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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.

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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.

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

Rates last updated August 17th, 2018
Name Product Annual fee Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
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.
Citi Simplicity Card
$0 p.a.
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
Save with 5% cashback on eligible purchases (capped at $50 per month) for the first 90 days from approval. Plus, a 15 month balance transfer offer.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Platinum Mastercard
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($89 p.a. thereafter)
11.99% p.a.
Offers premium features such as mobile phone and tablet insurance and purchase protections, plus, 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.
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.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card
$129 p.a.
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Offers a 0% p.a. for 22 months balance transfer and an annual fee refund each year when you spend $6,000.
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.
American Express Westpac Altitude Platinum Bundle
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
20.24% p.a.
$0 first year annual fee & up to 75,000 bonus Altitude Pts when you meet T&C with this Visa (issued by Westpac) & Amex (issued & serviced by Amex).
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.
St.George Amplify Card
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
19.49% p.a.
3% p.a. for 36 months
Take advantage of 3% p.a. interest on balance transfers for 36 months. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee and Amplify or Qantas Points per $1 spent.
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.

Compare up to 4 providers

Rates last updated August 17th, 2018
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Interest Free Period Annual fee Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Product Description
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.
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Online Offer
12.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$99 p.a.
0% p.a. for 25 months
Get platinum perks and save with 0% p.a. interest for up to 25 months on balance transfers with no BT fee.
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 Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
0% p.a. for 14 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
Up to 44 days on purchases
$129 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.
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.
Citi Clear Platinum - Exclusive Offer
14.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1.5% balance transfer fee
finder Exclusive: Receive 0% p.a. for 24 months on balance transfers and a discounted annual fee in the first year. Plus, access to Citi World Privileges.
St.George Vertigo Visa
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 BT fee. Plus, a competitive annual fee.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Platinum Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($89 p.a. thereafter)
Offers premium features such as mobile phone and tablet insurance and purchase protections, plus, a $0 first year annual fee.
CUA Low Rate Credit Card
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
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.
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.
HSBC Low Rate Credit Card
13.25% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$79 p.a.
0% p.a. for 20 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Add additional cardholders for $0 and pay using Apple Pay. Also enjoy exclusive offers with the home&Away Privilege Program.
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.
Bendigo Bank Low Rate Mastercard
11.99% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$45 p.a.
A no-frills card with a competitive annual fee, a low variable purchase interest rate of 11.99% p.a. and up to 55 interest-free days on purchases.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Visa Credit Card
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 BT fee. Plus, a competitively low annual fee.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Platinum
12.74% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$99 p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1% 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 Visa
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 August 17th, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HSBC Low Rate Credit Card
13.25% p.a.
Up to 55 days on purchases
$79 p.a.
0% p.a. for 20 months with 2% balance transfer fee
Receive up to 20 months interest-free on balance transfers with a 2% BT fee. Also enjoy exclusive offers with the home&Away Privilege Program.

Compare up to 4 providers

Pictures: Shutterstock

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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Credit Card Offers

Important Information*
Citi Clear Platinum - Exclusive Offer

Interest rate

14.99

Annual fee

49*

*$99 p.a. after first year

Westpac Low Rate Card

Interest rate

13.49

Annual fee

0*

*$59 p.a. after first year

Westpac Altitude Platinum Card - Qantas

Interest rate

20.24

Annual fee

50*

*$200 p.a. after first year

ANZ Low Rate

Interest rate

12.49

Annual fee

58

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