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

Rates and fees last updated on

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

Rates last updated August 21st, 2017
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Application Fee Monthly Repayment Product Description
Citi Personal Loan Plus
From 11.99% (variable)
3 to 5 years
$0 ($199 fee waived)
Borrow up to $75,000. All approved applicants will receive the advertised variable rate of 11.99% p.a.
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.
RateSetter 2-Year Personal Loan
From 4.69% (fixed)
2 to 2 years
$0 (Upfront fee $250 for loan terms of 2 years and above)
This peer-to-peer loan is only available for a 2-year term at the rate of 4.69% p.a.
RateSetter Personal Loan
From 8.66% (fixed)
0.5 to 5 years
$0 (Upfront fee $250 for loan terms of 2 years and above)
Ratesetter allow you to get a personalised rate based on your credit score, interest rates from 3.7% p.a. to 9.6%.p.a.
IMB Unsecured Personal Loan
From 11.69% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
An unsecured loan offering from IMB with a competitive interest rate
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Variable Rate
From 14.69% (variable)
1 to 7 years
An unsecured loan with a redraw facility that allows you to access money you've paid in advance. You must have held a NAB Credit Card or Transaction account for at least 6 months before applying.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan
From 7.9% (fixed)
2 to 5 years
3% (of loan amount)
Comparison rates for a 3 year loan range from 9.92% p.a. to 13.63% p.a. for good credit scores A and AA
NOW FINANCE Personal Loans
From 8.95% (fixed)
1.5 to 7 years
$395 (Based on $10,000)
Get rewarded with a low interest rate for your good credit history. Rates from 8.95% p.a. to 16.95% p.a. depending on your credit credit.
Latitude Personal Loans (Unsecured)
From 13.99% (fixed)
2 to 7 years
$250 (Loans under $4000 - $140)
An unsecured loan designed for multiple purposes – renovating, buying a car or travelling. Funds can be in your count in as little as 24 hours.
QT Mutual Bank Personal Loan
From 12.95% (variable)
1 to 5 years
$395 (establishment fee)
You can use this personal loan to buy just about anything: a new boat, home renovations, a holiday or even to consolidate existing debt. Only available to Queenslanders
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed
From 14.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
An unsecured loan available for a wide range of purposes for a long period of time up to 7 years. You must have held a NAB Credit Card or Transaction account for at least 6 months before applying.
Bank of Melbourne Unsecured Fixed Rate Personal Loan
From 11.99% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
$0 (Offer available until 8th September 2017)
Apply for a loan from $3,000 and lock in a competitive fixed rate for up to five years.
St.George Unsecured Personal Loan - Fixed Rate
From 11.99% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
$0 (Offer available until 8th September 2017)
Convenient redraw facility, flexible personal loan repayment options with competitive interest rate.
Westpac Unsecured Personal Loan
From 12.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Borrow up to $50,000 for a term of up to 7 years with the unsecured Loan from Westpac

Compare up to 4 providers

Rates last updated August 21st, 2017
Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Annual fee
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
Receive up to 55 days interest-free on purchases, special offers from Visa Entertainment and Tap and Pay capabilities.
13.99% p.a. 0% p.a. for 16 months with 2% balance transfer fee $59 p.a. Go to site More info
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
Save with 0% p.a. on purchases for 12 months. Plus, up to 0.66 Velocity Points per $1 spent.
0% p.a. for 12 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.) 0% p.a. for 6 months $129 p.a. Go to site More info

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, 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.

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

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Related Posts

NOW FINANCE Personal Loans

Get rewarded with a low interest rate for your good credit history. Rates from 8.95% p.a. to 16.95% p.a. depending on your credit credit.

RateSetter Personal Loan

Ratesetter allow you to get a personalised rate based on your credit score, interest rates from 3.7% p.a. to 9.6%.p.a.

NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Variable Rate

An unsecured loan with a redraw facility that allows you to access money you've paid in advance. You must have held a NAB Credit Card or Transaction account for at least 6 months before applying.

Citi Personal Loan Plus

Borrow up to $75,000. All approved applicants will receive the advertised variable rate of 11.99% p.a.

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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.

    • Staff
      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).

    • Staff
      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.


    • Staff
      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

    • Staff
      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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