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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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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