Loan
12.99% (variable)
1 to 7 years
Apply for up to $50,000 and make additional repayments at any time without penalty.
Pepper Money Unsecured Fixed Rate Personal Loan
From 9.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Apply for up to $50,000 and receive conditional approval within minutes. Interest rates range from 9.99% p.a. to 21.74% p.a. The rate you are approved for depends on individual circumstances.
Westpac Unsecured Personal Loan
12.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
A competitive, fixed rate personal loan that allows you to make extra repayments.

Compare up to 4 providers

Rates last updated August 16th, 2018
Name Product Annual fee Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
$59 p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 13.99% p.a.)
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Receive an introductory 0% p.a. interest rate for 6 months on purchases, Visa Entertainment offers and a competitive $59 ongoing annual fee.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
$129 p.a.
0% p.a. for 14 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
0% p.a. for 6 months
Buy now and pay later with 0% p.a. interest on purchases for 14 months. Plus, 0% p.a. on balance transfers for up to 6 months.

Compare up to 4 providers

Compare a range of personal loans

What to consider with a personal loan

Pros Cons Suitable 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

Pros Cons Suitable 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, whereas credit cards usually just have the annual fee, though you can find one without one.
  • 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.

Feature Personal loan Credit card
Loan amount $5,000 $5,000
Loan term 2.5 years 2.5 years
Interest rate 14.09% 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

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Personal Loan Offers

Important Information*
HSBC Personal Loan

A competitive fixed interest rate loan with the option to make extra repayments. Rates range from 9.5% p.a. to 15.99% p.a. based on your credit history.

SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan

Based on your risk profile, you will receive a tailored rate between 7.5% and 20.49% with a SocietyOne personal loan.

Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan

Interest rates are tailored to each applicant individually, and start from as low as 6.99% p.a. to 26.95% p.a.. based on your credit history.

Latitude Personal Loan (Unsecured)

An unsecured loan with a tailored rate from 13.99% p.a. to 29.99% p.a. designed for multiple purposes including renovating, buying a car or travelling.

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8 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    ChrisJune 24, 2015


    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.

    • finder 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.



  2. 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).

    • finder 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.


  3. 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.


    • finder 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.



  4. Default Gravatar
    NickAugust 20, 2013

    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

    • finder 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,

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