mother and daughter holding a credit card

When should I get my first credit card?

From tiding you over between paydays to helping you build credit history, credit cards are a popular money-management tool, but when is the right time to get one?

Just like moving out of home or getting your first car, applying for a credit card is a rite of passage into the grown-up world. In fact, research from finder in 2016 found that 70.19% of all adults in Australia have a credit card and are using them for more purchases every year.

Despite this, millennials are the least likely to have a credit card or fully understand the benefits and risks of them. Here is everything to consider before you apply for your first card, including the age requirements, different reasons you might want a credit card, questions to help you find out if you're ready for a credit card and how to improve your chances of approval when you apply.

At what age can I apply for a credit card?

The minimum age you can apply for a credit card in Australia is 18, although some banks allow account holders to add secondary cardholders who are 16 and above. If you become a secondary or additional cardholder, the account won’t be listed on your credit history, as the primary account holder will be responsible for all transactions.

Check out our guide on age requirements for credit cards

Why would I get a credit card?

Credit cards are not as essential as everyday bank accounts or debit cards but they can play an important role in your finances. So if you’re wondering why you would want a credit card, here are some of the most popular reasons to apply and start using one.

  • Building credit history

    While your credit history will usually already have details of basic utility accounts (such as electricity or phone plans), credit cards are often the first “line of credit” account that’s listed. This type of account has a greater impact on your credit score and your ability to get other loans. So once you get a credit card (and use it responsibly), you can start building credit history that will increase your chances of success when you want to apply for a mortgage, car loan or other credit product.

    To optimise your credit history, aim to pay your credit card account balance off in full by the due date on each statement. Usually, a credit card designed for students or first-time users is your best bet for establishing credit history. But once you’re confident using the account, you may also consider increasing your credit limit or upgrading to a more premium card to show you’re able to manage higher levels of credit responsibly.

  • For emergencies

    Whether it’s a parking fine, a car accident or a nasty surprise at the dentist, major, unexpected costs are a part of being an adult. If you don’t have enough money in your bank account to cover emergencies, you could use a credit card to pay what’s required upfront.

    As well as taking some of the pressure off in stressful situations, paying with plastic can help you avoid additional late fees and allow you to pay off the expense over time. If this is the main reason you get a credit card, look at cards with no annual fee or a low standard interest rate to help keep your costs to a minimum.

  • Necessary, large-ticket items

    Remember taking items like fridges, washing machines and furniture for granted? As soon as you get old enough to live out of home, you start to realise how much all of these items cost.

    If you’re paying for several large-ticket items around the same time, it can seriously eat into your bank balance. A credit card may help ease some of your cash flow concerns by allowing you to buy what you need when you need it. You may even be able to avoid interest charges by getting a credit card with an interest-free period – just check the terms and conditions to make sure you meet all the requirements to pay 0% interest on the balance.

  • Overseas holiday

    Whether you’re taking a gap year or going on an overseas trip for a few weeks, a credit card can help provide financial security when travelling. While there are all kinds of travel money options offering minimal fees and security, a credit card is especially useful for any emergency costs that come up. For example, if you need to pay a fine, additional hotel charges or medical costs. Credit cards also offer security features and a zero liability policy to help keep your account safe from overseas fraud.

    There is a range of credit cards that offer $0 foreign transaction fees to help keep costs down. Or, if you meet the income requirements, you could apply for a card that offers complimentary travel insurance to further help reduce your travel costs.

  • Student costs

    With textbooks, laptops, transport and accommodation, students have a range of additional costs that can be hard to cover upfront. Especially if you’re only able to work part-time while you’re studying.

    A student credit card is designed to give you more flexibility in managing these costs between paydays. Most of these cards offer lower fees than other accounts to help keep costs down and some even allow you to apply when you’re getting Centrelink payments.

man giving a credit card while working in cafe

How do I know if I’m ready to get a credit card?

If you want to get a credit card, checking off the following criteria will help you make sure you apply at a time that’s right for you.

  • Do I make enough money?

    Most credit cards have a minimum income requirement that you have to meet before you’re eligible to apply. As a guide, the income requirements range from $15,000 for a low-income card to $100,000 or more, for premium cards.

  • Can I afford to pay my credit card bills?

    Ideally, you should be able to pay your credit card balance off completely each month. So if you’re already feeling the pinch between paydays, applying for plastic will increase your risk of debt.

  • Do I have a good credit history?

    Do you have unpaid loans or fines, or is your credit history a clean slate? You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus once a year, so check these details and decide if your financial history supports you, before you apply.

  • Do I have a budget?

    In addition to interest costs if you carry a balance, most credit cards charge an annual fee. Consider how much you could afford to pay in account fees so you can decide if it’s worth it at this stage of your life.

  • Can I control my spending?

    Similar to budgeting for credit card costs, think about how much you’re likely to use the card. Can you stick to costs that you’re able to pay back each month? If you’re unsure but still want to apply, you could also consider requesting a low credit limit to help keep yourself in check.

  • Do I have permanent Australian residency?

    Most credit cards in Australia require you to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident. You may still be eligible to apply for some cards if you’re a temporary resident but may need to meet additional requirements.

How to improve your chances of approval when applying for a credit card

If you’re ready to apply for a new credit card, there are several ways you can increase your chances of approval. Start by comparing credit cards so you can find an option that suits your needs. Then check the eligibility requirements and get all the necessary details and documents together for the application (such as your employment details, salary, recent payslips and bank statements).

Learn how to improve your chances of credit card approval now.

When used responsibly, credit cards can become a convenient, practical and valuable part of your adult finances. And, if you play your cards right, they may even help you get approved for a home loan or other financial products in the future.

Compare No Annual Fee, Low Interest Rate and Student Credit Cards

Rates last updated January 18th, 2019
Name Product Annual fee Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
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 balance transfer 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.
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 55 Day credit card - Online Offer
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($30 p.a. thereafter)
0% p.a. for 13 months (reverts to 19.84% p.a.)
Save with 0% p.a. interest for the first 13 months on purchases and a $0 first year annual fee.
HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months
Save with a $0 first year annual fee and a long-term balance transfer offer. Plus, complimentary travel insurance.
Bankwest Breeze Classic Mastercard
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 12.99% p.a.)
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Pay 0% p.a. interest on purchases for the first 6 months and 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 26 months. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee.
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.
Skye Mastercard - Online Offer
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
23.99% p.a.
Get 90 days interest-free, $0 foreign transaction fees and a $0 annual fee for the first year when you apply through finder.
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.
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.
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.
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
$0 p.a.
21.99% p.a.
4.99% p.a. for 6 months
Save with 0% foreign transaction fees on purchases. Plus, complimentary flight delay passes, global wifi access and a 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.
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.
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. Ends 23 January 2019.
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. Ends 23 January 2019.
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. Ends 23 January 2019.
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 online and spend $4,000 within 90 days. Plus, $0 first year annual fee. Ends 23 January 2019.
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 plus, $0 first year annual fee. Ends 23 January 2019.
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

Rates last updated January 18th, 2019
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Interest Free Period Annual fee Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
Citi Clear Platinum Credit Card
12.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
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.
ANZ Low Rate
12.49% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$58 p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months
With a low minimum credit limit of $1,000, this no frills card allows you to add up to 3 additional cardholders for $0.
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.49% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($59 p.a. thereafter)
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.
Virgin Money Low Rate Credit Card
11.99% p.a.
Up to 44 days on purchases
$49 p.a.
0% p.a. for 14 months
Offers a $49 annual fee, 10% cashback on purchases made in the first 3 months (capped at $100) and 0% p.a. for 14 months on balance transfers.
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Online Offer
12.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$99 p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months
Save with 0% p.a. interest for up to 24 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee. Plus, platinum perks. Ends 23 January 2019.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($45 p.a. thereafter)
A no-frills card with a low variable purchase interest rate of 11.99% p.a. and a $0 first year annual fee.
Bankwest Breeze Classic Mastercard
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 12.99% p.a.)
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Pay 0% p.a. interest on purchases for the first 6 months and 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 26 months. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee.
St.George Vertigo Classic
13.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$55 p.a.
0% p.a. for 16 months
Get 0% p.a. interest for up to 16 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a low annual fee. Ends 23 January 2019.
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 13.99% p.a.)
Up to 55 days on purchases
$59 p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
This card offers a low introductory rate of 0% p.a. for 6 months on purchases. Plus 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 6 months.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate First Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$29 p.a.
Exclusively for customers aged 18 to 25 years, this card gives you up to 55 interest-free days and a low variable interest rate on purchases.
NAB Low Rate Platinum Card
0% p.a. for 9 months (reverts to 13.99% p.a.)
Up to 55 days on purchases
$100 p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
A platinum card that offers 0% p.a. for 9 months on purchases. Plus 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 6 months.
Latitude Low Rate Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$69 p.a.
Offers a competitively low interest rate and annual fee, plus up to 55 interest-free days on purchases
Westpac 55 Day credit card - Online Offer
0% p.a. for 13 months (reverts to 19.84% p.a.)
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($30 p.a. thereafter)
Save with 0% p.a. interest for the first 13 months on purchases and a $0 first year annual fee.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Platinum Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$89 p.a.
Offers premium features such as mobile phone and tablet insurance and purchase protections, plus, up to 55 days interest-free on purchases.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Classic
13.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$55 p.a.
0% p.a. for 16 months
Enjoy 0% p.a. interest for up to 16 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a low annual fee. Ends 23 January 2019.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Platinum
12.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
0% p.a. for 26 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Get a range of complimentary insurance covers, access to a 24/7 concierge and the convenience of Visa payWave contactless technology.
BankSA Vertigo Classic
13.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$55 p.a.
0% p.a. for 16 months
A no-frills Visa with the protection of a zero liability policy and a 24/7 fraud monitoring service.

Compare up to 4 providers

Rates last updated January 18th, 2019
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Interest Free Period Annual fee Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
Bendigo Bank Low Rate First Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$29 p.a.
Exclusively for customers aged 18 to 25 years, this card gives you up to 55 interest-free days and a low variable interest rate on purchases.
ANZ First Student Card
19.74% p.a.
Up to 44 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($30 p.a. thereafter)
An ideal, low limit credit card for full-time tertiary students with up to 44 days interest-free on purchases and a $0 annual fee for the first year.
ANZ Low Rate
12.49% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$58 p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months
Save with a 0% p.a. introductory rate on balance transfers for 15 months with no BT fee. Plus a low 12.49% p.a. interest rate on purchases.
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.49% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($59 p.a. thereafter)
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.
Citi Clear Platinum Credit Card
12.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
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.
St.George Vertigo Classic
13.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$55 p.a.
0% p.a. for 16 months
Get 0% p.a. interest for up to 16 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a low annual fee. Ends 23 January 2019.
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 13.99% p.a.)
Up to 55 days on purchases
$59 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.

Compare up to 4 providers

Pictures: Shutterstock

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Amy Bradney-George

Amy is a senior writer at finder.com.au with more than 10 years experience covering credit cards, personal finance and various lifestyle topics. When she’s not sharing her knowledge on money matters, Amy spends her time as an actress.

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