What to look for when shopping for a credit card
Whether you’re a first time cardholder or wanting to swap out an old card for a better model, learn what to look for in your new credit card.
With so many credit card features to choose from, the process of shopping for a new card can be quite dizzying. However, it’s important that you do shop around rather than settling for the first one you see. A suitable credit card can potentially be a real blessing, but getting the wrong card can also end up costing more than it benefits you. This guide looks at five key features to consider when shopping for a credit card, some other factors to think about, and how to apply when you’re ready.
What to consider when shopping for a credit card
While different credit card features will appeal to different people, there are five key elements to consider when shopping for a new card:
Standard interest rates
Credit card companies make their fortunes on interest rates, so you should pay close attention to them. Unless you don’t plan to carry a balance on the card and are committed to fully paying off your account balance each month, interest rates can be the major source of your credit card expenses. Consider carefully the purchase interest rate which will apply to most standard purchases, the cash advance interest rate which will apply to cash withdrawals and cash equivalent transactions (e.g. gambling, prepaid credit, travellers cheques) and the balance transfer interest rate which will apply to balance transfers if you’re planning to transfer any debts.
Promotional interest rates
Getting a new card can be exciting because of the numerous card promotions that exist. Introductory promotions can include bonus sign-up points, cashback, 0% purchase interest for a fixed term, 0% balance transfer interest for a period, or an attractive combination of any of these. While promotional interest rates may seem too good to be true, they can really help with managing credit card debt in some cases. The thing to be careful of is when the promotional period will end, and what standard rates will apply once that day comes.
There are many cards that offer no annual fee memberships. These are especially great if, again, you are not planning to carry a balance and will pay off your monthly balance in full, because the interest rates on these cards are usually higher. On the other hand, some cards, such as rewards credit cards, charge high annual fees because of the other perks that accompany them. When comparing cards, ensure that the benefits will outweigh the annual costs. If the card does come with a $0 or low annual fee, make sure you know whether it’s for life or a promotional period (such as the first year), so you’re not surprised with a full annual fee in the second or third year.
Rewards credit cards and frequent flyer credit cards are all the rage, especially among seasoned travellers. They allow you to earn points (e.g. one point per $1 spent on your card), which you can then redeem for flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, fuel vouchers, gift cards, shopping vouchers, cashback and a host of other products and services. These cards usually incur a higher annual fee, but there are some no annual fee rewards cards and no annual fee frequent flyer cards that you can also look out for.
Many rewards credit cards, frequent flyer credit cards and other premium credit cards offer a variety of complimentary extras to outweigh the cost of the card. These vary from card to card, but you can expect features included such as travel insurance, airport lounge passes, complimentary flights and hotel stays, concierge services and other free insurance covers like purchase protection and extended warranty. So long as you can afford the annual fee and you make regular use of these perks, they can be an easy way to get more value for your money from your card.
Other factors to consider when comparing credit cards
As well as those listed above, other features and fees to compare include:
- Sign-up bonuses. Some frequent flyer and rewards credit cards offer bonus points on sign up as an extra incentive for new applicants. Depending on the card, these can be up to 150,000 bonus points and are a great way to kickstart your points balance. However, such offers often come with terms and conditions, and you might be asked to spend a certain amount within a set period (e.g. $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months) to activate the offer. Make sure the terms and conditions align with your spending plans, so you’re not spending for the sake of the bonus points and fall into debt when you’re unable to pay off the balance.
- Interest-free days. A common feature of credit cards is offering a fixed number of interest-free days on purchases, e.g. 44 days or 55 days. This means you don’t pay interest on your purchases for that many days, but it’s important to note that you only enjoy interest-free days if you’ve paid your account balance in full the previous month. You won’t enjoy any interest-free days if you carry a balance, which can create a vicious cycle of interest accrual, because carrying a balance is when you most need interest-free days.
- Foreign transaction fees. When you make a foreign transaction (whether overseas or online), you might be charged a currency conversion fee of around 3%. If you are looking for a card to use overseas, consider one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
- Balance transfer fees. This is another fee that will apply if you’re thinking about a balance transfer credit card. Even when the card promises 0% interest balance transfer for 24 months, you may still need to pay a balance transfer fee which is generally between 1% and 3% of your balance transfer amount.
- Overlimit fees. This is usually a flat fee that applies when you exceed your credit limit on the card. Depending on your card issuer, your card may simply be declined at the point of sale instead if there is no credit remaining on the card.
- Late payment fees. This is another typically flat fee that applies if you fail to make your minimum repayment by the statement due date on your monthly bill.
How to apply for a credit card
Once you have compared cards and found the one that most closely suits your needs, lifestyle and spending habits, you can easily apply online. While eligibility requirements will differ with each card, these are some general application requirements:
- Age. Most credit cards require that you be at least 18 years of age.
- Residency status. Most cards require that you be an Australian citizen, permanent resident or holder of certain visas permitting you to work and live here.
- Income. Some credit cards require a minimum income amount, which it is important to satisfy before applying.
- Credit history. Most credit cards dictate that you have a good or excellent credit rating.
The following details will generally be asked for, along with possible supporting documentation:
- Personal details. This includes your full name, date of birth, address, email address, phone number, driver’s licence number and passport number.
- Employment details. This includes your current position, employer’s name and contact information, duration of employment, and usually your previous employment details as well. You’ll also be required to provide two to three recent payslips.
- Financial information. This includes information on any assets owned (e.g. shares, investments and properties) as well as debts and liabilities (e.g. mortgages, rent payments, car loans and personal loans). You will also have to indicate your regular monthly expenses.
- Credit card details. This includes your requested credit limit and the details of any balances you wish to transfer.
If you apply online, your application can sometimes be approved within 60 seconds. Otherwise you may get a conditional approval and be asked for more details or supporting documents. Once you have been approved, your card may take up to two weeks to reach you. When it does, follow the accompanying instructions to activate it and you’re good to go.
While there is no one “best” credit card on the market, there are some features, benefits and fees to consider to narrow your options. Comparing a variety of cards on the market with the above factors in mind will help you get one step closer to securing the right card for you.
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* The credit card offers compared on this page are chosen from a range of credit cards finder.com.au has access to track details from and is not representative of all the products available in the market. Products are displayed in no particular order or ranking. The use of terms 'Best' and 'Top' are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. You should consider seeking independent financial advice and consider your own personal financial circumstances when comparing cards.