Credit Cards - May 30th
The Reserve Bank (RBA) has released its long-awaited Review of Credit Card Payments final decisions, stemming from a review that commenced in March 2015. Essentially, and as was expected, it limits the interchange fees that …– Read more
Credit Cards - May 27th
Interchange fees are in the news at the moment with the Reserve Bank (RBA) releasing its official Review of Credit Card Payments report. As was expected, interchange fees that can be charged between a bank …– Read more
Credit Card Rewards - May 26th
The Reserve Bank (RBA) has released its long-awaited Review of Credit Card Payments final decisions, stemming from a review that commenced in March 2015. Essentially, and as was expected, it limits the interchange fees that …– Read more
A credit card is a form of unsecured personal loan that gives the cardholder access to a revolving line of credit. That revolving line of credit is accessed, most usually via a small plastic card – the credit card!
The cardholder can make purchases up to a specified limit. The ‘spent’ credit can be repaid by the cardholder to the bank by the due date in full or in part. If the credit is only repaid in part, the remaining balance is taken as extended credit and interest will be charged on that amount until the cardholder repays it. For some cards, interest is charged on all purchases and transactions – not just extended credit – from the day of the transaction.
There are more credit cards being used in Australia than ever before, with more than 16 million credit cards in circulation as at July 2015. As of August 2015, ASIC’s MoneySmart Debt Clock advises that Australians are currently paying interest on a total of just over $33 billion of credit card debt, with an average debt of $3,100 per cardholder. More than $4 billion is being paid in interest alone. In July 2015, Australia owed a whopping $51.4 billion in credit and charge card debt.
CANSTAR survey data from 2,200 Australians showed that 75% of adults have a credit card, and a healthy 78% said they paid the credit card bill off every month. Sadly, 19% blamed credit card spending for their financial difficulties.
A credit card can present a higher personal risk to customers financially. It can make it all too easy to spend on impulse if you’re not disciplined about how and when you use the card.
A line of credit connected to a credit card might be easier to obtain than other forms of credit such as a personal loan or a home loan, but it doesn’t come cheaply.
Credit cards typically have high interest rates because they are an unsecured debt. Unlike other loans or lines of credit, interest rates on credit cards appear to remain high no matter how the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) increases or decreases the official cash rate. By comparison, home loans and term deposit accounts tend to reflect any movement in the cash rate within a short time of the official announcement.
Many credit cards also charge an annual fee in exchange for some extra rewards and services. It’s important to weigh up the value of these rewards and assess whether or not they would be useful to you. Some cards let you pay the annual fee with rewards points you have earned, but if you only earn enough points in the year to pay the fee, then your should think about whether you might be better off by choosing a card without a fee.
Credit cards can also charge high fees for late payment of a bill or certain types of transactions. 36% of Aussies surveyed by Canstar Blue said they have been hit by unexpected bank fees or charges. So it’s important to read your terms and conditions and pay your bill on time every month.
Credit cards can be useful for a variety of reasons if used responsibly.
When you want to apply for a loan (such as a mortgage or a car loan) you generally need to have accumulated a positive credit history of dealing responsibly with a line of credit. If you pay off the full balance of your credit card every month, this can provide you with that positive credit rating. Just remember to be careful, as any missed payments will negatively affect your credit rating. Find out more about accessing your credit history here.
Credit cards have anti-fraud protections; if someone defrauds your credit card, they can max it out, but you still have access to your own cash while the bank investigates the fraud. Always check that you recognise every transaction listed on your statement, and call the bank immediately if you suspect someone has stolen your details and is using your card.
Many credit cards have great reward programs. These are useful for cardholders who already use their card enough to build up points and justify paying an annual fee for it. These may not be useful if you would need to over-spend or buy things you don’t need just to acquire points, or if the annual fee is higher than the benefits you would use. Think about the type of rewards on offer and consider whether you would use them. You might not even need a credit card with an extensive rewards program.
Paying for a large-ticket item or a large purchase such as overseas flights, it can be easier to use a credit card because it doesn’t have a small daily limit like your debit card. Before you buy, check that there aren’t any merchant fees for using your credit card to make the purchase. It might be worth asking the bank to increase the daily limit on your debit card instead.
When you’re travelling overseas, having a credit card can be a convenient and safe way to travel, eat out and buy souvenirs. Also though, remember that many places in the world still operate using cash, so you should also have some of the local currency with you at all times. It can also be helpful to take a back-up card with you just in case.
At time of writing (August 2015) according to the CANSTAR database, interest rates for credit card purchases are between 7.99% and 23.50%, with an average rate of around 17%. We’ve make shopping around for the best rate easy by comparing credit cards for you. Based on the cards on CANSTAR’s database:
The interest rates for credit card cash advances are slightly different, from 4.99% all the way up to 29.49%. Interest rates on balance transfers are between 0.00% and 9.99%, considerably less than your average credit card – but remember that a balance transfer generally only applies to any existing debt, not to purchases that you make with the card, and is only for a specified amount of time.
For those who often juggle an ongoing debt of their credit card, finding a card with a comparatively low interest rate might be cost-effective. At the time of writing, there are nine cards on our database with an interest rate lower than 10%. That’s still a lot of interest to pay, so it’s worth shopping around.
According to our recent survey of 2,200 Australian adults, 34% of Aussies don’t know what interest rate they’re paying. A further 51% conceded they could have found a better deal at a lower interest rate if they had looked around a little more. On the other hand, 45% of survey respondents shopped around to find the best rate possible for them.
Because credit cards can accumulate a large amount of debt, even small differences in interest rates can make a big difference to the total amount you will pay on your card over its lifetime. Reducing the interest that you pay on credit card debt is an easy way to keep more dollars in your pocket.
You can compare the interest rates for different types of credit cards on our website. You can also compare balance transfer rates.
There are more credit cards being used in Australia than ever before, with more than 16 million credit cards in circulation as at July 2015.
The Reserve Bank first gave approval to submissions to launch the first credit card in Australia in 1972. It might seem amazing now that it took so long for Australia to gets its first credit card, when America had its first credit card in 1951, but Australia’s huge geographical spread presented unique problems. For a long time, it was too difficult to communicate transactions across the entire nation and develop and maintain a central banking database. Remember – we’re talking pre-internet as we know it here.
Bankcard, Australia’s first credit card, was launched in 1974 when electronic data processing and communications technology had advanced enough to make it viable. Back then, petrol was $0.32 per litre, the average yearly wage was about $13,000, and the average house cost $43,000.
Bankcard was operated by Charge Card Services Ltd, a service company that allowed multiple banks to use its computers and communications networks through a shared facility. Each member bank issued their own variant of the Bankcard credit card with their own terms and conditions.
The launch was deemed highly successful. Eighteen months after the launch, 49,000 merchants were accepting Bankcard for over 1.05 million cardholders. In 1977, Australia’s first ATMs appeared in our capital cities.
The Bankcard Scheme was closed in 2007 because by then it was commonplace for banks to have sufficient technology to process credit cards in-house.
EFTPOS reached Australian shores in 1983, bringing with it a whole new world, as debit cards replaced the old ‘charge cards’. Interestingly, debit cards have become increasingly more popular since the GFC as people had to cut back on impulse and luxury purchases, according to RBA statistics:
Technology for credit cards has come a long way since the first credit card:
There are four main types of credit card available in Australia through banks and building societies:
MasterCard was formed in 1966 when 17 banks joined together to form the Interbank Card Association. Today, MasterCard provides an umbrella for thousands of financial institutions to share a brand recognised by customers and merchants.
Find out more from CANSTAR about the difference between MasterCard and Visa, MasterCard’s 2013 CANSTAR Innovation Excellence Award, and MasterCard supporting developing nations to protect against natural disasters.
Visa was formed in 1958 as the Bank of America’s BankAmericard, the first consumer credit card program available to middle-class consumers and small- to medium-sized merchants. It was a simple paper card with a $300 credit limit. In 1976, BankAmericard became independent and united many different banks under the new global brand of Visa.
American Express Company was founded in 1850 by Henry Wells, William G. Fargo and John Butterfield as an express delivery business during the westward expansion. Its biggest clients were banks who needed to transport small but valuable items such as stock certificates, deeds, bank notes and currency.
In 1882, American Express launched its money order business with almost instant success. They issued their first credit card in 1958, with Elvis Presley being one of the first cardholders of the American Express Card. The American Express Gold Card was launched in 1966.
American Express has also been a travel provider since WWI, when it helped to provide emergency travel help for 150,000 American tourists left stranded in Europe in 1914. Today, they operate one of the world’s largest travel networks, and many of their credit card rewards programs focus on travel benefits.
Diners Club was formed in 1950 with the first ever multi-purpose charge card. In 1949, businessman Frank McNamara had dinner at the Major’s Cabin Grill restaurant in New York, but was embarrassed because he’d left his cash in another suit and his wife had to pay the bill for him. He resolved to create a way for anyone to pay a bill in the future if they were caught without enough cash on hand.
He founded Diners Club with business partner Ralph Schneider, and one year later they returned to the Grill and paid for dinner with a small cardboard card. Within a year, 10,000 in New York alone were using “The Diners’ Club” at 28 restaurants and 2 exclusive hotels. Frank was honoured by LIFE Magazine in 1990 as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century.
Today, Diners Club Australia is owned by Citi, the largest foreign bank in Australia. You can view an online gallery of all of their previous card designs, from 1951’s cardboard cards onwards.
There are a number of fees that may apply to your credit card. See your bank’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for detail on all fees that may apply to your credit card. Some of the common credit card fees are:
There are many different features that may be attached to your credit card. These can include:
A summary of features that we look for in an outstanding value credit card is contained in the Methodology attached to our Credit Card Star Ratings report.
There are many possible rewards that can be attached to a rewards credit card. You can use our credit card rewards selector to filter the comparison results to show you just the cards with the type of reward you’re interested in using.
The “best” rewards program comes down to how much you spend per year on your card, what type of reward you are most likely to use, and whether the annual fee or other costs for the program would be worth it – and of course your personal preference. CANSTAR rates rewards programs for four different levels of annual spending on your credit card – $12,000, $24,000, $60,000 and $120,000.
A balance transfer involves transferring your credit card debt to a new credit card with a low interest rate, often a promotional rate, and paying off the debt before the end of the low-rate or promotional period. The lowest rates are 0% – but it’s worth noting that some 0% credit card balance transfer offers can come with an annual fee that reduces the benefits of the 0% rate. The average length of a 0% Balance Transfer deal on CANSTAR’s database is 11 months, but there are cards offering up to two years interest free.
To find out more about balance transfers, visit our balance transfers page.
Purchase price protection insurance is a special feature of some credit cards where the bank will pay you back the difference if you find a product on sale for a cheaper price than what you paid for it. This insurance can be provided for free on your credit card, available as a paid option on its own, or included with other insurance options on some cards. This insurance usually only covers purchases made in Australia, with an annual limit on claims.
These insurance policies vary greatly between providers. For most cards with this feature, the price drop must be at the same retailer, but some will cover it if you see the item cheaper at any store. Citibank and GE Money both insure against “price drops” of as little as $10 for 6 months after the purchase date. NAB only insures you for 21 days but the price drop can be at any store within 25km of your original purchase.
A fee is charged for this insurance policy, usually a flat 0.5% of the closing balance of your monthly credit card bill. So if you pay off the entire balance of your card before your statement is issued, you can avoid having to pay a fee for the insurance.
Wondering what type of credit card you should get? This depends in part on what type of spender you are – as well as your own personal preferences. And of course keep in mind that a credit card may not be a good idea at all, particularly if you have trouble managing debt.
Two questions among others to ask are:
Canstar has identified 5 different types of credit card spender:
Someone who uses their credit card frequently every month, but struggles to pay it off in full. They typically spend around $12,000 per year while revolving (paying interest on) $6,000 constantly on their credit card.
Tip: If you don’t spend a great deal on credit each year and you’re always paying interest, consider researching and comparing credit cards that have a low interest rate and a low annual fee to see if you could reduce your credit card costs. Currently on CANSTAR’s database the lowest interest rate is 7.99%, and there are 31 cards offering less than 12%.
If you’re a Constant Credit spender and you are drowning in debt, read our many articles on managing and clearing your credit card debt:
Someone who uses their card frequently every month, but is able to pay off the card in full each month.
Tip: For someone who never pays interest on a credit card debt, it really doesn’t matter as much what interest rate the credit card charges, since they don’t plan to pay interest! A large number of interest-free days might be useful for some people in this profile though, since the Everyday Spender tends to hold back on repaying until the eleventh hour. CANSTAR has assessed an Everyday Spender as some who typically puts $2,000 through their card every month. Currently we list 47 credit cards for everyday use with 55 or more interest-free days.
Some Everyday Spenders may also put enough money through their credit card each year make it worth looking into a few rewards offerings and other features – as long as the benefits outweigh the cost.
Everyday spenders might be interested in our articles on keeping your everyday costs low:
Someone who keeps a credit card in reserve for big ticket items, going on holidays, or in case of emergencies, and then pays off the balance over a few months.
Tip: “Occasional Spenders” may find it worth comparing credit cards that have a low ongoing interest rate and a low- or no-fee card. Finding a credit card that works for you, not against you, is easy if you carefully examine what you spend and how you spend it.
Got a big ticket holiday in mind? Read these articles first…
Someone who spends a lot on their card, routinely puts around $5,000 or more through their card per month, and always pays in full before interest is charged.
Tip: The interest rate is no problem if you’re paying it off before interest is charged, so it might be worth comparing credit cards that have no or low annual fee and/or a great rewards and services program. You usually won’t get both, but if you use your card a lot, you may as well make it work for you.
Cards aimed at big spenders can have a high annual fee and high interest rates, so a few missed payments can write off any rewards you received. Make sure you pay it off like clockwork!
Someone who earns a lot and spends a lot, nearly all of it on the card, and pays it off in full by the due date. It’s not unusual for these spenders to put $10,000 or more through the card every month.
Tip: The interest rate is largely irrelevant for someone who pays their credit card in full each month, so this profile can potentially consider a good rewards program that has useful benefits. Check that the rewards points has a nice high cap, or it won’t be worth it. Remember to review your card’s rewards regularly, as the benefits can change frequently.
Currently, CANSTAR rates 35 credit cards for major spenders that include a rewards program, fraud protection, travel insurance, concierge service, and the ability to balance transfer.
Take a look at our hints and tips for getting the most out of your rewards credit card as a big spender or major spender:
Credit card debt is on the rise in Australia, and Wesley Mission has reported that more than 1 million NSW households are spending more than they earn. According to Reserve Bank of Australia data in 2015, our national credit card debt hit $51 billion in February – close to the record.
Generation X Aussies aged 35 to 54 has been identified as the biggest spenders and the least likely to pay off their debt. Gen X have been described as the “stressed-out” consumers who spend most of their earnings on their children, ageing parents, and a hefty mortgage. Half said they made up to 1-3 unplanned purchases on their credit card each month.
58% of cardholders say they couldn’t resist the temptation of a sale, and used their credit cards to pay for it. Among those who don’t pay their card off in full every month, 15% splurge at least once a month on shopping sprees, going out or entertainment.
Men are bigger spenders, with more men spending more than $5,000 per month on their cards than women.
The ABA’s Doing It Tough website lists the following as signs that you might be in debt to a stressful point:
If any of these signs apply or you know your debt is out of control, take control of it now:
Readers experiencing severe financial hardship can also seek independent and free advice from Financial Counselling Australia. You can use their free Debt Self Help Online Assessment Tool to get an assessment of your debt situation straight away, or contact any of the financial counsellors listed on their website. You can also phone their financial counselling hotline on 1800 007 007 for free from a landline, 9:30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
Another organisation that provides free and independent financial help, from helping you consolidate debt to dealing with creditors and keeping debt collectors away, is Christians Against Poverty Australia. You can call their helpline on 1300 227 000 or find a centre near you.
Don’t be fooled by other businesses offering services to help you get out of debt, as most of them charge fees and are little more than debt consolidation companies. Always find out up front how much a debt company will charge you for their services. You may be able to get the same help for free from a financial counsellor.
Credit card insurance will cover the repayments on your credit card debt if you suddenly become unable to work. This could happen if you lost your job unexpectedly, became temporarily or permanently disabled, became terminally ill, or pass away.
This cover will make the minimum payments on your credit card balance each month for a set time. This helps to prevent your credit card debt from spiralling out of control. This cover may also pay out a lump sum to your bank if you pass away, so that your family is not left to pay the debt.
This cover may typically cost around 0.5% of the closing balance of your card, charged to your account each month. There is also usually a waiting period before you can make a claim, of up to 180 days from the commencement of the policy or 14 days after losing your job.
It helps that you can still claim even if you are entitled to benefits from another source, such as workers compensation, sick leave or Centrelink. But if you voluntarily resigned, you won’t be covered for job loss. Most insurers require that you were working a certain number of hours per week before you became unable to work.
Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to credit cards. Your bank or financial institution may use different terms, and you should read the terms and conditions of your credit card carefully to understand all fees, charges and interest rates that may apply to your card.
Account-keeping fee / Ongoing fee: A monthly account-keeping fee that is charged by the lender to help cover the administration cost of maintaining the line of credit. Alternatively, you may be charged an annual fee rather than an ongoing account-keeping fee.
Annual credit card fee: A fee charged annually for the use of the credit card.
Automatic transfer: A system that is set up to automatically transfer money from a one bank account into another account at a certain point in time to coincide with bills or payments.
Average daily balance: The balance of your card is determined by adding up all balances during the month and then dividing the total sum by the number of days in a given billing cycle. Most credit card providers calculate the daily balance based on the annual rate.
Cash card: Also known as gift cards. A prepaid card with a set balance. Can be used either at a specific retailer, or like a debit card that can be used with multiple merchants using EFTPOS.
Balance transfer: Transferring the outstanding balance on your credit card to another card, usually one with a better (lower) rate as part of a special promotion.
Balance transfer fee: A fee charged when you make a balance transfer. It may be a flat fee or a percentage of the amount you transfer.
Bankruptcy: This is when someone’s debt problems become so serious that they are unable to pay their existing debts and bills. When this happens, they can apply to a court to be declared “bankrupt”, and any assets or savings they have can be used to pay off their debts.
Big spender: A CANSTAR credit card methodology profile. Credit card users who spend a lot of money on their cards every month and always pay off the balance in full. For these cardholders, the best cards are those that provide adequate rewards programs and other services.
Cash advance: Withdrawing cash from a line of credit. Usually incurs additional fees or a higher rate of interest.
Cash advance fee: A fee charged when you make a cash withdrawal from an ATM using your credit card. The bank may charge a flat fee or a percentage of the amount of the cash advance.
Caveat emptor: Latin for “let the buyer beware”. In financial situations, this phrase means that a buyer should be careful to examine an item and the terms of conditions that apply to purchasing it, before making that purchase.
Charge card: Instead of having a revolving line of credit, the balance of this card must be paid off in full every month. Charge cards were the first historical versions of credit cards issued by merchants and banks.
Credit limit: The maximum amount you can spend with your credit card before having to pay off some of the balance.
Credit report or credit history: A report from a credit agency that contains a history of your previous loan and bill payments. Banks, lenders, creditors and financial institutions use this report to determine how likely you are to repay a future debt, and it helps them decide whether or not to lend money to you. Your credit score and credit report are also used by lenders and insurers to set your loan and insurance rates. Find out what is included in your credit report here.
Credit score: Also known as your credit rating. It is an assessment of your credit-worthiness, based on your positive and negative borrowing and repayment history, which is listed as a numerical score. The score is based on whether you pay your bills on time, your current level of debt, the types of credit and loans you have, and the length of your credit history. Your credit score and credit report are used by lenders when deciding whether or not to lend to you, and are also used by lenders and insurers to set your loan and insurance rates. Find out how to check your credit score here.
Creditor: A lending agency to whom you owe money.
Debit card: Also known as a bank card or a cheque card. Allows you to access the money in your savings or transaction account electronically to make purchases. Requires a PIN number to confirm identity, and the funds are removed from your account almost immediately.
Default: When a cardholder fails to fulfil their obligation to make the minimum necessary payment on their credit card bill or other loan. Defaults are a serious black mark on your credit report and negatively affect your credit rating.
EFT: Electronic Funds Transfer. The transfer of money between accounts by electronic machines like ATMs, home computers, and EFTPOS machines.
EFTPOS: Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale. Usually refers to a small machine that merchants use to receive payments from customers’ credit and debit cards.
Everyday spender: A CANSTAR credit card methodology profile. Credit card users who use their credit cards for everyday purchases and pay off their balances each month. They need to be concerned less about interest rates and more about finding the right features.
Float: The amount of time that a cheque takes to be cleared or rejected for payment by a bank.
Full balance: The entire amount owing on your card that month, including any purchases made that month, any amounts unpaid from previous month’s bills, and any interest or fees charged.
Habitual spender: A CANSTAR credit card methodology profile. Credit card users who keep a revolving credit card debt and don’t pay off their card each month. Typically need a low rate card with a low annual fee.
Impulse spender: Credit card users who only spend in splurges (holidays, emergencies) and then spend months paying the balance off. Typically need a low rate card with a low annual fee.
Interchange fee: Fees paid between your bank and a merchant’s bank to accept card-based transactions.
Interest rate: The rate at which your outstanding balance increases per month if your bill is not paid or not paid in full.
Interest-free days: The number of days you have to pay your bill in full before interest is charged on the balance. It is the period of time between the date of a purchase and when the payment is due. This period usually does not apply to cash advances.
Introductory rate: An interest rate charged when you first sign up for a credit card, offered to entice new cardholders. These rates are usually very low, but revert to the standard rates after 6 months or so.
Merchant: Someone who sells goods or services to customers for payment.
Minimum interest charge: The minimum amount of interest you would be charged if you are charged any interest. For example, if your total interest charge is $0.75 but the bank’s minimum interest charge is $1.00, you will be charged $1.00.
Minimum payment: The number listed on your bill as the minimum your bank requires you to pay off your credit card for that month.
Ombudsman: If you have a dispute with your financial institution and haven’t been able to resolve it through the bank’s internal complaints resolution process, you can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service of Australia. It is a free and independent service that helps people resolve disputes with their bank or other financial institution. Anyone can call them on 1300 78 08 08.
Overdraft: An overdraft occurs when you write a check, make an ATM transaction, use your debit card to make a purchase, or make an automatic bill payment or other electronic payment for an amount greater than the balance in your savings/debit/checking account. The bank extends credit up to a maximum amount (the overdraft limit) and you can make withdrawals up to that limit. Interest is charged on the fluctuating daily balance.
Over-the-Credit-Limit Fee: A penalty fee charged to you for exceeding your credit limit.
Penalty fees: Fees charged if you violate the terms of your cardholder agreement or other requirements related to your account. For example, your credit card company may charge a penalty fee if you make a late payment or if you exceed your credit limit.
Pre-approval: An initial approval notification that provides a customer with an estimate of the credit limit someone would be approved for if they applied for that type of credit card. This is based on information the bank has about their credit history. It is not a guarantee that the customer will actually be approved for the card if they make an application.
RBA cash rate: The overnight interest rate that the Reserve Bank of Australia offers financial institutions to settle-up on inter-bank transactions. This cash rate influences the interest rate that banks give each other.
Revolving account: An account in which there are not a scheduled number of payments and the full balance doesn’t have to be paid off monthly. Credit cards are the most common type of revolving account.
Rewards program: Benefits that come with the use of a credit card, often in proportion to the amount of money spent on it. Can come in the form of cash back, shopping vouchers, frequent flyer miles, and general rewards.
Switching: Changing from one product to another with the same financial institution, e.g. switching from a rewards credit card to a savings account with a debit card attached.
Universal default: When one financial institution treats a lender as if they had defaulted when the lender defaults with a different institution.
ADCU (Australian Defence Credit Union)
Bank of Melbourne
Bank of Sydney
bankmecu (Bank Australia)
BankSA (Bank of South Australia)
Big Sky Building Society
BOQ (Bank of Queensland)
Coastline Credit Union
Community First Credit Union
Encompass Credit Union
First Option Credit Union
G&C Mutual Bank
Greater Building Society
Horizon Credit Union
Intech Credit Union
Macquarie Credit Union
People’s Choice Credit Union
Qantas Credit Union
Qld Police Credit Union
QT Mutual Bank
Select Credit Union
SERVICE ONE Alliance Bank
St. George Bank
Teachers Mutual Bank
Victoria Teachers Mutual Bank
Wide Bay Australia