Credit cards for first timers

Just getting started with credit cards and have no idea where to begin? Compare credit cards for first timers with low fees and rates, giving you a good starting point to build your credit history.

By   |   Verified by David Boyd   |   Updated 1st December 2022

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Comparing credit cards for first timers

St.George Vertigo Visa

On website

FeaturedApply by 28 February 2023

St.George Vertigo Visa

Balance transfer

32 months at 0% p.a.

Purchase rate

13.99% p.a. ongoing

Annual fee

$55.00 p.a. ongoing

Highlights

  • Enjoy 0% for 32 months on Balance Transfers with a 0% balance transfer fee. Reverts to cash advance rate of 21.49% p.a.
  • 13.99% p.a. low variable interest rate on purchases.
  • Low annual fee of $55 p.a.

Pros

  • 0% p.a. for 32 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee.
  • 13.99% p.a. low variable interest rate on purchases.
  • Low annual fee of $55 p.a.

Cons

  • Balance transfer rate reverts to 21.49% p.a. after 32 months.
  • There are no rewards program for this card.
Bankwest Zero Mastercard

On website

Balance transfer

34 months at 0% p.a.

Purchase rate

14.99% p.a. ongoing

Annual fee

$0.00 p.a. ongoing

Highlights

  • Pay no annual fee as long as you hold the card.
  • 0% p.a. for 34 months on balances transferred (2% balance transfer fee applies). Reverts to 14.99% p.a. thereafter.
  • Up to 55 days interest-free on purchases.
  • New customers only. Limited time. Other fees and charges, T&Cs apply.

Pros

  • There is no annual fee for as long as you keep the card.
  • The current balance transfer offer is extremely competitive.
  • Interest on purchases is comparatively low.

Cons

  • Balance transfers incur a one-off fee.
  • You cannot earn credit card points.
Bankwest Breeze Mastercard

On website

Balance transfer

15 months at 0% p.a.

Purchase rate

15 months at 0% p.a.

Annual fee

$0.00 for 1st year

Highlights

  • Enjoy 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months (0% BT fee, 9.90% p.a. thereafter).
  • 0% p.a. for 15 months on purchases (reverts to 9.90% p.a.)
  • First-year annual fee waiver. $49 p.a. thereafter.
  • New customers only. Limited time. Other fees and charges, T&Cs apply.

Pros

  • 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months.
  • 0% p.a. for 15 months on purchases.
  • First-year annual fee waiver. $49 p.a. thereafter.

Cons

  • There are no rewards on this card.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard

On website

Balance transfer

15 months at 0% p.a.

Purchase rate

15 months at 0% p.a.

Annual fee

$0.00 for 1st year

Highlights

  • Enjoy 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months (0% BT fee, 9.90% p.a. thereafter).
  • 0% p.a. for 15 months on purchases (reverts to 9.90% p.a.)
  • First-year annual fee waiver. $69 p.a. thereafter.
  • New customers only. Limited time. Other fees and charges, T&Cs apply.

Pros

  • 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months.
  • 0% p.a. for 15 months on purchases.
  • First-year annual fee waiver. $69 p.a. thereafter.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • There is no rewards program on this card.

Ready to graduate from Afterpay and start adulting? A credit card provides you with a line of credit from a bank or other lender. It can smooth out the peaks and troughs in your budget, give you a convenient way to make payments all around the world, act as a safety net if you have unexpected expenses that you can't afford to pay immediately, and even improve your credit score if used responsibly. So it can be a good idea to have one.

But getting a credit card for the first time can be a challenge.

What is the best credit card for first timers?

The truth is there is no single best first credit card. But there are several things to look out for when choosing the right credit card to apply for.

  • Minimum criteria matter. Each card has a different set of eligibility criteria. If you do not meet those criteria, you should not apply since its very likely to be declined. You can find them on Finty or on the bank's website.
  • Don't aim too high. Beginners with limited credit history should not expect to be eligible for premium cards. To increase your chances of being approved first time, limit your scope to basic credit cards.

Who is eligible for a credit card?

If this is your first time applying for a credit card, you may be wondering what the banks look for.

  • Minimum criteria per card. Each card has its own set of criteria. These are generally for age, income, credit score, citizenship, etc. As a first timer, check what the bank requires before applying. Don't assume they won't check and apply anyway. If you don't meet the criteria, your application will be declined, and that can hurt your credit score and make it harder to be approved in future.
  • Credit history and credit score. Credit cards are more readily accessible when you have an established credit history with a proven track record of repaying on time. A credit card first-timer is handicapped as their history of loan repayments may be non-existent or very limited, and therefore may not provide a lender with the evidence of satisfactory credit management in the past. All lenders tend to take the view that the best predictor of future account conduct is past account conduct. Without a credit history to consider in your application they have limited information on which to base their decision. But your past payment record in other areas may help. If you are unsure of what your credit report contains, you can check it here.
  • Payment record. If you have used credit of any kind (such as a car loan) in the past and didn’t default on payments, your credit card application request will probably have a better chance of success. A landline telephone account, internet provider account, postpaid mobile phone account, gas or electricity account, can all help to establish your credit history if they are in your name.

Choosing your first credit card

With so many options to choose from, here are a few ideas to help make a better decision.

  • Students. If you are a university or TAFE student, then a student credit card could be good starter credit card. These are no-frills cards with basic features, but can be a good
  • Young adults and professionals. Young adults and professionals who may be accustomed to Afterpay and are concerned about credit card debt may consider a no interest credit card as a starter card. This relatively new class of credit card was developed as a response to the growing trend towards buy now pay later. Unlike most credit cards, they do not charge interest, but instead charge a monthly fee. They also have low credit limits and minimum criteria that are achievable for most people.
  • Debt averse. If you have good credit with an established history, a charge card may be worth considering. Charge cards have surged in popularity since they provide credit card benefits but each statement must be repaid in full, which is why they have been called the adults' BNPL.

How to apply for your first credit card

Once you have chosen the card that suits you best, the quickest and easiest way to apply is to do it online.

Step 1. Check the eligibility criteria. Make sure you check the eligibility criteria for the credit card you’re interested in before you apply.

Step 2. Click the application button. If you have seen a credit card on Finty that you want to apply for, click the green application button and you'll be directed to the bank's website and online application form.

Step 3. Complete the application form. You'll be asked to provide details, and in some cases documentary proof, about your identity, age (you need to be at least 18), citizenship or residency status, residential address, employment, income, and any assets and debts or loans you may have. It's a good idea to assemble all this information before you begin.

Note: You'll also need to think about how big a credit limit you need to apply for. A low limit – perhaps $500 or $1,000 – is recommended, until you get used to the idea of handling credit. You can apply for an increased limit later if you need it, although there are pros and cons to raising your limit.

If you want to know more about this, we have an in-depth guide to how the credit card application process works.

What happens after you apply?

Once you have decided on your first credit card and submitted your application, the bank will begin reviewing your details.

  • How long it takes to get approved. While some cards advertise 'Instant approval' or '60 second approval', such approval is only conditional on the verification of the information you have provided. In practice it can take anything from a few business days to a couple of weeks before you receive a final decision, and for first-timer applications the approval process may take longer than it would for someone with an established credit history.
  • The bank may need to confirm some details. Watch out for phone calls and emails from the bank. They may need additional information, proof of earnings, etc.
  • Approval decision. Once the bank have completed their checks, and assuming you have passed, your account is approved.
  • Card activation. The physical card will usually be dispatched within five days, sometimes less, although a few card providers take as long as 6-14 days to mail out the card. Many banks now issue a virtual version of your card that can be added to a digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay and are available for immediate use.

Can a credit card build your credit?

Once you have your first credit card, using it responsibly is one of the best ways there is to build up your credit history and improve your credit score.

  • Always aim to pay on time (and in full if possible). This means you avoid paying interest and shows that you are responsible.
  • Stay within your credit limit. Not only does this mean avoiding over limit fees, it also shows that you can manage your card.
  • Try to avoid buying things you can't afford. Use your card and pay it off. This keeps your credit utilisation ratio low, which helps build your score.

Pros and cons of getting your first credit card

Unsure if it's worth applying? Weigh up the benefits and disadvantages before deciding what to do.

Pros

  • Build your credit. Using a credit card responsibly will help establish your credit worthiness, giving you access to cheaper finance in future.
  • Improve your cash flow. You can use your credit card's interest-free period to spread the cost of purchases between paydays.
  • Work your way up. While beginners applying for their first credit card may be somewhat limited to basic cards, over time you you can work your way up to eligibility for cards that earn rewards.

Cons

  • Temptation to spend. If you are concerned about your willpower, then a credit card may not be for you. You can, however, request a lower credit limit.
  • Possibility of debt. You can slip into debt if you don't pay off your card in full each month and continue to spend with it.
  • You can hurt your credit score. Just as you can build your credit with responsible use, making late payments and using too much of your available credit can have a negative impact on your credit score.

Learn about first timer credit cards

Worried about applying for your first credit card? Find out everything you need here before applying.

  • FAQs

  • Pros & cons

  • Tips

Aren’t all credit cards suitable for first timers?

No. If you’ve never had a credit card before, there’s a strong possibility that your income is not particularly high and that your credit score is not yet very robust. These two factors should point you in the direction of a card with as many of the following features as possible:

  • A low annual fee, or zero fee, to be kind to your budget
  • Low starting credit limits available, since you probably won’t qualify for a high one, and a low one is easier to manage
  • A low interest rate on purchases, because if you’re just a learner in financial discipline, you may miss the payment due date occasionally

What kind of credit card is suitable for first timers?

It depends on your reason for not having a credit card before now.

The most common scenario is that of the young person embarking on paid employment for the first time. Their credit history is empty, so their score is low and they won’t qualify for a high limit. Nor do they want to pay a high annual fee for a card with rewards points or other benefits. The ideal card for them would be a basic card with no complimentary benefits and no annual fee, a low interest rate on purchases (just in case, although their aim should be to repay their purchase balance on time and in full every month) and preferably 55 days interest free. It might be necessary to compromise on one or more of these features.

If your income and credit score are both healthy, and you simply haven’t felt the need for a credit card until now, by all means choose any card which offers the best return in benefits (rewards points, insurance cover, &c) for your spending pattern. You can start on a moderate credit limit, and apply to increase it later if you find you need a bigger limit.

What is a 'no annual fee' card?

'No annual fee' credit cards are a great choice for people who want to reserve their card for emergencies; for those who spend regularly but always pay their monthly balance in full; or for cardholders who do not require the extra features associated with credit cards with annual fees.

There are different types of 'no annual fee' credit card, so make sure the one you apply for is best suited to your personal needs.

‘No annual fee for life’ cards have no annual fee for as long as the account is open. This may seem like the most attractive offer, but you should always check the terms and conditions to see if there are any other extra charges applied to the card.

Other cards feature 'no annual fee' for an introductory period such as the first year, but don't forget to check what the fee will be when the promotion expires.

When searching for a card with no annual fee, always compare how the lack of a fee is balanced with low interest rates on purchases, cash advances and balance transfers and other features, to find the best deal. It may work out cheaper for you to pay a small annual fee and lock in a low interest rate.

What card features should I check before choosing a first credit card?

It's easy to overlook some of a prospective card's features when you're a newcomer to credit cards. This checklist will help you remember what to look out for:

  • How much is the annual fee?
  • Is there an annual fee charged for a supplementary card on the account?
  • What are the interest rates charged on carried-over purchase balances and cash advances?
  • How many interest-free days are allowed on purchases if you have no carried-over balance – 55 or 44?
  • How much are the fees for cash advances, late payments, being over your credit limit, foreign transactions?
  • Can you earn reward points or frequent flyer points?
  • Are there any promotional offers (0% balance transfer, 0% on purchases, cashback, bonus points)?
  • Are there complimentary benefits attached to the card (free insurance, annual travel credits, free flights, free nights in hotels, free wine &c)?
  • What are the eligibility requirements (income, citizenship or residency status, credit history)?

What should students look for in a new card?

Studying at university can be one of the most exciting times of your life, but also one of the most financially challenging as you learn to manage your own money, often on a tight budget. A student credit card can be a useful tool in managing your finances and covering the expenses of studying such as books, field trips and the everyday costs of accommodation and food. Many Australian credit card providers offer cards aimed at students. Finding the best one for you is a case of comparing the cards’ key features.

Student credit cards should feature low interest rates and a low (or preferably no) annual fee. The eligibility requirements should have low criteria for minimum income since students are unlikely to be earning big salaries during their studies and typically haven’t had time to build up a credit history.

Can I link my credit card to my Afterpay or Zip account?

You certainly can. In fact, many BNPL service providers require you to link a credit card or debit card to your account so that automated repayments can be made. There are both advantages and disadvantages to linking your credit card to your BNPL account:

Pros

  • Further extension of interest-free credit
  • Access reward or frequent flyer points for BNPL purchases
  • Avoid late payment fees with automated payments

Cons

  • Debt is only postponed, not cleared
  • Increased temptation to spend
  • Greater risk of long-term debt
  • Could max out your credit limit

If you're thinking of getting a credit card so that you can link it to a BNPL service, it will be worth your while to read our guide: Is funding a Buy Now Pay Later account with a credit card a good idea?

Can I decide what my credit limit should be?

To some extent, yes. Cards tend to have a minimum and maximum available credit limit (e.g. minimum $1,000, maximum $50,000) so the credit limit you are offered will be within these guidelines. You may be asked to nominate a credit limit on your credit card application, but when the bank assesses your application they will work out what they think your credit limit should be, based on your income and credit score. If you think that the credit limit you are offered is too high (too much of a temptation, or unnecessarily locking up credit you'd like to use elsewhere) you can ask for it to be reduced. It's a good idea to start with a low limit if you're a credit card first-timer.

You can also apply for a credit limit increase down the track, if you wish, but the card provider is not allowed to contact you to propose an increase in your credit limit.

How can I improve my chances of getting approved?

Your first step should be to check your credit score. Having a good credit score will improve your application's chances of approval. Check out our guide on how to improve your credit score.

Then compare credit cards and choose one that will suit your income and your needs. For example, there's no point in applying for an expensive, premium card if you have only a low income. Apply for only one card, because making multiple applications at once, or in quick succession, can damage your credit score and make it harder to get approved.

Check your chosen card's eligibility requirements to make sure you can comply with them. Assemble all the information you'll need for completing the online form, such as proof of identity and address, proof of citizenship or residency status, employment details and recent payslips.

If you have a reasonable credit score and qualifying income you should get a speedy conditional approval. But be prepared for follow-up calls or messages from the bank in case there are any details they need to clarify.

Can casual workers apply for a credit card?

Yes. It doesn't matter what your employment status is provided you can meet the card's minimum income and other eligibility requirements.

Can I apply for a credit card if I'm self-employed or a freelancer?

Yes you can, but the application process will not be quite as straightforward as it is for wage and salary earners. You won't have payslips to prove your income, so you'll need to provide some or all of the following information:

  • Copies of ATO tax assessments (or possibly the full tax return) for the last two years
  • Copies of payment notifications from customers, or invoices issued to customers
  • Contact details for your accountant, if you have one

Convenient payment method

Cash is so last century. No one wants to carry around wads of the folding stuff. It's a security risk, it can't be used for online purchases, it can be dirty, and the coins you get in change are a nuisance. Paying with a card is much more convenient, especially with PIN-free Tap & Go transactions under $100 and the possibility of paying with your phone or other device. And it will come in particularly handy if you travel overseas, removing the need to purchase foreign currency in every country you pass through.

Track your expenses

Where does all your money go? It's hard to tell if you always use cash, but with a credit card you get a monthly statement listing all of your purchases and bill payments. Some card providers even provide an analysis by expense type, making it much easier for you to set and track your budget, a major advantage when it comes to taking control of your finances.

Take advantage of complimentary benefits

If you're in the market for a reward points or premium credit card, and can afford to pay the annual fee, you will usually extract far more value from your card in reward redemptions and complimentary benefits than you will pay in annual fees.

Improve your credit score

Think you'll need a personal loan or home loan in the future? It can be difficult to be approved for a loan if you have no proven history of responsible handling of credit. Getting a credit card and paying off your monthly balance promptly and consistently is one of the best ways of adding positive information to your credit file and improving your credit score.

Great for emergencies

It can be a good idea to keep a credit card in your wallet just for emergencies, like car repairs, medical bills, and quarterly utility bills that came out higher than expected. Emergency credit cards that rarely see the light of day should ideally have no annual fee.

Spending temptation

There's no doubt that it takes a fair amount of discipline to avoid the temptation to spend more than you can afford, just because paying with a credit card seems so easy. So before you bring your card out, ask yourself whether you'll be able to pay for the purchased item at the end of the month. If the answer is 'No', take more than a few moments to reconsider.

Can be expensive

There are plenty of ways in which a credit card can cost you more than it's worth. Paying a large annual fee for a card you hardly use is not a good idea. Choosing a reward points card and then not repaying your balance in full every month is also irrational, since the interest charges will be far greater than the redemption value of your points. And penalty fees and interest can mount up if you take cash advances, miss payments or exceed your credit limit.

Credit score damage

While handling a credit card responsibly – by never missing the minimum repayment and paying the balance in full as often as possible – will improve your credit score, there's no doubt that doing the reverse will damage your score. You can also lower your score by applying for several cards at the same time, or in rapid succession, since each card provider will make a hard enquiry on your credit history, leaving a mark in your credit file.

You don't need to apply for a card from your current bank

Although it's worth considering the credit cards offered by the bank where you have your transaction and savings accounts, you're not limited to their cards. You can choose a card that may suit you better from any provider, without needing to switch your everyday banking to them.

Don’t aim for the sky

It’s probably not a good idea to apply for a gold, platinum, or black level card if this is your first application, because of their stricter minimum income and credit score requirements. However, some banks have credit cards specifically for first timers. These cards tend to have a low credit limit and low annual fee, but relatively high interest rates. The interest rate needn't be a problem, however, since it's best to embark on your credit card journey with the intention of repaying your balance in full every month and therefore never having to pay interest charges.

Try to avoid temptation

With credit available, possibly for the first time, you will be faced with the temptation to overspend or take cash advances. These are both a bad idea. Spending beyond your budget means that you are unlikely to be able to repay the balance in full when it falls due, exposing you to prohibitive interest costs and the possibility of long-term debt. Cash advances are an even worse trap, since you don’t get any interest-free days on this kind of transaction, and usually pay an even higher interest rate calculated from the day on which you took the advance.

Aim to repay the full balance every month

Debt can quickly accumulate if you keep spending and only make the minimum repayment each month. Make sure you only spend what you can afford and try to pay off the balance in full every month, in order to avoid interest charges on your purchases balance.

Look for a low-interest card if you think you won't always repay in full

If your reason for getting your first credit card is to smooth out the bumps in your cash flow because your income is not consistent every month, you're going to find yourself running an interest-bearing balance on the card from time to time. So the overriding feature you should look for in a card is a low interest rate on purchases, to keep your interest costs as low as possible.

Avoid taking cash advances

Credit card cash advances are a potentially harmful convenience. It may seem easy to just take cash from your card at an ATM when you're running short, but be aware that not only will you pay a high fee each time (e.g. the greater of $5 or 3% of the withdrawal amount), you'll also be slugged with interest charges (often at a higher rate than you pay for carried-over purchase balances) from the date you take the advance until the date you repay it.

Read the fine print

When comparing cards, ensure you understand what the fees are and when they are charged. Fees can include annual fees, cash advance fees, late payment fees, international transaction fees, and a whole lot more.

Be aware of the interest rate charged by competing cards on both purchases balances carried from month to month and on cash advances (which attract interest charges starting on the day they are taken out – there are no interest free days on cash advances).

Check the number of interest-free days on offer for purchases, provided you always pay off your balance in full when it is due for payment. Credit cards typically offer either 55 or 44 interest-free days, and while the lower number of interest-free days shouldn't be a deal-breaker it's obviously better to have an extra 132 days of free credit each year.