woman holding a credit card and laptop

The importance of your first credit card

Get your credit history off to the right start with your first credit card.

Credit cards can be a useful way to fund emergency purchases, provide flexible cash flow or consolidate debt. However, managing a credit card isn’t always easy and it’s important that you know how to use it properly to avoid falling into debt. Here we break down the best* ways to use a credit card and why your first credit card is so important.

Two reasons why your first credit card is so important

1. Your first credit card can help you build your credit history.

How you use your credit card will have an impact on your credit history. Your credit file contains information about your financial history, including telecommunications contracts, personal loans, history of repayments, loan defaults or contracts and of course credit card applications.

If you’ve never had a card before, your credit card can help build a good foundation for your credit rating. If you’re approved for a credit card, this will show future lenders that you’re a low-risk applicant. Plus, maintaining a history of complete and on-time repayments is an indication of your ability to handle and repay credit. This will especially come in handy when you’re applying for future loans such as a personal loan, car loan or mortgage.

2. You can learn how to budget with your first credit card.

A credit card can also teach you about budgeting. You can use your available credit limit to cover short-term cash flow problems, or you can use your credit card to pay for big ticket purchases. In both cases, you will need to manage how you repay what you’ve spent so you can avoid paying more in interest than you have to.

Some credit cards offer interest free promotional periods or interest-free days for the lifetime of the card. This feature gives you time to pay back the purchases you make using your credit card without incurring additional interest charges. Incorporating your first credit card into your weekly or monthly budget can give you extra credit when you need it. You'll just need to make sure you repay what you’ve spent within the interest-free period so that you can use your credit card as a form of interest-free finance.
How to build a good credit history with a credit card

Comparing credit cards for first time cardholders

Rates last updated November 15th, 2018
Name Product Annual fee Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
ME frank Credit Card
$0 p.a.
11.99% p.a.
Save money with an ongoing $0 annual fee, the same low 11.99% p.a. interest rate on purchases and cash advances, and up to 55 days interest-free.
Qantas Premier Everyday
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
19.99% p.a.
4.9% p.a. for 24 months
Take advantage of up to 40,000 bonus Qantas Points, a $0 first year annual fee plus complimentary overseas travel insurance.
Citi Simplicity Card
$0 p.a.
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months
Get 0% p.a. interest for up to 6 months on balance transfers with no BT fee. Plus, a $0 annual fee for life.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Mastercard
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($45 p.a. thereafter)
11.99% p.a.
A no-frills card with a low variable purchase interest rate of 11.99% p.a. and a $0 first year annual fee.
CUA Low Rate Credit Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
11.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 13 months
Take advantage of a 0% p.a. balance transfer rate for 13 months, $0 first year annual fee, and a low ongoing 11.99% p.a. interest rate on purchases.
Citi Clear Platinum Credit Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
12.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 14 months
Offers a 0% p.a. for 14 months balance transfer and $0 first year annual fee. Plus, insurance covers and Citibank Dining Program perks.
Westpac Low Rate Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($59 p.a. thereafter)
13.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1% balance transfer fee
Offers a 0% for 24 month balance transfer option, first year annual fee waiver and a competitive purchase rate.
ANZ Platinum Credit Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($87 p.a. thereafter)
19.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Receive a 0% p.a. for 18 month balance transfer offer and a $0 first year annual fee. Plus, complimentary overseas travel and medical insurance.
St.George Vertigo Platinum
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
12.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Offers a long-term balance transfer, $0 first year annual fee, complimentary travel insurance and access to a 24/7 personal concierge service.
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
$0 p.a.
17.99% p.a.
2.99% p.a. for 9 months
Offers a $0 annual fee, 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary international travel insurance and a balance transfer offer.
Woolworths Everyday Platinum Credit Card - Finder Only Offer
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
19.99% p.a.
2.99% p.a. for 18 months
Finder only: Offers a $50 eGift Card, 4,000 bonus Credit Card points and a $0 first year annual fee. Plus, 10% off your shop once a month.
Westpac Altitude Platinum Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($150 p.a. thereafter)
20.24% p.a.
Earn 60,000 bonus Altitude Points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days of card approval. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee.
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
$0 p.a.
21.99% p.a.
4.99% p.a. for 6 months
Designed for travel, benefit from 0% foreign transaction fees on purchases, a $0 annual fee for life and a personal concierge service.
Qantas American Express Discovery Card
$0 p.a.
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months with 1% balance transfer fee
Earn uncapped Qantas Points on purchases, pay $0 annual fee for life and take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 12 months balance transfer offer.
American Express Velocity Escape Card
$0 p.a.
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months with 1% balance transfer fee
Earn uncapped Velocity Points on purchases, pay $0 annual fee for life and take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 12 months balance transfer offer.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Amplify Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days. Plus, enjoy a $0 first year annual fee and uncapped rewards points.
Westpac 55 Day Platinum Credit Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($90 p.a. thereafter)
19.84% p.a.
0% p.a. for 20 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Receive a 20 month balance transfer offer, up to 55 days interest-free on purchases, a platinum concierge service and a $0 first year annual fee.
St.George Amplify Platinum
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Amplify Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days and save with a $0 annual fee for the first year.
BankSA Amplify Platinum
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Amplify Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days and save with a $0 first year annual fee.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Signature - Online Offer
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($279 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
Get 100,000 bonus Amplify Points when you apply for this card online and spend $4,000 within 90 days. Plus, save with a $0 first year annual fee.
BankSA Amplify Signature - Online Offer
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($279 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
Receive 100,000 bonus Amplify Points when you apply online and spend $4,000 within 90 days and save with a $0 first year annual fee.
Virgin No Annual Fee Credit Card
$0 p.a.
18.99% p.a.
6.9% p.a. for 36 months
Offers a balance transfer rate of 6.9% p.a. interest for 36 months and up to 44 days interest-free on purchases, all for a $0 annual fee.

Compare up to 4 providers

Compare credit cards for travel

How to apply for your first credit card

All credit cards require that you have a good credit history. Your first credit card is likely to be the first listing on your credit file. This won’t be a problem if you’re applying for a low rate or low fee credit card; however, if you want a platinum or rewards credit card, you may need to have an established credit history first.

You can establish a credit history by entering into a basic credit agreement such as an internet or mobile phone contract. You may also want to consider a secured personal loan. Financial institutions can provide a loan to first timers if the loan is secured to an asset such as a car or a cash deposit.

As well as a good credit history, other application requirements apply.

  • Age. You must be over the age of 18 to apply for a credit card.
  • Residency. You must be an Australian resident (some financial institutions can provide credit cards for temporary residents).
  • Minimum income. You must be able to meet the minimum income requirements. If no minimum income requirement is listed, you must be able to service the minimum credit limit.

An application for a credit card can be completed online. It should only take about 15 minutes to complete and you will have an answer in minutes. You can find the application requirements for each credit card listed on our review and application pages for each card.

Beware, if you apply for too many credit cards in a short space of time, it’s going to ruin your chances of getting approved for a credit card later on. Multiple applications for credit cards (or credit in general) is a warning sign for financial institutions and paints you as a credit hungry customer.

Do's and don'ts of your first credit card

Here are some mistakes to avoid and good habits to get into with your first credit card (and every card thereafter):

Do

  • Make regular repayments. You need to make at least the minimum monthly repayment so you can avoid late payment charges, stop your account from going into default and maintain a good credit history. The minimum monthly repayment is usually just a couple of percent of what you owe on the account.
  • Pay more than the minimum amount each month. In some cases, if you just make the minimum monthly repayment it could take decades to pay off your account. The more you pay and the sooner you pay it, the less you will pay in interest charges in the long run.
  • Educate yourself. It's important to understand how credit cards work. For example, remember that ATM withdrawals count as cash advances and will immediately charge a higher interest rate. Or even if you have a 0% purchase or balance transfer offer on your card, you'll still need to make repayments each month and you can only take advantage of interest-free days when you pay your balance in full. Understand the fees and charges that come with most credit cards before you apply or at least as soon as you get your card.

Don't

  • Make cash advances. Cash advances are an expensive way to use your credit card. When you use your credit card to get money from an ATM or to pay some bills, you’ll be charged a cash advance fee of a couple of dollars as well as the cash advance interest rate, which can be as high as 20% p.a. Furthermore, interest-free days do not apply when you use your credit card for a cash advance.
  • Overspend. It’s so easy to pay for something on credit and worry about it later. This is a toxic spending pattern that will land you in debt. Know your limits. Use a budget planner to figure out how much you can spend. A credit card repayment calculator can help you work out how much you need to pay back each month so that you can pay off your credit card debt in a timeframe that’s comfortable to you.
  • Drink champagne on a beer budget. In other words, apply for a credit card you can afford. For most people applying for their first credit card, this is a no annual fee or low rate credit card. Rewards credit cards can be a great way to get something for nothing, however, these products generally feature high annual fees and interest rates. Make sure you compare credit cards before you apply so you know that you’re getting the right credit card for your needs.

Your first credit card can help you build your credit history so that you can apply for other credit products such as a home loan in the future. If you have questions about applying for your first credit card, get in touch with us using the question form below.

How much should you pay off your credit card each month?
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Sally McMullen

Sally McMullen is an editor at finder.com.au who is a credit cards, frequent flyer and travel money expert by day and music maven by night.

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Important Information*
Citi Platinum Credit Card - Exclusive...

Interest rate

20.99

Annual fee

49*

*$149 p.a. after first year

Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card ...

Interest rate

20.74

Annual fee

64*

*$129 p.a. after first year

American Express Westpac Altitude Pla...

Interest rate

20.24

Annual fee

50*

*$249 p.a. after first year

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