Like a set of keys, there’s no one-size-fits-all credit card. What's important to one person won't be as important to the next. To narrow down your choice of plastic companions, you should take a look at your spending habits, as this can shine a light on what's really important to you.
Credit cards are often used as an additional source of finance to purchase goods and services. However, people use their credit cards in many different ways. Some people struggle to pay off their card each month, effectively using it as a short or long term loan, while others chase reward points and always pay their bill on time, meaning they never pay interest.
Selecting the right credit card for your lifestyle is extremely important. Find a card that fits your spending needs, and don't select a credit card with a bunch of added extras unless you truly need them. You may end up paying a high annual fee for services and features you don't require.
The Habitual Spender
Struggling to pay off your card each month?
Habitual spenders use their credit cards like they do their debit cards and are constantly incurring interest charges and paying off debt.
If you struggle to pay off your credit card each month, you may benefit from alow rate cardwith a very low orno annual fee. If you are truly habitual and already carry a solid credit card debt, then you may want to consider abalance transferor apersonal loan to consolidate your debts.
The Impulse/Occasional Spender
Not using your card often?
You may not think of your credit card as an accessory, but rather as a necessary financial tool. You may use it to order large purchases that you don’t have the money for upfront, and pay these purchases back over an extended period.
If you only use your card for emergencies and occasional spending, such as at sales time or to pay for holidays, and then use the following couple of months to pay off the balance, you may want to consider a low rate card with a very low or no annual fee. If you just need the ability to make purchases online and overseas, adebit cardmay also suit in some cases.
Be aware that many low-interest credit cards offer an even lower promotional rate for their introductory period. It's often worth making a commitment topay off your entire debt during this period, because afterwards the interest rates will revert to the higher rate, making thebalance much harder to pay off.
The Everyday Spender
Using your credit card to cover everyday essentials, but always pay it off?
If you use your card almost every day to do your grocery shopping, make purchases online or pay your bills, but always manage to pay off your credit card balance on time each month, your monthly spend may come in at around $2000.
If you use your card to make regular purchases, and you pay off your balance each month to avoid interest charges, then you likely won’t be as concerned about your card’s interest rate as you would be about its features and fees. You may want to find a card that provides a rewards program you're interested in, such as cash back or frequent flyer points.
Keep in mind that rewards cards often come with higher annual fees, so make sure you choose one you will get the most out of, at a lower cost.
The Big Spender
Using your credit card for everything, but always paying it off?
You may be a big spender if you’re forking out over $5000 per month on your credit card. Perhaps you use your credit card to gain reward points, or for the convenience, but you are always conscientious about paying off your credit card debt in full each month and avoiding interest charges.
If you’re a high income earner and big spender who always pays off your balance, you might be in the market for a card that provides features and perks that you’d use frequently. These may include free travel insurance, concierge services and rewards programs.
Once you have worked out what sort of spender you are, you can work out which type of credit card interest rate is likely to suit your needs.
Low rate credit cards
These credit cards have a low interest rate, which is usually accompanied by a relatively low annual fee. They tend to be the "no frills" cards on the market, because they have limited features and services compared to other types of cards, and they typically don’t have any rewards programs attached. The main benefit of these cards is the lower interest rate compared to many other cards.
If you don’t pay off your credit card balance in full each month, then you may find a low rate credit card useful. As you would be incurring interest charges each month, your main objective would be to keep interest rates to a minimum so you can pay less in interest charges.
While rewards are enticing, if you often carry credit card debt and can’t pay off your full balance each month, you may find a low rate card more suitable than a reward card with premium features. Low rate credit card interest rates are often 5-7% lower than standard credit card rates, which can add up to thousands of dollars in interest when paying down a credit card debt over time.
Another option if you can’t pay off your current credit card balance is to look at consolidating your debts with apersonal loan, as these often offer lower interest rates than credit cards.
Standard Rate Credit Cards
If you are the conscientious type who always pays off their credit card balance each month, then you get a big thumbs up and don’t need to be as concerned with interest rates. You may find more benefit in credit cards with low or no annual fees and perhaps a rewards program.
Low or no annual fee credit cards may offer a small annual fee or none at all, either for the life of the card or for a certain amount of time. The trade-off of getting a card with no annual fee is that you’ll generally pay a higher interest rate than many low rate cards. Some low or no annual fee cards may have some sort of promotion where you have to spend a certain amount in order to waive the fee, however check with the credit card provider for full terms and conditions.
If you are committed to paying off your credit card debt in full each month, then higher interest rates should be of little concern to you, but the rewards and low annual fees may be on your mind.
One of the benefits of having a credit card, besides the convenience, is access to the rewards. If you want to get more out of your credit card, consider a card with a rewards program attached. This way you will be rewarded every time you use your credit card instead of just incurring nasty interest charges.
Be aware that cards with reward programs often cost more in fees and interest, so only choose a rewards card if you can pay off your balance in full each month, and if the benefits you earn on your annual spending will outweigh the cost of the rewards program membership.
There are a range of different types of rewards programs available, including:
Frequent Flyer rewards
If you are a loyal airline traveller, you could reap the benefits of a frequent flyers rewards card. Each time you pay for something using your credit card, you can receive Frequent Flyer reward points that can be redeemed towards Qantas, Virgin, or other airline flights anywhere in the world.
This type of rewards program can be great for frequent travellers, as well as for businesses with staff who travel frequently for work. Most programs have a main partner, such as Qantas Frequent Flyer or Virgin Velocity, however some cards allow you to convert your points to a range of global frequent flyer programs based on what you need for your next dream holiday.
Everyone loves money don’t they? Especially cash! Cashback reward programs allow you to redeem your points for cash. This cash usually comes in the form of money credited back to your account, making these rewards function similarly to a delayed discount on your spending.
Cash back often isn’t the most efficient way to claim rewards, requiring more of your precious rewards points per dollar of cash claimed back. However, the trade-off is versatility – once the cash is back in your account, you are free to spend it as you please, unlike many other rewards.
If travelling is your chocolate - your ultimate indulgence - then consider using your credit cards to earn points you can redeem for your next holiday. For each dollar you spend, you’re allocated points that can be redeemed to book a range of products and services depending on the provider, such as tours, hotels and flights. Australians love to travel, so being rewarded with a travel voucher once a year could turn your dream holiday into a reality.
Get rewarded for shopping with your credit card with… more shopping! For each dollar you spend, you are allocated points to go shopping for a wide range of items, such as appliances, sports gear, entertainment and more.
While your choices can be limited by what is offered in your provider’s catalogue, merchandise rewards often offer generous amounts of ‘bang for buck’, or ‘bang for point’. Credit card providers can negotiate bulk discounts, so if they offer something you want, you may find this to be an efficient use of your hard-earned points.
Gift cards make great presents, even for yourself. Use your points to redeem gift cards for a range of outlets, such as Myer or David Jones. Gift cards can offer a happy medium between cash back and merchandise.
While not quite as versatile as cold, hard (or electronic) cash, you have significantly more to choose from than merchandise, and you can even take advantage of the sales at some of the big stores. The ‘bang for point’ is reflected in this too. For every thousand points, you’ll generally get more back claiming gift cards than cash back, but not quite as much as merchandise.
Credit card features
Different lenders offer credit cards with different features, so it’s a great idea to know which features you want so you can tailor your credit card search accordingly.
Balance transfer offers benefit people who already have one or more credit cards and are struggling to pay them off. For a set period of time, balance transfer cards usually offer a much lower interest rate, or waive the interest charges entirely, and are only available if you transfer the balance from your previous card/s to the new card. Lowering or eliminating the interest charges on your transferred balance can help you pay off your outstanding credit card debt sooner, without letting your debt grow.
But take note; after this introductory period has expired, the card’s interest rate will usually revert to a much higher rate. Also, be aware that the card’s purchase interest rate will not necessarily be the same as the balance transfer rate - try to avoid making new credit card purchases until you’ve paid off your transferred credit card balance. This option may not be ideal for the undisciplined spender.
Minimum repayment amount
This is the minimum amount that you must pay each month, which can be expressed as a fixed amount, or as a percentage of the balance owing. Minimum credit card repayments are often around 2% or 3% of the balance owing, meaning if you were to only pay back the minimum amount each month, it could take years to pay off your debt plus interest. Where possible, try to pay off your credit card’s entire balance each month, but if you’re unable to do so, try to pay more than the minimum amount, so you can reduce the balance owing, pay less in interest, and clear your credit card debt sooner.
A cash advance is when you withdraw money using your credit card, such as using your credit cardto get cash from an ATM. The interest rate for cash advances is usually higher than the purchase rate, and there are usually no interest-free days on cash advances, so you are charged interest from the moment you withdraw the money. Try and avoid making cash advances where possible to save on interest charges.
The interest-free period is the length of time you have to repay what's owing on your credit card before you start being charged interest on purchases. Different cards offer different interest-free periods, but 45 or 55 days from the start of each month’s billing cycle is common. To avoid interest charges, take advantage of this time and pay for your purchases before the interest-free period ends. Make sure you leave enough time for funds to transfer.
If your card isn’t fully paid off by the time the interest-free period ends, you’ll be charged interest on your current debt and any new purchases until you clear your credit card balance.
A low interest rate on your credit card doesn’t matter if you’re also paying a hefty annual fee. Some lenders may waive annual fees, though you may need to spend big on the card to earn this benefit.
Many credit cards have annual fees around the $100 mark, but some have annual fees as high as $700 per year. Credit cards with no annual fees are available, but make sure you check their interest rates and other features to make sure they’re worthwhile.
The three main credit card issuers are MasterCard, Visa and American Express. These three companies currently control the way that most credit cards are provided throughout the world.
The major differences between each company include the availability of the issuer where you want to make a transaction, and the fees.
MasterCard offers cards for personal use, business and merchants. These cards are available through a range of financial institutions which can be used around the world. They offer their members access to exclusive competitions and offers depending on the level of card.
Visa offers a range of credit cards that are available through a large range of financial institutions for both personal use, businesses and merchants. They also offer their customers access to pre-purchase tickets to concerts and gigs before they go on sale to the public as well as other exclusive offers.
American Express offers their own brand of cards as well as issuing them through financial institutions. While American Express offers access to a range of exclusive services, they also tend to charge more expensive credit card fees. American Express cards are not as widely accepted around the world as other brands.
Picking the right card type
There are three main types of credit card – standard, gold and platinum. Working out which one will suit your personal finances will likely depend on how often you plan to use your piece of plastic.
If you use your credit card sparingly, as a back-up in case of emergencies, or only in situations where it’s necessary (such as for making online bookings), then you are most likely to benefit from a standard credit card.
Standard cards tend to be very basic, and usually don’t have a rewards program attached. However, these cards are more likely to have lower interest rates than other credit card types.
Want more rewards than the standard credit cards are offering, but aren’t quite in the big league of platinum spending?
Gold credit cards are the mid-level options that come with more features and services than the standard level cards, though they may not have as many features as the platinum level cards e.g. you may not receive as many reward points. The interest rates of gold credit cards tend to be higher than those of standard cards, but lower than those of platinum cards.
A few of the possible rewards that may be offered with gold credit cards are automatic travel insurance for travel purchased on your credit card, free extended warranty on credit card purchases, and extra reward points every time you use your card, to be redeemed for gifts, cash, travel or shopping.
Platinum credit cards are regarded as the highest-level credit cards, where the interest rates are generally the highest in the market, and often so are the annual fees. However, these cards usually also offer more features and rewards than the other card levels, including travel insurance, discounted hotel accommodation, and rewards programs offering Frequent Flyer Points for every dollar you spend.
If you are considering applying for a credit card, make sure you read the product disclosure statement (PDS) before you apply so you are aware of all the terms and conditions attached to the card.
Here’s a quick checklist of what you should consider before taking the leap:
What is the interest rate?
Check whether the card has an introductory “honeymoon” interest rate as a promotional offer, and what rate the card will revert to once the introductory period expires.
If you’re planning to transfer the balance from your current credit card, check the new card’s balance transfer rate.
Is there an annual fee? How much is it?
Credit cards that offer additional benefits such as rewards and bonuses are more likely to charge higher annual fees.
What other fees does the card charge?
One way to estimate the approximate value of a credit card is to add up the annual cost of any fees it charges, and compare these to the value offered by any benefits it provides, such as rewards you can realistically expect to redeem by using the card.
If it looks like you'd likely pay more in credit card fees and charges than you'd recieve in benefits over a year, it may be worth comparing some alternative credit card options.
What credit limit would you be comfortable with?
Consider choosing a limit you could afford to pay off in full, reducing the risk of getting into financial trouble that could take years to recover from.